Thursday, 2 April 2009

Giving and taking

Last year the Confraternity of St James in the UK was 25 years old. During these years the CSJ hasn’t just survived, it has grown and flourished. It is now the largest English speaking association of its kind in the world.

The Confraternity is just that: an organisation made up of 2000 members, run by the members with members of staff who are pilgrims too.

I’ve spent 30 odd years working with non for profit organisations and like small businesses more charities start and go out of business than survive for any length of time. So I’m impressed the CSJ has lasted this long and when you take into account that it is formed of determined, individualistic, self opinionated and stubborn pilgrims (like me) its very survival is amazing.
But most pilgrims have other qualities too and many are driven by the search for spiritual development of one kind or another and perhaps we recognise that in each other. Actually when pilgrims walk together on a route, or sit down to eat together or meet at home there is a lot of give and take. A lot of tolerance. The Camino is inclusive.

As the old saying goes: “Pilgrims take what they need and give what they can”

Over the years enthusiastic pilgrims have started associations in many parts of the world. But it can be a thankless task and post Camino enthusiasm can wane so most have fallen by the wayside.

Not the CSJ. The founding members and trustees ever since have taken wise decisions to charge reasonable subscriptions to keep the Confraternity going. The organisation also has an excellent on line bookshop and publishes its own guide to Camino routes as well as retailing works by other publishers. Among the best sellers is the CSJ Guide to the Camino Francés.

Now the CSJ has launched a new project that I think has largely gone unnoticed in pilgrim circles so far.

Everyone knows about the longer routes to Santiago – the Camino Francés, the Via de la Plata, the Le Puy Route and so on. But there are other shorter routes: the Camino Inglés
(3 or 5 days), the Camino Portugués (10 or 11 days), the Camino de Madrid (14 days), the route to Finisterre and Muxía (3 – 5 days).

These routes are becoming increasingly popular and may be a welcome respite from the hoards of pilgrims on the Camino Francés these days.

And so the CSJ has not just updated its Pilgrim Guides to some of these shorter routes
(see here) it is also making them available to down load free of charge from their website. Free of charge? Yes, with the option to leave a donation.

“What’s the catch?” I hear you ask. Well there isn’t one. The deal is that pilgrims using the guides are invited to send back comments, new information and updates so that the guides become a constantly updated resource for future pilgrims. Giving and taking.

But will pilgrims participate? The reason I ask the question is because people react to the Camino in different ways. I see this on the internet forums. For some the Camino is a disappointment. It can be difficult physically particularly if there has been little preparation, the level of sharing in accommodation and one to one is a challenge for some and on the more remote routes the isolation of walking solo for many days isn’t so splendid for some. For others walking the route satisfies the desire to do it and often we never hear from people again.

But for others the Camino has a powerful attraction and once bitten forever smitten.

Many people want to give something back and sending comments on a guide provided free of charge is an easy way of doing that. So the CSJ have launched this project as an experiment. We’ll soon see whether pilgrims want this service and whether they will give feedback.

The way it works is that the individuals who wrote the guides will get the comments and decide how often to up date them. They will be updated at least once a year.

I’ve written new guides to the Caminos Inglés (photo above)and Portugués (photo below) and the prolific Alison Raju has revised her guide to the route to Finisterre and Muxía. That is also part of this project. I hope to complete the revision of the guide to the route from Madrid at the end of August and then that will be available.

The early results are encouraging. Pilgrims from the internet forum at user tested the guide to the Camino Inglés before it was published and recently two sets of pilgrims have e mailed me comments.

In the next few weeks starting from today the Guide to the Camino Portugués is being used by various pilgrims. Just today I got an envelop from the CSJ enclosing comments from a pilgrim who used the Guide. It was a complete relief to see that they have suggested a few helpful clarifications and additions rather than complaining they got hopelessly lost and the Guide is useless!

If anyone is wondering what is in it for the CSJ (or even for me!) let’s remember what Woody Guthrie the famous songwriter said about his songs:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”


  1. Woody Guthrie - now he's quite the pilgrim! 8-)

    I am sure many of his songs will spill out of my mouth as I stride across the meseta. (Less than 2 weeks to go!)

    Thanks for all you do on behalf of pilgrims...

    Life is good,

    In Windy, Sunny Santa Fe

  2. Wow, John. This is getting eerie.
    The first picture was taken in the comedor at the Refugio Miraz. The bearded git at the end of the table is Patrick, my husband. I am the woman in black, in the middle. We were hospitaleros there in June 06, when this pic must have been taken.

    When you posted this, I was back at Miraz for the first time in three years, hospitalero-ing again. weird, man.

  3. OMG now how strange is that - will you and Patrick mysteriously appear on the Camino Ingles next week!