Musical theatre has long been a love of mine, dating back to special Saturday outings into Philadelphia with my grandmother to enjoy lunch and catch a show. I’m grateful that she instilled in me a love of the arts. One of my favorite lines of lyric comes from “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables:
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!
Chills run up and down my spine whenever I hear this song. It represents for me the power of intention, of connection, and of community. And, part of the appeal of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the community. Unlike the Appalachian Trail where one travels primarily alone, the Camino draws people together. This tradition began when, in ancient times, pilgrims traversed from the French Pyrenees through northern Spain to Santiago, and safety in numbers was crucial for survival.
The term crusade feels like the “right” term for my imminent journey. I’ve long been drawn to the idea of a crusade, having climbed crusader ruins in the Middle East (plus, “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” is one of my all-time favorite films). The historical aspect of this pilgrimage excites me!
A Brief History
The Camino, in English “The Way of St. James,” consists of ancient pilgrim paths stretching from France through Spain. The first documented pilgrimage to Santiago took place in 982 CE. Making a pilgrimage reached its zenith during medieval times before the paths fell into disrepair during the late 1600s. Thanks to the vision of one man, the paths were largely restored during the 1980s, which brought with it a resurgence of interest in the Camino. About 150,000 people walk the Camino annually.
Why a Pilgrimage?
People undertake the Camino for various reasons. Some seek a physical experience, some a spiritual one, and still others have been sent by their church as penance. Pilgrimages lead us to places of historical and spiritual value where travelers strive for inspiration, transformation, and clarity. Many significant biblical events transpired on mountains or along paths. In fact, walking the Camino from start to finish typically takes 40 days, which is also symbolic of Moses’ trek and Jesus’ time of reflection.
It’s believed that there are places in this world where the veil is thin between the physical and the ethereal. The Camino is thought to be one of these places, where communication with the divine occurs more easily, more naturally. In making the journey, pilgrims transcend their physical discomfort to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
This year, my Camino takes place in France, starting in Cahors and ending at Lectoure. We’ll be trekking nearly 70 miles. I’ve mentioned before that I feel called to the Camino so beginning this journey to Santiago and beyond is a dream come true. My reasons for undertaking this pilgrimage are both physical and spiritual. I’m excited to see what the Camino has in store for me. My current plan is to walk a section of the path one week a year for the next six years. In year five, I’ll make it to Santiago with the final year taking me to the Finisterre at the Atlantic Ocean.
I’ve been preparing for this journey nearly six months. Now that it’s finally here, I’m both excited and nervous (those French lessons were weak at best). The thought of traveling via planes and trains alone feels exhilarating. That said, I’m thankful to be hiking with a community of like-minded women. Where our individual paths intersect and how we’re each transformed is sure to be nothing short of miraculous.
I’ll leave you with the last line from “Do You Hear the People Sing” now:
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.