Alive Alive O!

Bits of History, Words of Advice

Bits of History (well, more like legends, really...)
After the death of Christ, the apostles dispersed throughout the known world to spread the Gospel. Sant Iago -- St. James the Great, apostle of Christ, son of Zebedee and brother of John -- ended up evangelising in Spain, apparently not very successfully because he returned to Jerusalem where he was later martyred at the hands of Herod in 44AD. According to legend, James' followers claimed his body, took it to Jaffa on the coast and, trusting to God to find a burial place, sailed in a rudderless boat through the entire Mediterranean, through the straits of Gibraltar (the Pillars of Hercules) and on to Iria Flavia on the coast of Galicia (present-day Padrón.)

After some shenanigans involving the local Queen, Lupa, and her overlord, the King of Spain, the saint's body, along with two of his disciples, was finally placed in a tomb, and over the course of the next 800 years of Roman, Barbarian and Moorish occupation, forgotten.

Early in the ninth century, a local hermit named Pelagius had a vision which indicated the location of the tomb; the site was quickly authenticated by Bishop Theodomir of Iria Flavia, and just as quickly Santiago was named patron saint of Spain by Alfonso II, king of Asturias. Benedictine monks arrived, and the town of Compostela was born. The pilgrimage followed shortly after: the first pilgrim on the camino frances is reputed to have been the Bishop of Le Puy in France. The pilgrimage slowly became the most popular in mediaeval Europe.

See also this page at UCLA's Humanities section (though watch out for the "Annua Gaudia" hymn the dratted thing plays :-) or this entry on the Mozarabic Rite in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Words of advice (remember: free advice is worth exactly what you paid!)

  • All the usual guff about good footwear applies. I have seen pilgrims do the entire walk wearing sandals (admittedly ruggedised), so hiking boots are not strictly necessary. Break in your boots before tackling the Pyrenees!
  • If you're staying in refugios, you don't need a bulky sleeping mat - a lightweight sleeping bag is fine.
  • An unframed rucksack (frames get caught in bush.) 40-50L capacity should be plenty. You can get purpose-made waterproof rucksack covers, but I preferred a black plastic bin-liner, which did the job just fine, though perhaps lacking in style. If you're a poncho afficionado, you're covered, but I found they restricted my movement too much.
  • A walking stick! Very handy, provides you with a third leg. I had one of those retractable ones. They'd be quite handy for fending off dogs, too - I am most definitely not a doggy person, but I had no trouble at all with dogs in Spain. Though I'm told they are much more of a nuisance in France.
  • On the clothes front, One on, one off, one spare is the golden rule. Be aware that you may not get a chance to dry your clothes after washing them if the weather is bad. For my trip, I had 3 tee-shirts, two pairs of shorts, three pairs of socks & jocks, and a very lightweight roll-up trousers and sandals for the evenings. A small container of detergent to wash your clothes can be topped up en route.
  • Water can be replenished in the many fuentes or fountains that line the camino. Food can be purchased almost anywhere (except in small towns on Sundays). It is quite cheap to eat out and many restaurants en route will have a menú del peregrino which means you can get a good lunch for half nothing.
  • Sunscreen is a must. Avoid the summer sun at its worst -- have a siesta, a long leisurely lunch, visit one of the local sights or whatever, but try not to walk during the hours of 1-4 (or 12-4 in high summer.) Galicia and Navarra have quite a bit of shade, but there are other stretches of the camino (the meseta in particular) where there's neither shade nor water for miles. Aim to be walking as early as you can - an hour or so after dawn is nice and cool. If required, you can continue walking in the cool of the evening for another couple of hours.
  • Voltarén Emulgel - the Hiker's Friend (tm). Just the thing for those aches and pains. Also, alcohol de roméro is good for rubbing into the feet. Toughens 'em up. It doesn't taste very nice, though :-)



    Alive Alive O!
    Last updated by turly, Monday 17 January 2011