" rIEREGRINOS", the little children would call out to each other as we rode through the smaller villages. "Peregrinos, peregrinos!" — and sometimes one of their parents, drawn to the window or the doorway would shout "Santiago?" "Santiago si" we would shout back. Satisfied. they would wish us a good journey—"Botin viaje"—and escorted by troops of children we would reach the end of the village.
Occasionally the exchanges would be a little longer. They would want to know if we were franceses and would be suitably impressed when told that we were ingleves de Inglaterra, left with the, impression—untrue hut no doubt edifying—that we had ridden all the way from England.
It must in any case have been fairly obvious that we were pilgrims, for this year it can be safely assumed that any foreigners riding or walking or bicycling or hitchhiking across the interior of Northern Spain are making for Santiago de Compostela. But in our case assurance was made doubly sure by the scallop shells which we wore on our jackets and which adorned the foreheads of our two horses.
Traditionally the scallop shells have always been the mark of the pilgrim, since the pilgrimages first began after the discovery of the Apostle's tomb in 813 A.D. The only reason for this seems to be that scallop shells were common throughout Galicia— that part of Spain of which Santiago was the mediaeval capital —and that pilgrims used to take them back as outward proof that they had received the inward graces which the pilgrimage conferred, and still confers.
Besides the scallop shell, the other marks of the pilgrim were traditionally five. Be carried a stout stick, as a support and also to defend himself against robbers. He wore a long garment, rather like a friar's habit, and a hat to protect himself against the sun and rain. He had a purse in which he carried money needed on his journey, and a water-bottle made out of hardened skin of a type of pumpkin, known as a calabash.
The modern pilgrim would be well-advised to imitate his mediaeval predecessors. Though the journey is no longer enlivened by robbers, a stick is very useful for waving at dogs and the rather fearsome loose heifers with enormous horns that wander round various heaths. And a really strong hat will keep out the burning Castilian sun and the drenching Galician rain.
What precisely is the point of a pilgrimage nowadays? It is not in fact a question to which one can give a very precise answer; but I do not think that the reasons for going on a pilgrimage have changed very much in the last 10 centuries, Theologically a pilgrimage is a journey undertaken as a penance to a famous shrine for the purpose of obtaining the spiritual benefits attached to such a journey by the Church, and particularly eflicacious are journeys made to, &he three holy cities of Christendom: Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela.
Whenever the feast of St. James—on July 25th—falls on a Sunday, a Holy Year is declared, as has happened this year, and those who visit the shrine of St. James in the cathedral of Santiago can gain a plen French who were—and still are —the most enthusiastic; so much so that the route which they followed became known as –the Way of St. James". Three routes led through France, all joining up just outside the frontier town of St. Jean Pied de Port.
The most important route started from the Rue St. Jacques in Paris—and it is from there that a cavalcade of 100 French horsemen set off over a month ago, the largest group to make the full journey in modern times. By the time this appears they should be on their way home.
From France the route crossed the Pyrenees by the pass of Roncesvalles. famous in legend, and from there made its way for over
The mediaeval guidebooks were full of complaints about rascally innkeepers who overcharged poor pilgrims — but this we hardly ever find to be true nowadays.
Only in the large cities was there the slightest difficulty in finding stables or food; elsewhere many of the guest houses in the villages had their own stables and their own forage. The advantages of going by horse rather than by foot arc fairly obvious—not that in the end we went any faster.
We averaged about three miles an hour and took 18 days to ride under 500 miles. But though we admired the pilgrims whom we passed --or who passed us— going on foot, at the same time we felt distinctly superior, as the horseman inevitably does to the pedestrian, and distinctly relieved that the horses and not ourselves bore the burden of the luggage.
Almost all the Spaniards we met were generous, hospitable and kind, though one donkeyriding ancient in Castile who went out of his way to guide us along the old pilgrim's road, waxed somewhat indignant about Gibraltar. The priests we met were, with certain exceptions, suspicious rather that enthusiastic—which again seems to have been the traditional mediaeval experience -and it was disappointing though hardly surprising to find that all the cardinals and bishops who thronged Santiago on July 25th had come by cars or with conducted tours. Not one had made a penance of the journey as so many had done in the Middle Ages.
The next year on which the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday is 1971. For those who take up the idea of doing the pilgrimage in the traditional way, little money and less planning is needed. Only time is essential, though of course the pilgrimage can be begun at any point en route.
The Spanish government provides maps and various aids, the Spanish countryside provides the background, the Spanish people the interest, and St. James, the patron of Spain, the purpose.