Here are three books, all different, each telling us something about the Camino and what is going on there.
The first is Bernadette Cunningham’s magisterial “Medieval Irish Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela” expertly reviewed elsewhere in these pages by David Smith. This is a book of meticulous research and writing which is crystal clear. But Bernadette, special thanks are due for the very last sentence in the book: “Through the ages, in ways that are unprescribed and difficult to define, such pilgrimages changed the world, one person at a time”.
The second is “The Crossway” by Guy Stagg. It tells the epic journey from London to Jerusalem. Stagg is courageous and he writes superbly well. At the guesthouse, a Clairvaux Sister Marie Bertille makes the point to him that every summer more pilgrims arrive. Why is this when fewer people go to church or become priests or nuns? “Sister Marie-Bertille sealed the cake tin and put the jam jars back in the cupboard. “Pilgrim Monk, they are all the same. They want to learn what they believe.””
They want to learn what they believe! Far, far, better, and much more authentic, than trying to believe what you learn and maybe this explains why so many have taken to the Road.
The third book is “Restless Hearts: Walking the Camino de Santiago. A love letter to the Camino” by Roy Uprichard. The title explains it. It is a love letter to the Camino. And as he walks Belfast and his youth are on his mind.
These books explain the Camino. They tell of pilgrimage, change, kindness along the road, movement and the changing of our world one person at a time.
To these three special people and wonderful writers our thanks.
But now it is Springtime!
Anois teacht an earraigh
beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh,
Is tar éis na féil Bríde
ardóidh mé mo sheol. *
Antoine Ó Raifteiri was from Kiltimagh and the last of the Gaelic wandering Poets. His world was in a state of change and near-collapse. But in Spring with the lengthening of the days, he would raise his sail and set out again on the Road. He was heading home via Claremorris, at Balla he would raise a glass and then on to Kiltimagh – home.
Many of us feel this need to be on the road in Spring, to head for home, or beyond, to move – above all to move – after the winter.
This impulse is as old as humankind itself. The hibernation gene may have been switched off long ago. We may have moved from hunter-gathering to farming, to city dwelling but that brightening, lightening, energy of Spring moves us as it has always done.