Walking the Camino de Santiago
Ahead of an upcoming pilgrimage set for September 2020, Rev. Matt Trounce recently spoke to Insights about his experience walking the Camino de Santiago.
Rev. Trounce said that the Camino de Santiago has become, “a really big interest of mine.” He owns more than twenty books about it and its history.
The apostle James is said to have found his way to a peninsula that today is part of modern day Spain, gave up on having much of an impact in the area, and later made his way back to Jerusalem. Today, thousands of pilgrims hike to a shrine dedicated to the apostle in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
“There are lots of weird and wonderful stories of his body making its way back there,” Rev. Trounce said.
Pilgrimage to the supposed location of the apostle’s body have taken place since the middle ages.
“Interest somewhat died out in the modern world, but it was rediscovered in the 1970s and 80s,” Rev. Trounce said.
300,000 people took the pilgrimage into Santiago in 2019, which represents record numbers.
“In a modern world of comforts, and cars and trains…people ae now doing something like this that is incredibly physically challenging,” Rev. Trounce said.
“There is something about the Camino that calls to people.”
Rev. Trounce said that he is not especially convinced that the route leads to the apostle’s final resting place.
“My initial response is I’m pretty sceptical that that’s the case,” he said.
Instead, he points to the spiritual experience of the long walk through an area laced with thousands of years of human and religious history as to why he personally finds the trek to be significant to his own faith.
“In a busy stressful world where people have so much going on…there is this movement back to simplicity.”
“On the Camino, everything you have…you have on your back.”
“Each day all I had to do was get up and put one foot in front of the other.”
“I find the physical simplicity brings an inner spiritual simplicity…the slower pace. It just strips everything back.”
Rev. Trounce pointed to the popularity of meditation and minimalism as signs that people are searching for spiritual experiences like what the walk offers. As someone who has run marathons and participated in trail runs, this appeal goes beyond the sheer physicality of what the trek demands.
“I’m used to physical challenges,” he said.
“I didn’t expect it to impact me in the emotional and spiritual way that it did.”
As well as the experience of walking where one of Jesus’ disciples is said to have walked, the trip offers an experience of comradery.
“You become so close,” Rev. Trounce said.
As well as “draining one another’s blisters and cooking for each other”, Rev. Trounce recalls “deep conversations” about what attracted people to the route in the first place.
90 percent of pilgrims walk along the most common route, which starts on the French side of the border.
The route has its own rich and inspired history.
Before becoming part of a Catholic pilgrimage it was used by the ancient Kelts and the Romans. Later, the likes of Charlemagne and Napoleon would travel along its route.
“One of the moving spots was the highest point of the route, (where)… a lot of people lay down a stone or a token,” Rev. Trounce said.
“I was carrying a stone from home, from Lithgow.”
“I called my rock ‘gracias’, as I was so thankful.”
Although technically a Catholic pilgrimage to a Catholic cathedral, it nonetheless attracts people from all faith backgrounds, including none at all.
“A lot of people might call themselves spiritual. They too were looking for that space.”
Rev. Trounce will be part of a group walking from 25 September to 13 October 2020.
“I’m more than happy to chat to people about the Camino and what it’s like,” he said.
Those interested can also find out more about the pilgrimage on the Olive Tree Tours website.
Registrations close at the end of November.
Uniting Church people interested in finding out more can get in touch with Rev. Trounce via his email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor