Rector of Wimborne Minster Vanessa Herrick on her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
PUBLISHED: 10:25 08 September 2014 | UPDATED: 10:25 08 September 2014
Vanessa Herrick, Rector of Wimborne Minster, recently undertook a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
Back in May, in the company of pilgrims from the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, I walked the 84 miles north from the town of Valenca in Portugal to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. My walkers were celebrating the centenary of their diocese. For me, it was a pilgrimage with a particular purpose: to pray for Wimborne and to raise funds for The Minster.
I have been to Santiago before; but never by what’s known as the Portuguese Route. There are many ways to get there. The most famous is known as the Camino Frances (not surprisingly from various cities in France), but there are numerous other historic routes from across Europe, including one from Canterbury which went by sea across the Bay of Biscay to the northern coast of Spain. Over the centuries hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have walked or ridden these routes to pay homage at the shrine of St James the Apostle, whose body is said to have been carried by boat from Jerusalem and washed up on the Spanish coast not far from what was to become the city of Santiago.
These days, people make the journey to Santiago de Compostela for all sorts of reasons - and not always religious ones. Some do it for fitness or to seek solitude and peace, others because they want to give thanks for healing or recovery and (like one in our group) for the sake of a spouse who died 10 years ago and who would have loved to make this special journey. On the way we passed old and young, those walking alone and those travelling in groups. In our own group there were seven priests (far too many!) and a range of ages and occupations from late thirties to early eighties, and from probation officers to retired doctors. We would have been a disparate group if you’d drawn us together in any other context, but what we had in common was our Christian faith and a desire to complete the journey. And we did it together - encouraging one another and praying as we walked.
The walking was beautiful – through lush, green agricultural land and mixed forest – including the head-clearing scent of tall eucalyptus. The weather was superb – a week of warm sunshine. Each day, we prayed together at 8.30am before setting off on the 10 - 15 mile walk for that day. We walked at different paces, and arrived at different times. Each evening we met for worship and to share excellent food and wine, as we reflected on what we had seen and experienced that day.
Arriving at our destination after six days walking was nothing less than exhilarating. In Obradoiro Square – an impressive space in front of Santiago Cathedral, surrounded by elegant and historic buildings - tourists and pilgrims mingled. It was good just to sit and ‘people-watch’; to look at the diversity of faces and listen to the different languages spoken and hear the cheers from supporters as more pilgrims arrived.
Waiting in the queue at the Pilgrim Office to collect our ‘compostela’ – a certificate to say we had completed the journey – conversations continued with those from around the world who had travelled to be here. The crowning moment of the week was joining the hundreds in the cathedral at the midday Pilgrim Mass, where bread and wine were shared and the huge botafumeiro (incense burner) was swung across the transepts of the cathedral. It was a celebration in every sense, of one journey made and a new journey begun – walking with God every day of our lives.