Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela - A Personal Journey

The following is an account from Presentation De La Salle Students, Niamh Kelly, Mairead O’ Connor and Paraig Whelan of their recent pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.

On the 4th of July 2009, we were part of a group of 25 pre-leaving cert students who left Presentation De La Salle College Bagenalstown, to begin a pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Camino de Santiago is the name given to the Pilgrims walk. The pilgrimage was organised by Fr. Paddy Byrne, Curate of the Bagenalstown Parish and it was also part funded by the parish of Bagenalstown. Our group flew from Dublin to Santiago and travelled by coach from Santiago to Sarria, a distance of 110km.

The “Camino”, meaning “The Way”, is a famous pilgrim’s walk since medieval times. The walk covers a 750km stretch in the north of Spain. The group was accompanied by 5 staff members from the school and we had a local tour guide every step of the way. We learned a lot from him about the history of the area and the pilgrimage. The total duration of the trip was a week.

Five out of the seven days were spent walking (sometimes running to finally reach our destination). Each day we walked approximately 25km. The walk was signposted with yellow arrows, guiding the pilgrims from one little village to the next. We met many different nationalities during the course of the walk and a familiar greeting between pilgrims, no matter what nationality they were was, “Buena Camino”, meaning “Good Way”.

The countryside and landscapes were magnificent with vast forestry areas and mountainous regions stretching far across the land. The panoramic views from the peaks of the mountains were truly breath taking. This part of Spain, the northern area, is an industrially un-developed region and is much like Ireland from years ago. Everywhere along the pilgrims path we saw many small farms with old machinery and tractors.

Each day we rose at around 7am. We grabbed a quick breakfast, which usually consisted of fruit and bread, no Full-Irish- much to our dismay! Shortly after breakfast we would set off on our day’s expedition, stopping en-route for a well earned lunch in small shops and cafes along the path. Most days we finished our daily trek at around 2pm. Fr. Paddy celebrated Mass with us each day when we all had reached the daily stopping point. Mass was an integral part of our pilgrimage.

Our group was extremely lucky as we had the advantage of having our accommodation pre-booked. This was a huge asset to us as some other groups doing the walk had to leave early so they would reach their hostel while there was still room left.

Upon arrival at our accommodation we nursed many a blister and the odd bit of sunburn!! The weather was very nice, the sun beamed down on us every day we spent there.

In the evening time, with everything else out of the way, we had the pilgrim’s meal which was quite reasonable at €8 for a 3 course meal. It was a great feed. We also got to taste some of the native dishes of Spain like Paella (rice dish with meat and vegetables), Calamari (squid) and Pimentos (very hot green peppers). It was nothing like the bacon and cabbage of back home but very tasty and enjoyable all the same.

Each day we walked we passed through many little villages and towns. We started our walk 110km from the city of Santiago and walked towards it. To obtain the certificate of completion, called The Compostela, pilgrims must walk a minimum of 100km and upon reaching Santiago you can apply for your certificate. To be successfully granted with The Compostela we had to get a special book, the Pilgrims Passport, stamped at each town and stopping place along the way. If this book wasn’t stamped you would not receive a Certificate.

When we received The Compostela, it gave us a great sense of achievement, after all that walking! We attended Mass in St. James’ Cathedral. It is a spectacular building. We were supposed to see the Thurible in action, it is the largest in the world, but unfortunately it was not being lit that day. We also went shopping, as it was the first day we had seen proper shops since we left home! A visit to Burger King was another highlight as everyone was looking forward to some familiar food.

We enjoyed this trip immensely, and we speak for the group when we say that we would love to partake in a trip like this again.

A special thanks to Fr. Paddy Byrne, our teachers; Ms. Maher, Ms. Whelan, Ms. Halpin, Mr. Garvey and Bagenalstown Parish for giving us this opportunity of a lifetime.

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