As prime travel season is upon us, I am reminded of a trip I took many years ago to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Santiago is Spanish for Saint James, one of the 12 disciples. Compostella is a derivation of the Latin: Campus Stellae or ‘field of stars.’ The origin of the name for Santiago de Compostella goes back to the middle ages. Legend has it that after his death, the disciples of St. James brought his body to Spain for burial. When the location of his burial site was lost to history, some shepherds noticed strange lights or stars in a field. Upon further investigation they discovered that the stars pointed to the place of burial of St. James. A church was erected over his tomb. As the news of the miraculous discovery and the many miracles worked there spread throughout Europe, Santiago de Compostella quickly became an important place of pilgrimage and the original church was replaced with the current monumental Cathedral.
During the Middle Ages, people made their way to Compostella from all over Europe. Dozens quickly became hundreds and hundreds became thousands. Pilgrims came from Italy, France, Northern Europe and the British Isles. Soon, paths were formed like walking trails in forests. Those paths became the official route to take and refuges and churches were built along the road. These were mostly tended by religious communities who provided pilgrims with food, water, rest, and spiritual care if needed.
A pilgrim coming from Great Britain started out by walking to the crossing at Dover. Once in France, he or she picked up the French pilgrims’ way, which went to the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees. There the pilgrim connected with the Spanish portion of the route. These pilgrimages could take many months depending on one’s place of departure. Regardless of its length, the journey was never easy. Bad weather, hunger, sickness, and burglary were all part of the course. It took extraordinary dedication or even an ecclesiastical obligation such as a penance for committed sins to go on this kind of pilgrimage.
Today the pilgrimage is popular, again. True pilgrims still walk to Santiago. And though the circumstances are better, bad weather, occasional hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, illness, and even burglary make the journey very real. Less dedicated pilgrims may take to riding a horse or a bike, driving a car, riding in a bus or even taking the plane. I am sad to say that we took the easy route and rode in a luxury coach. Yet regardless of one’s mode of transportation, everyone’s goal is to make it to Compostella—the Field of Stars.
This pilgrimage is a metaphor for our entire Christian journey. Some of us get to Compostella, the place of light, with the speed of an airplane, maybe even sitting in first class seats. Others take a slower, yet still direct route to Compostella. And some are rather circuitous about their journey. They may start in England, make it to France, take a detour through Italy and finally arrive at the gates of Compostella.
Similarly, our journey to oneness with Christ may take a long time and a less than direct path. Others take a more direct and quicker route. We all make this journey on our own terms and according to our own spiritual compass, though we share the same goal: getting to the field of stars; touching the light; becoming one with Christ.
Most of us will never make the trip to Compostella, but many of us have our own Compostella, our own field of stars, our own place of pilgrimage. For Minnesotans this is often a favorite place by a lake or in the woods where we can find rest and peace and reconnect with God and one another. Should you find yourself there on a rainy day and wanting to watch a movie I recommend “The Way.” This film tells the story of Santiago de Compostella beautifully. It also speaks to the journey each one of us is taking. May this summer’s journey bring renewal of body, mind, and soul to all of us.