Between devotion and adventure
With certain frequency, in pilgrims’ contexts there is a tendency to speak contemptuously about tourism related to the Way of St. James (“El Camino de Santiago”), giving priority to the pilgrims and the pilgrimage’s purist values. On this subject, scalpel-like precision is required, since all that glitters isn’t gold, and all that stinks isn’t shit. Quite often the eye and the nose are misleading. There are tourists who are true pilgrims and there are supposed pilgrims who are actually nothing but hostel-to-hostel backpackers. The quality depends on the person, not on the context. Nobody is better or worse than anybody. This could make an interesting issue for discussion, but what I intend now is to evaluate the presence of tourism in the world of pilgrimage.
I think that the most appropriate would be to face the fact that tourism emerges and accompanies the pilgrimage, since if the latter goes ahead, the former follows closely as an inevitable and even necessary complement. For example, in general terms, the scallop shell that appears as testimony and symbol of the pilgrimage, perhaps adapted from other sources, becomes at the same time a souvenir of the journey -in the old times it was even a certificate of it: the pilgrim who comes back carries shells attached to his wide-brimmed hat and to his cape as a proof that he did reach Santiago de Compostela. The demand increases so much that shells become scarce and therefore craftsmen start offering shells made of stone, silver, jet… And soon other products emerge: medallions, badges, pumpkins, small bells… Pilgrimage and trade walk hand-in-hand, souvenir and emblem are the two sides of the same coin, pilgrimage and trip become one and the same thing.
The Sacred Way is also a trade route that draws money changers, innkeepers, builders, blacksmiths, jet-artisans, silvermiths, prelates, kings, street markets, soldiers, knights, minstrels, troubadours, salesmen, prostitutes, chatterboxes, rogues, swindlers, cardsharpers, thieves, criminals, false pilgrims… There is really nothing new in the scene, and everyone, according to their time, follow the same supply-and-demand criteria, just the same ones that nowadays guide the tourism industry.
Travel books and guides are also a good example of a promotional touristic sense in these user- and consumer goods. The Codex Calixtinus is the first one used as guide by Nopar, Lord of Caumont, or by Herman Küning von Vach, monk from Strasbourg, or Guillermo Manier, taylor resident of Carlepont.
During the XVII century, although starting much earlier, the pilgrimage is not understood anymore as a heroic exercise of poverty, renunciation or economy of means, but as the initiative of upper classes such as doctors, priests, craftsmen, liberal professionals, noblemen, those who go on a pilgrimage with a mixture of devotion and wanderlust.
It is the case of the mentioned Guillermo Manier, who traveled to Compostela in 1726. A curious man, he talks about what he saw on his way describing lands, foods, prices, the beauty of women and their way of dressing… He describes with detail Santiago and above all the menu with which each convent treated the pilgrims, as he himself buys various souvenirs and goes round all the taverns. On his way back he goes through Oviedo to visit different places. Not without devotion, his book about the trip has a touristic orientation as a proof that these two worlds, pilgrimage and tourism, are not opposing worlds, but simultaneous and complementary, since without provisions and food no mysticism can stand -at least for most ordinary mortals.
The case we can most clearly see as an example of an informative visit in which the way is done just to travel, as a personal activity, although not without piety, is the trip undertaken in 1668 by Cosme II of Medicis, great Duke of Toscana, accompanied by a court of 40 people between servants and collaborators, including Lorenzo Megalotti as proofreader and writer of the trip’s official report, and Pier María Baldi, who illustrated it in watercolours. Cosme de Médicis tells the story from a certain distance, without a strong spirit of pilgrimage, not really integrating into an environment he is just interested to observe and describe, not taking too much time to understand it, as we can see in his description of the rite of embracing the Apostle, which he explains with certain disdain. His long journey departs from Florence and when he arrives in Santiago he embarks with all his retinue in La Coruña for the British Isles, where he continues his voyage.
Since the times of Adam and Eve, through those of Martha and Mary, of hedonism and mysticism, the ora et labora philosophy, the “Strike with thy rod while thou beg to thy God” and even the Thomist ideas about the consubstantiality of the body and the soul, devotion and adventure are part of the Way of St James, and both of them must be kept in a proper balance by those who want to know the Way in its entirety.
When one walks by a farmer or a kind local, greeting and conversation are expected. When passing through a village one must visit its bar and have a glass of wine and some local food, forgetting about a la carte menus and VAT. When passing by a chapel or a church, if it is open, no matter if you are a believer or not, don’t hesitate to enter; you will have a chance to rest for a while in silence, in the shade, you will get a good photo; and take the opportunity to pray if you know and will, or dedicate a generous and altruistic thought to something or someone you are fond of.
And when you arrive in Santiago, don’t get confused by queues, hubbub and baroque, but rather do enter to embrace the Apostle and visit his crypt, where you can pray or think for a while about the Road in the very heart of its origin. Don’t miss the opportunity to eat in Casa Manolo with your fellow travellers -this constitutes also a sacred ritual. And if you wish continue your way up to Finisterre, or stay in Compostela as end of your trip, but ignore any judgment concerning which the most authentic way is to end the trip, whether by the sea or in the Temple: they all lie, since the beginning and the end of the Way are both within you.
The Way allows you to pray by the sea and also to go sightseeing in the Temple, and between these two extremes it is up to you to decide how, where and when. This is the great wealth of our Way of St James, the Road to Santiago, the only road that does not lead to Rome.
Translated by Pedro Adarraga