Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Pilgrims have walked El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (known in English as the Walk of Saint James) since the eleventh century when the tomb of the apostle Santiago was discovered. According to tradition, the decapitated body of Santiago was transported on a ship without sail or wind from Palestine to the Coast of Galicia for burial, as the apostle had predicted during his life.
Christian shepherds were then guided by a light to the burial site. The archbishop declared this a miracle, and a cathedral was built over the bones of Santiago.
The miracle of Santiago de Compostela became something of a rallying point for the Spanish Chrisitians in their battle against the Moors. The tomb of Santiago also became a draw for Christians all over Europe. The influx of Christians into Spain due to the pilgrimage helped the Christians to reconquer their land from the Muslims, leading to a Christian majority population.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims still walk El Camino de Santiago from March until October each year. Each of these pilgrims proceeds on foot, on bicycle, or on horseback, seeking renewal and enlightenment. Thanks to a grant from the Weaver/Nicholais Family International Travel Endowment Fund, I was given the opportunity to understand the cultural and personal significance of El Camino by becoming part of it. My goal in this project was to gain a deep understanding of the pilgrimage and what role it plays in Spain’s cultural identity.
I was moved by the pilgrimage just as so many others have experienced before me, and will experience after me. During my experience, I met, and was inspired by pilgrims from countries all over the world that were completing the pilgrimage for an array of different purposes.
After four days, and 112 kilometers of hiking, I finally arrived in the city of Santiago de Compostela. Although the blisters on my feet burned, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment and renewal as I took my final steps into the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. Through this rewarding experience, I became an intimate part of Spanish history and culture. My memories from the Camino de Santiago stand among my most resonant memories from my entire abroad experience, and I am eternally grateful to those who provided me with this opportunity.