Thursday, 8 March 2012

New websites, walking on the roof and skeletons in the cupboard

Dear Friends
I might have titled this post - "Where are the stories John?" because there have been none for quite a long time. Rather I've been preoccupied with various projects and this blog has of late become more of a report than the pilgrims stories I love to tell. Soon I will return to them. In fact one story has been very much on my mind since the epic 50 day walk on the Camino Levante. It is about the pilgrims I've met on the routes that I just didn't like at all. I've been mulling over whether to write about this sensitive subject and I promise I will. Soon.
Several things have preoccupying me. I had to get the guides ready for the St James Way and the Route of Routes. The first has now been published and I met with Xacabeo again the other day and it looks as if they are taking the second forward. Great news. 
Also last week I set off on the Camino Inglés again so that I could update the guidebook. The weather forecast was good so I threw a few things in the rucksack, got the bus to Ferrol and started walking. Not much has changed on the route but as usual there were one or two additions and deletions which will make things easier for pilgrims. I love this little route with its sea views and gentle forest paths. But it isn't without it challenges and pilgrims arriving after 5 days have a real sense of achievement. It is funny but I've walked it so often people are now starting to say hello to me and I've watched the children of people who run hotels and cafés along the way grow up. A shepherd called out from his field last week: "I see you're back again!" As well as minor changes to the guide book I've also included maps for the first time. They aren't necessary to walk the route but I think they will help people understand the relation of places around the route.
A big winter project has been writing entirely new content for the Pilgrims' Office website: The task is now complete and I've uploaded the material. There are a few refinements to come but basically it is finished. One of the first decisions was to keep the focus on the policies and services of the office. There hundreds of other websites providing practical advice to pilgrims.  We decided to write and agree the content of the English part of the site first then have it translated into other languages. If any of you reading this want to help please e mail me. Also if any of you have any suggestions for improvements please e mail me. I would be very interested to know what you think.
Now the Welcome Project is in full implementation phase to use horrible jargon from my previous life. That means we are going through the 50 or so applications from people who want to volunteer to select a balanced group for the first year of the project. I've been bowled over by both the enthusiasm of volunteers and the skills they have. Many of them speak Spanish and at least one other language. Some speak several. Whilst being able to speak Spanish isn't the only deciding factor it will help because half of the pilgrims arriving are from Spain. Now the volunteers have to be sorted out. There are many more than are needed  and of course 14 people want to work in the same two weeks when we only need two! I'll let you know how it all turns out.
But it hasn't all been slaving away at my computer and phoning prospective volunteers. Rebekah came to visit and we did some walking and a lot of eating and drinking. Other friends came to lunch and I finally managed to persuade the butcher to cut the rack of lamb the way I needed it. This sounds frivolous but it is all these little things which make up daily life. How to explain on the telephone to the telephone company that the bill is to describe a pain to the to ask the bus driver if the bus stops at such and such a place. The things I've taken for granted can now be very stressful. But poco a poco I'm getting there. One big improvement was deciding to cut back on the amount of organ playing I was doing in Pontevedra - 150 masses in 5 months. I ask you! I've agreed to continue to play at some funerals there and I am going to spend the rest of my time helping a church in A Coruña which is one third of the journey time compared to Pontevedra.     
People often ask me what there is for visitors to do in Santiago. There's lots to see and do including visiting the roof of the cathedral and exploring the cathedral excavations. I did both a couple of weeks ago and I would recommend them both. I very much enjoyed the tour of the roof. I only fully understood the scale of the place when a group of us were walking around on the stone slabs. You can see one of the group in the picture. The story is that the medieval pilgrims used to sleep in the gallery which runs around the cathedral high about the ground. When they changed their filthy clothes they were burned in this stone container. I don't know how true that is but what is accurate is the fact that the watchman for the cathedral and his family and an assortment of farm animals lived in one of the towers of the cathedral until well into the 20th Century!
Then it was off underground. You may have seen the wooden railings at a couple of points in the cathedral. These open to stairs which go down to a large area which has been excavated to show the earliest origins of the cathedral and the early burial grounds on which it was built. Perhaps also it reveals the history of the name "Compostela". Legend has it that after spending some years in Spain preaching the Gospel, James returned to Jerusalem and martyrdom. His followers are believed to have carried his body down to the coast and put it into a stone boat, which was carried by angels and the wind to land in the North of Spain. The site of his tomb was lost for some 800 years when a hermit called Pelayo discovered the burial place having been guided there by heavenly music and a star. The relics were authenticated by the Church and it became a place of pilgrimage and grew into the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The popular derivation of the name “Compostela” holds that it comes from the Latin “campus stellae” or “field of star”. “Santiago” means “St James”. Thus the name “Santiago de Compostela” is “St James in the Field of the Star”. 
However I now know that a more academic view is that the name Compostela derives from the Latin “compostare” meaning to bury. This chap who greeted us as we made our way through the excavations is perhaps convincing evidence that this the case.
Until next time



  1. Can't wait for the skeletons- you have intrigued me! There is a lot of inspiration here- I will have to get back to Santiago sometime- and maybe even on the Ingles....

  2. John,
    Very interesting part, that Compostela may come from "Compostare".

    I am merrily reading your blog, thank you!


  3. What a super web site/blog! Amazing reading - well done young man!
    Stephen [peregrino 2011, and almost in 2012!]