Friday, January 18, 2008

Saints on the Camino


There are many saints along the camino. One you will find regularly, in France and in Spain, is Saint Roch. He is depicted as a pilgrim, with a wound on his leg (sometimes the left, sometimes the right - sometimes the shin and sometimes the thigh) with a dog offering him food. This is his story:
St. Roch was born at Montpellier France. His father was governor of that city. At his birth St. Roch is said to have been found miraculously marked on the breast with a red cross. When he was twenty years old, his parents were killed. Although left with their fortune and the government of Montpellier, he renounced his riches giving all the money to the poor. He handed over the governmental duties to an uncle. He felt an inner calling to proceed toward Italy. Disguised as a mendicant pilgrim (a beggar), he set out on foot. Along the way, he encountered village after village stricken by the plague. Knowing then what his inner calling was about he began travelling from village to village staying in each for weeks at a time devoting himself to the plague-stricken and curing them with the healing power in his hands. He never feared for his own health or safety but lay his hands upon all he met and they were healed. He healed ailing cattle and other animals as well.
After a few years he himself was stricken with the plague. Not wanting to be a burden on society he withdrew to a wooded area outside of a village called Peacenza and waited for death to overtake him. As he lay at the brink of death a dog appeared and lay down beside him licking his wounds. The dog would periodically disappear and return with a morsel of food that he had collected from near by Peacenza. Although the dog was himself thin from starvation, he always lay the food gently on St. Rock's chest for him to eat. St. Rock soon recovered and was found by the dog's master who took him to a place of shelter. St. Roch then resumed healing the people in the plague stricken villages. Returning to his home in Montpellier, St. Roch, still wearing his pilgrim clothing and physically changed because of his ordeal was thrown into jail by his own uncle where a few years later he died. After his death the cross on his chest that had been their since childhood and some documents found in his possession served to identify him. He was given a public funeral and the miracles continued long after his death.
If you walk the Via Turonensis you will pass through Le Muret. This little pilgrimage chapel in the woods was mentioned in the 12th Century. It has a wooden bass relief of the Saint as well as scallop shells carvings in the wood.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


August/September 2007:
Anneliese, my companion on the Camino last year (a Dominican nun) said:
"I think God collected all the stones and rocks in Spain and scattered them along the camino to test us."
Many of the paths consist of rocks, or river boulders, gravel pits, torrent courses, pebbles or shale. Others are mud, dirt, clay or stone.
Using the Brierley guide for the Camino Frances, which splits the miles for each day into “paths: quiet roads: main roads” the 798kms from St Jean works out like this:
505 km on paths/tracks
202.6km on quiet roads (mostly through small villages)
90.6km on main roads
1. The first 50kms, starting in the Pyrenees, comprise a difficult start straight up to the Ibaneta Pass, a severe downhill to Roncesvalles and then an undulating roller coaster path through woodland until you reach Pamplona. " From Najera we climbed very steeply into the hills and were accompanied by dozens - perhaps hundreds - of vultures flying overhead. Someone said that they circle the pilgrim road waiting for one to fall!
2. The next 200 + km are varied - across Navarra and the La Rioja vineyards with several hill ranges to cross.
3. For ±230 km between Burgos and Astorga you are on the meseta – hot in summer and bitterly cold in the winter with fewer villages and therefore, fewer monuments along the way.
4. The mountains of León take you up to 1,500 metres over 2 days to the highest point on the camino just after Manjarin, then very steeply down to the Bierzo plain. Two days later you have the Cebreiro range, again reaching 1,400 metres. Neither of these is as severe as the day from St Jean, because you start higher up
 5. From Astorga to Sarria – 145kms takes you to the highest point at 1500m close to Manjarin. Then, after Ponferrada, you climb again to O'Cebreiro which is at 1400m.

6. The last 115 kms from Sarria are surprisingly arduous with sharp up hills and steep descents.
As you leave Mont de Gozo, these statues point the way to Santiago and to the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


A report in a Welsh journal recently claimed that:
IT WAS once up there with coffee on the banned list of substances for those who wanted to maintain a healthy smile with shiny white teeth.
But now it seems there is a good excuse for lovers of red wine to pour themselves a glass, with researchers claiming it is actually beneficial for the bite.
Compounds known as polyphenols in red wine have been found to stave off periodontal diseases which affect the gums and bone around the teeth, often leading to permanent tooth loss. Periodontitis affects 65% of adults over 50 and 15% of adults aged between 21 and 50.
Scientists from Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada, found that red wine polyphenols help reduce the inflammation that arises from periodontitis. They presented their findings at the 35th annual meeting of the American Association for Dental Research in Orlando, Florida, and published them in the US Journal of Dental Research.
It is yet another shot in the arm for wine-lovers who claim it is fine to enjoy a glass in moderation for its numerous reported health benefits.

However, if you don't trust this report you can always try the water.
There are water taps and fountains all along the camino where pilgrims and travellers can drink or top up their water bottles. Some are very simple 'tap in the wall' type fuentes but others are architecturally beautiful with historic value. Most have a sign whether the water is 'potable' (drinkable) or not. There is even one famous fountain at Bodegas Irache that offers wine and water!
The water is safe (promise!) but if you don't trust it, you can buy bottled water in cafes and bars - and boost the local economy! Click on the photo for a higher resolution view of the fountain.

Follow the yellow arrows along the Ancient Paths

Jeremiah 6-16:

Thus says the Lord:

Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies, and walk in it and find rest for your souls.

Follow the yellow arrows and the scallop shells