Pilgrims on a journey

Today has had a more theological, cultural, historical feel to it. Each day begins with a Mass in the chapel in the Hospederia where we are stying. One of the local bishops presides. In the homily this morning the bishop made some interesting comments about those who walk the Camino.

He was commenting on the fact that many of the people walking the Camino are not fully signed up Christians, in fact many are not people of faith at all. He said that this does not matter. The truth is that God has made us all brothers and sisters and that God’s love extends to all. They are as entitled to walk the way as are we. We can often imagine, he said, that they are walking with us but, he encouraged us, we should think of it as us walking with them. I found this very helpful and it completely echoed what I had been thinking about, the arrogance that comes from possesiveness, when we imagine that we ‘own’ something, or that the way we view something is the only way to view it. There needs to be much more openness and conversation between the people of the Camino, whatever the reason is that they embark on the walk.

From beginning with the Mass the first speaker took us through our biblical knowledge of St James. A speaker yesterday commented that many people on the Camino have no idea who St James was and is and that this included Christians who should know. So the speaker took us to Bathsaida and the Sea of Galilee, through the call of the fishermen, the moment on the road when James’ mother (or was it them) asked for special favours for her tow sons (John was the brother of James) and then through the passion and resurrection to James’ own marytydom. It was a good overview.

Subsequent speakers then took us through art, symbol and literature into the traditions surrounding St James and Compostela. The history is fascinating and especially the relationship with the three historic symbols or are they emblems, associated with Santiago and the Camino.

Pilgrim with a bag

Pilgrim with a bag

The first is the ‘bolos’ the bag that any pilgrim would carry. We were told that the pilgrim bag is the thing that tells us that someone is a pilgrim. The second symbol is the shell and this tells us that the pilgrim is on their way to Santiago. I was interested to learn that the shell used to be given on arrival at the Shrine as it was the symbol of the Cathedral and the Chapter here and was later adopted as a sign by those on their journey.

.. and with a shell

.. and with a shell

The final of the three symbols is the cross. The Santiago cross, which seems to resemble a dagger and is certainly florid and decorated has had a long history and has been associated over time with the military Order of Santiago, hence perhaps, the similarity with a sword. Now most people associate it with the design on the top of the Santiago Cake (I posted the recipe for this beautiful cake earlier in this blog).

The Santiago Cross

The Santiago Cross

This is a place rich in history but it is history which is having to relate to a modern, secular, searching, hungry world and needing to do so in such a way that embraces and befriends and evangelises those who walk the Way today, who we walk with.

For all who walk the Way,
Lord, we give you thanks and praise.


Magical skyline

The day is ending and I just had to say what an amazing place Santiago de Compostela is. After giving an interview to a journalist from a Spanish religious magazine about what an Anglican was doing at Compostela, I decided to take a walk around the Cathedral and the historic part of the city.

There were no queues to get in, no queues to climb to embrace the Apostle, no queues to go into the crypt and pray before the casket containing the bones of St James. It felt as if I had the place to myself. It was a really wonderful, calming experience.

The towers of the cathedral

The towers of the cathedral

Outside a busker was playing. It was a tune I knew well from Holy Week at Southwark. In one of our retreat ‘strands’, Canon Stephen Hance had been taking us through the Blues and Gospel music to hear echoes of the Passion. But he ended with a piece that was not, in some senses, at all Lenten, well not as far as the chorus was concerned. It was ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen. We had watched a video of the great man singing it.

As I stood looking up at the west front of the Cathedral, the magical skyline of this little bit of heaven on earth, this glorious gateway that draws the world in, the music echoed the song of my heart.

One stanza spoke to me

Maybe I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and its a broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Our desire is that all who walk this floor may know the Lord, who knows them and loves them. With that love you never live alone and the skyline of life is forever of God.

May the Lord grant us a quiet night
and a perfect end.

On your own Way

As with all conferences there can emerge, very early on, some common themes. Some will be intentional, others will simply arise. Today began with the Archbishop of Santiago setting the scene for the conference and speaking both about the importance of the Camino in terms of European Christian history, heritage and culture and also reinforcing the point that travelling is deep within human nature. We are a people who travel – we always have been – and that there is something spiritual about this which, of course, is from where the Camino gets so much of its attraction and spiritual power. He concluded talking about the pilgrims arriving in the plaza at the west end of the Cathedral and likening this to the ‘Court of the Gentiles’ in the old Temple. It was the gathering place for all peoples then and the plaza before the Cathedral is just that nowadays.

The square where pilgrims arrive

The square where pilgrims arrive

It reminded me of my own experience here, sitting in the square and watching people arrive – many falling to their knees, some crying, overwhelmed by the sense of arrival, perhaps the sense of achievement, perhaps having done what at times on the journey they thought was unachievable.

