The Fire That Burns Within The Pilgrim


After O’Cebreiro

Just a few days before Santiago, walking just before dawn through the hilly forest between Triancastela and Sarria., my body fatigued, the feet aching, but at least the infected decaying tooth better after a week of antibiotics. This is my 6th Camino but the feeling is different. Sensing connection to the pilgrims of hundreds of years ago as I am closing in on 3000 kilometers walking. As well with my friends, Falko of Germany, Per of Sweden, and Tom of Austria who walked from their homes in previous years, only now starting to understand their journeys. Plodding into Villafranca there is a Church of Santiago just a day before crossing over the mountain pass O Cebriero. In 1186 the local bishop received a Papal disposition to offer Compostelas to those pilgrims that were sick or dying and likely to die making the climb. So pilgrims 800 years ago and still today can receive plenary indulgence if they are unable to continue. Sensing their pain makes me wonder about the fire that burns within the pilgrim. That burns within me. Long ago anybody that had walked from deep in Europe here would very likely have lost friends and or family who perished on the dangerous pilgrimage.

Coming into Villafranca del Bierzo
The Puerta del Perdon Holy Door of Church of Santiago in Villafranca which offers plenary indulgence just like the Cathedral in Santiago.

The Camino today is a more joyous journey but I have a new respect for my friends and the old pilgrims that walked long distances. I didn’t know why but there was a growing sense that the journey must be completed, that I would crawl if necessary. There was no choice. Passing the Church of Santiago in Villafranca I felt some clarity. I was not just walking for myself but feeling the weight of ancestors as well. My start in Ballina, Tipperary and walk to my ancestral homes in Clare seems an eternity ago. I had forgotten about it but I stopped to look deep in my pack and still have the small shell from my cousin, John Kevin Scanlon’s grave that I picked up back in Carrigaholt, Clare, Ireland in May. 3 months earlier at the beginning of my pilgrimage from my ancestral home, I stumbled upon his grave and picked up a shell representing him and my ancestors.

With cousin Tommie Considine in the Cree, Clare home where my grandfather was born in 1891.

So I lift my pack and strap it on my back and walk on thinking that reaching Santiago this time will be truly special. But knowing that this journey, pilgrimage will end in Muxia where I will return John Kevin’s shell to the sea.


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