Many years ago I followed a route through Spain of the Camino de Santiago, the road to Santiago, or Saint James Way – the path of pilgrims that leads from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostella and the Cathedral of St. James in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. I was troubled and unsure of my future, seeking the indulgences from St. James a completed pilgrimage promised.
The Way is not just for pilgrims. It is a great hike, or bike ride through beautiful scenery populated by the kind and caring folks of Spain’s backcountry. Hostels dot the route and accommodations are plentiful, if sometimes rustic. It has become a tourist attraction and the subject of many books and movies.
The path I followed led down from the north, through San Sebastian to Pamplona, then Burgos in the Castilla y Leon region and on west to Galicia, stopping at every religious site along the way. The spiritual impact was strong and somewhat unexpected, a phenomena many pilgrims experience – some even before they realize that they are pilgrims – but, for me, the specific places were somehow forgotten, the trip blurred by time to just the glorious highlights.
So it was with real surprise on my recent trip to Spain following yet another religious path, the Route of Santa Teresa, that my present and past selves stood on the same spot and a flood of spiritual memories engulfed me. The traditional scallop shell design set in the pavement in front of the Cathedral in Burgos triggered the memory – instead of me at the end of my present journey, my old self was a long way from Santiago de Compostella, tired and hungry, but the happiest I can remember ever being.
I suppose that’s why I take these trips, why I travel at all. Beautiful scenery, great food, warm friendly people, those are all good reasons by themselves, but when taken as a whole, especially when there is a religious theme to my travels, they combine to transcend the material world, leaving me dazzled with the spirituality of the experience. It is an epiphany of sorts, and well documented in all the literature, but still singularly unique to the person experiencing it.
I saw the me of years ago, paused in front of the Burgos Cathedral, and it was as if he almost saw me too. Then, with a wondrous look of surprise in his eyes I saw he recognized the reason for his pilgrimage – and the surety of its outcome. I remember that eureka moment so many years ago, but not what caused it. Did I see the future me, or feel my presence? I have no idea. Then the old me took up The Way again with a lighter step, one I have to this day.
Saint Teresa was born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada on March 28, 1515 in what is now Avila. She was one of the first female saints of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the most famous religious, historical and literary figures in the history of Spain. To celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth, an art exhibit illuminating her life and achievements titled: Teresa of Avila, a Master of Prayer runs through early November, 2015.
The Catholic Travel Center “The most trusted name in religious group travel”, offers a tour highlighting the life of Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus. From her birth in Avila, Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its amazingly preserved medieval fortifications and buildings, to her death in Alba de Tormes.
For more information see www.spain.info and http://www.turismocastillayleon.com/turismocyl/en