The Archbishop then spoke about the power of entering through the glorious portal and being greeted by Christ in the Cathedral and, of course, by the Apostle St James.

The presentations then moved on to include one from a leader of the Confraternity in Luxembourg and one from the leader of the Confraternity in France. Both spoke in different ways about he challenge of secularism in Europe. The openness of the Camino, which is such a strength in many ways, is also its Achilles heel. it is very easy to walk your own Way. The pressure in France (and one delegate said that this was becoming increasingly true in Spain) is to remove the word ‘Santiago’ from references to the Camino, to expunge the Christian from association with the Camino. We also heard that there is seemingly reluctance in the hierarchy to promote the Camino as a place of true pilgrimage and the opportunity for evangelisation. The French speaker in particular was quite pessimistic from their position.

San Martin Pinario where we are gathered

San Martin Pinario where we are gathered

I was then invited to speak and did so with the aid of an interpreter. What I had to say about hospitality of non Roman Catholics provoked a few interesting questions about ecumenism.

Our session was then followed by one led, by a priest, who looked at popular literature associated with the Camino and the way in which it promoted ‘New Age’ syncretism. He identified Paulo Coelho and the actress Shirley MacLaine as two writers, amongst others, who have reinterpreted the Camino in ways which has moved away from the Christian tradition. These, with other writers, have questioned and challenged every aspect of the tradition and have fed the hunger for New Age interpretations and understandings of the self and the journey and the divine. He said that some have likened the arrow directing people on the Camino to the star in the sky directing the Magi to Bethlehem.

It was interesting but I’m not sure, to be honest, that much has changed. I was reminded of this verse

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires. (2 Timothy 4.3)

The challenge then and the challenge now it seems to me is the same but on a different scale – to tell people the better story, the Jesus story, the story of the one who meets us on the road and sets our hearts on fire and reveals himself to us when bread is broken. That is a much better, richer, fuller, more satisfying story than New Age or any writer who claims secret knowledge and insight can ever provide. The challenge to us is to have the confidence to proclaim, live and walk it.

Lord of the journey,
give me the confidence
to share your story
and my story
with all those with whom
I walk through life.

Address to the Congress

Archbishop, Don Segundo, it is a joy and a privilege to be with you and thank you for so graciously inviting me to be part of this Congress. I bring greetings from His Grace The Archbishop of Canterbury as together we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Archbishop Justin sees pilgrimage as fundamental to the Christian life and the life of our church and firmly believes that this has to be about travelling together.

I am Andrew Nunn, the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral of Southwark, which is the Cathedral for the diocese which covers London south of the Thames. We are a relatively young diocese, founded in 1905 but our Cathedral building was established in the year 606 as a small Saxon convent dedicated to Our Lady.

I don’t have to tell you that what we have in the Camino and the amazing Cathedral and Shrine of Santiago in Compostela is one of the jewels in the Christian tradition. This must be the golden age of the pilgrimage through which we are living, when the desire to walk the Camino, for more reasons than we can imagine, brings thousands of people from every corner of the world and from every tradition of Christian faith and of no faith to set out on the journey. In an age when spirituality as opposed to religion is very important to people, the Camino provides a way into God and the deeper things of life, that means that people can walk for whatever reason they have. A recent survey carried out in Britain found that 77% of adults believe in something beyond themselves and 51% believe in the power of prayer but most do not go to church. These are people who walk with us on the Way.

Walking in faith to a place of pilgrimage is something that is not just the preserve of the Camino. The place where I am Dean – Southwark Cathedral – has never been a pilgrimage destination – we have had no shrine to draw people, no miracles, no vision – instead we have been the place where the pilgrimage began.

After the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket in 1170 and the establishment of his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral, one of the principal places where the pilgrimage began was at Southwark.

Geoffrey Chaucer chronicled the journey in his famous series of poems – ‘The Canterbury Tales’ – which begin like this

It happened that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
To Canterbury, full devout at heart,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.

It was April and the pilgrimages were beginning and Chaucer describes the sundry band of people – some devout, some with lurid pasts, each with a story to tell – who gathered close to our Priory and then walked from Southwark by the River Thames to Canterbury.

Anglicans have a rich history of encouraging and supporting these pilgrimages and the English, like every other national group, have loved to and still love to, pack their bag and set off on pilgrimage. The Reformation and the creation of the Church of England had led to a terrible period of destruction of our own shrines, the burning of images and the abandonment of pilgrimage as a spiritual discipline. But the revival of the catholic understanding of the church in the 19th century brought all these things back in the life of the church including the restoration of shrines and a growing interest in pilgrimage.

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

So last year, 60 of us from Southwark Cathedral travelled the Camino. The vast majority were unable to walk the distance and so I brought them on coach and we walked a little each day. The rest of the group walked the English route. For each of us it was life changing.

One of the things that was so wonderful, was the hospitality and welcome we received on the way. One of the challenges that Anglican pilgrims have – wherever we are on pilgrimage – is that there are not many places where we can celebrate the Mass. That is as important a feature of the life of Anglicans as it is of other Catholic Christians. And on pilgrimage of course it is part of the daily feeding that we need.

I enjoyed some wonderful hospitality in churches along the way. To be honest there were times when an altar was not available and we had to do what we get used to doing on pilgrimage and that is celebrating the Mass in the hotel where we are staying. But that was less the case on the Camino.

And of course there are other forms of hospitality. When you are travelling the Camino, in whatever way, it is a truly ecumenical experience; no one is really interested to which church you belong – they are much more interested in you as a person and a beloved child of God. I had some wonderfully significant conversations on the way with people from vastly different countries and differing Christian communities. What mattered was that we were on the way, on the Camino.

So it felt to us as though this was a truly ecumenical endeavour, this walking and that then poses questions for us all about how we can deepen the every closer relationship that exists between Catholics and Anglicans and those of other Christian denominations. On the ground in our parishes we are already working together for the common good. How can the Camino encourage the ecumenical spirit that exists on the road and in the hostels when people arrive in a church or in the Cathedral?

We were privileged when we arrived here. I was invited on behalf of the English speakers present at the Pilgrim Mass to give the invocation to the Apostle and to present a gift of incense made in an Anglican Benedictine Monastery. We felt as though we shared well in the Mass. In addition, we were given the use of a side chapel for our own Mass. It was a wonderful model of what can be done and for the pilgrims from Southwark and other Anglicans and Methodists and Baptists amongst others there it meant a huge amount.

We have to recognise the discipline of our churches – but within that what can we do to bring the ecumenical spirit so apparent on the road into the church? It calls for imagination and generosity on all sides; it calls for a clearly stated commitment by all parties both to observe the rules but also to see what is possible.

Pilgrims do not ask for much, nor do Anglicans, but what can we give to one another, as children of the Way?

Back in Santiago

It is absolutely wonderful. I am back here in Santiago de Compostela, less than a year since we came on the wonderful pilgriamge with members of the Cathedral congregation and others. The reason I’m here, without 59 other pilgrims, Is that I have been invited to speak at ‘II Congreso Internacional de Acogida Cristiana y Nueva Evangelización en el Camino de Santiago’ which basically means the ‘International Congress of Christian Welcome and Renewed Evangelisation on the Camino’.

The wonderful Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

The wonderful Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

It was lovely to be asked by the Dean of Santiago to take part in this Congress, a real privilege and affirmation after coming last year and subsequently welcoming Don Segundo to Southwark.

This is the official description of the conference and I hope it gives you a little flavour of what we will be doing.

The theme of the conference is: “The Apostle James and the search for God on the Camino”. The various presentations and round-table discussions are aimed at showing both the richness of the pilgrim’s spiritual search and learning more about Saint James the Apostle and the 1000 year old pilgrimage to venerate his tomb.

The Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago participating in the conference will speak about their work. For example José. A. Marzoa, President of the Pilgrim Association in Luxembourg; Adeline Rucquoi, President of the Association of the ways of Santiago in France and Mª Ángeles Fernández, President of the Federation Spanish Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago will speak and take part in different round table discussions.

I’m speaking at the opening of the conference tomorrow but first have been invited to read at the Opening Mass. It is wonderful that Anglicans are given such a welcome.

The symbol of the Confraternity

The symbol of the Confraternity

I’m here with Fr Colin Jones and Marion Marples, the Chair and Secretary of the Confraternity in the UK. So I am not alone as they are both the real experts on the Camino and I am just a novice – but a passionate novice about the benefit of pilgrimage and especially of walking the Camino.

My night time view

My night time view

So I flew into La Coruna and was quickly being driven through the beautiful Galician countryside to Santiago and to the hostel of San Martin Pinario in the Plaza de la Immaculada which is on the north side of the Cathedral. It is a beautiful old building with lovely accommodation and from my room a great view down towards the Franciscan monastery. It is good to be back in this most holy and beautiful city and I ask God to bless our time together.

Our Lady, pray for us.
St James, pray for us.
All the saints of God, pray for us.

And finally

It is a month since we arrived back from the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and this really is the final chapter of my blog.

