This is a story a thousand years old. But after centuries of laying dormant, it has come alive.
According to a William & Mary website, the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, is a spiritual journey that pilgrims of all faiths and background have traversed for a thousand years. It spans 490 miles, crossing the Pyrenees Mountains along the Spanish-French border.
Pilgrims walk the Camino for various reasons. Some to seek penance, others enlightenment, and still others for a sense of adventure. “Regardless of whether a pilgrim’s journey begins for religious, spiritual or cultural reasons, the meditative nature of the Camino offers the perfect landscape for introspection.”
George Greenia, professor of modern languages at the College of William & Mary, had an additional reason to undertake the pilgrimage.
“The Camino de Santiago is a major social feature of my research on the Spanish Middle Ages (500-1500),” Greenia said in a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette. “In the 1980s a true journey of pilgrimage “reawakening” took place and it quickly became an international phenomenon which now attracts more than a quarter-of-a-million trekkers of all faith every year,”
Greenia, who has taken W&M students several times since 2005 on the trek of 500 miles, and has himself logged more than 4,000 miles on the Camino, learned quite a few life-lessons during those pilgrimages.
“It’s a strain to unplug and abandon digital media for weeks on end,” he said. “Walking on pilgrimage has freed me from some obsessive media connections and encouraged me to make more personal ones I’ve with strangers. “I’ve come to see the Camino community as one of strangers, yet a community of trust.”
He explained that the rebirth of pilgrimage has been accompanied by a fresh ignition of a culture of hospitality and kindness. “I have been walked into private homes, fed at tables of strangers, embraced in conversation by unemployed dance instructors and vacationing bank guards. One parish priest made me a supper of garlic soup. I was invited to pick cherries in orchards. Dressed as pilgrims, there is no way to tell who is wealthy or poor, so we’re all treated the same. Becoming an object of charity is transformative in any age and at any age.”
Having experienced the “transformative power” of the Camino pilgrimage, Greenia is hard at work to organize an international Consortium of American and Canadian universities to pool resources and standardize and cross-fertilize diverse fields of scholarship. “Our aim is also to better mentor students who want to experience pilgrimage as both a research opportunity and an enriching personal adventure,” he said.
Significantly, Williamsburg and the Hampton Roads area have become a focal point of the Camino pilgrim’s movement.
Under the inspiration of Sandy Lenthall of Williamsburg, who walked the Camino a half dozen times, local veterans started a Gathering of Pilgrims here 14 years ago, Greenia said.
The event was such a success that since then gatherings have taken place in Santa Barbara, CA, Orlando, FL, and many other places and are now sponsored by the national organization of American Pilgrims on the Camino.
“Recovering that sense of community and shared journey that touched us deeply keeps pulling us back together to recount our adventures and what we learned,” Greenia said. “We also coach those anticipating a Camino walk in Spain on how to plan for travel, equipment and personal health. Local groups like ours in the Tidewater area hold their pot luck evening gatherings in homes and community centers.”
Although a Camino walk is not equivalent to becoming a 46er, it was suggested that the idea may have an appeal in a region like the Adirondacks, where trekking is a tradition,
For mnore information, contact Mr. Otis Haislip by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.