I have still been getting messages from fellow pilgrims saying that they continue to bask in the glow of what they did in travelling the Way, however they did it. I was not aware when I began planning the pilgrimage that it would have such a profound effect on so many people, me included. As I said initially, I had never been on this holy journey; I’ve made many pilgrimages but this one was to be like no other.

A romanesque statue of St James at The Cloisters

A romanesque statue of St James at The Cloisters

I have just been in the USA and was delighted when I visited The Cloisters Museum in New York to find there examples of architecture and mediaeval religious artefacts from northern Spain and southern France. Many of the pieces there were from Burgos and Leon – and of course there were amongst them statues of St James as a pilgrim.

A wooden statue of St James the pilgrim at The Cloisters

A wooden statue of St James the pilgrim at The Cloisters

So I have not escaped the Way, and I don’t want to. Wherever we travel in life we are travelling the way with the one who is the way, the truth and the life, Jesus Christ, and supported by the prayers of St James we ask that at the end of our own travels we will reach that heavenly city where we can be in the presence of God for ever.

Merciful God, whose holy apostle Saint James,
​leaving his father and all that he had,
was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him even to death:
help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,
to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Wherever you travel, whatever way you follow, may God bless you. Amen.

Pilgrimage is a way of life

The days pass so quickly and I have realised that it is a month since we left from Heathrow to begin our pilgrimage along the Camino. In some ways, as always when you have been away, it seems a long time ago, in other ways it seems but yesterday. However, as someone said to me the other day, they are still trying to process the kaleidoscope of memories and experiences of being on pilgrimage along the Way. It was a rich period; a significant journey for each of us.

I think I said at various times on the pilgrimage and wrote on this blog, that pilgrimage is a motif for the Christian life. It is all journey and that is something which links us back with the experience of those, mothers and fathers of the faith, who set out on the journey before us.

Walking through 'The Snake' by Richard Serra in the Guggenheim at the beginning of the pilgrimage

Walking through ‘The Snake’ by Richard Serra in the Guggenheim at the beginning of the pilgrimage

Hebrews 11 has always been an important chapter to me in that amazing letter, as the author explores what we mean by ‘faith’ and looking at how faith has been revealed in the lives of the heroes of the faith. It is in verse 8 that the writer hints towards the notion of pilgrimage

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.’

The normal experience of pilgrimage is certainly not of travelling not knowing where you are going, but there is a feeling that, like Abraham, we travel in response to God and certainly to a sacred destination and this is very much the case with Santiago.

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

Matthew Hall sent me two pictures of significant moments for him. The first is of one of the roadside markers. What is interesting is the pile of stones that have been left on it. We were told that pilgrims often leave a stone, representing their prayers, their presence on the journey. In the 2010 film ‘The Way’ all about travelling the Camino, we see Martin Sheen, playing Thomas Avery, leaving handfuls of the ashes of his son, Daniel, played by Emilio Estevez, who had died walking the Way, at significant places. The signposts, like the Iron Cross that we visited, are those significant markers on the road.

I must ask myself, what are the significant markers on my own journey, my own pilgrimage.

A favourite poet of mine is R S Thomas. In his poem ‘The Bright Field’ he hints towards this idea of markers on the way

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Stopping at the significant places, leaving a prayer, even an invisible marker in the place where we encounter the divine being, is something that will help us trace the journey.

The Babes in the Wood left a trail of bread crumbs to mark their route – the birds ate them up; Theseus left a cord to help him back out of the Minotaur’s lair, but we leave other things on the markers on our own way,

not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past

but simply tracing the journey we have made.

Matthew’s other picture is simple of a lovely view. We had arrived on the Feast of Corpus Christi at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de O Cebreiro which is looked after by Franciscan brothers. Opposite the church we sat looking at this fantastic view across the hills and valleys. It is a reminder of the pure beauty of this part of Spain. But Matthew also was impressed, as were we all, by the kindness and generosity of the people.

The hills of Gallicia

The hills of Gallicia

We were conscious of the terrible economic situation in Spain and the effects on the lives of ordinary people. In some places through which we drove we saw crosses alongside the roadside and on the roundabouts. We were told that this was a way for ordinary people to make it clear just how many jobs and businesses had been lost. It was sobbering to see – and then to exprience the kindness and geunine hospitality along the way.

In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says

‘Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ (Matthew 10.42)

As we we were walking one day we came across this stall. A local person had set it up. You could take what you wanted and just leave a gift in an honesty box. It was a lovely, generous gesture.

Caro and Bill at the honesty stall on the Camino

Caro and Bill at the honesty stall on the Camino

I began by saying that pilgrimage is a way of life – and on that journey we mark the significant places and we receive the hospitality of others and share with them what we have. Each of us continues the journey.

Eternal God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.