The first time I heard the Latin phrase “Solvitur Ambulando” was in 2013 and I was on the Camino Society Ireland outing of July of that year. The outing had been organised by our secretary, Betty Tuite. It included a visit to the small church of St James in the village of Grange in Co Louth and the resident priest included the phrase in his short homily delivered to us while gathered in his beautiful little church. I was immediately taken by the phrase, which the good priest informed us was attributed to St Augustine. If you check with ‘Mr Google’ you’ll find many websites given over to explanations and the history of the phrase. My own favourite translation/interpretation is: “We solve our problems as we walk along.” The phrase reiterates what we all know. We do solve our problems as we walk along – and where better to ‘walk along and mull over our problems’ than on a Camino! 

We know that as we plod along on our Caminos and walks, the physical part of us has no choice but to travel from point A to point B in order to get to where we want to go,  but the mental part of us is free to roam all over time and space. There is no limit to where we can go!

As I walk along on my own Caminos I become aware of how my mind roams – I live again past moments of my life; I think of all the people who, down the centuries, walked the ground on which I  walk. While on the Via de la Plata, for example, I remember, among others, the Roman soldiers who, in far off pre-Christian times planned and laid down, tailored stone by tailored stone, that long road from the south to the north of Spain – a path which became, with the passing of time, a route to Santiago.  

I think of the people who will come after me and who will walk Caminos just as enthusiastically and pleasurably as I do. I remember those of my own people who have gone before me and those people whom I encountered in my life who are no longer with us. I think of my family and friends. 

And, of course, I ponder my problems.

Sometimes, I ‘shorten the road’ by silently reciting prayers in the languages that I know, prayers that I have liked and learned by heart. A favourite of mine when on Camino is the short Irish language prayer to St James, “Chun Séamais Naofa Aspal” (Prayer to St James Apostle), which is found in the collection “Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais” (Our Native Prayers) compiled by Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire, S. J. and first published in 1975. In his introduction, An tAthair Ó Laoghaire states that quite a number of the prayers included in his collection date back to the seventeenth century, so it’s quite possible that this little prayer goes back to that time. 

Here is the Irish version of the prayer and alongside, my own translation in English:

Paidir chuig Naomh Séam Prayer to Saint James

A Naomh Séam, a iascaire an áidh, Dear Saint James, fortunate fisherman,

A Aspail ghráigh, de rogha Chríost, Christ’s favourite, beloved apostle

As ucht d’ainm, mo mhuinín atá, Your great fame assures me 

Go gcasfar mé ar uair mo bháis id’ líon. That on my death, found in your nets I’ll be.

But when on Camino, I adapt to my needs, as follows, the last line of this prayer: 

Paidir chuig Naomh Séam Prayer to Saint James

A Naomh Séam, a iascaire an áidh, Dear Saint James, fortunate fisherman,

A Aspail ghráigh, de rogha Chríost, Christ’s favourite, beloved apostle,

As ucht d’ainm, mo mhuinín atá, Your great fame assures me 

Go dtabharfaidh tú slán mé. That today and all days

Inniu is gach lá My guide and guardian you’ll be.

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My favourite statue of St James, found on the Via de la Plata.

Some of my other ‘learned off by heart’ prayers are prayers that I have found in churches I have visited along various Caminos. I found the following prayer in the beautiful little Romanesque church of San Martiño on the Via de la Plata. When I first saw it, written in Spanish, French and Portuguese on an A4 laminated page lying on a little table at the side of the altar, I was surprised that there was no English version. There was nothing to say who the author was nor when it had been written. I wondered if it had been composed at a time when very few English-speaking pilgrims passed that way. The prayer is entitled ‘A Pilgrim Blessing’ and is an invocation to the Lord to deliver pilgrims safely to their destination, i.e. the tomb of St James. (The English and Irish translations are mine.)

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A 4A laminated page found in church of San Martiño 

Bendición del peregrino

Señor Dios, que otorgas tu misericordia a los que te aman

Y nunca estás lejos de los que te buscan,

Ayuda a estos peregrinos y peregrinas que se dirigen a Compostela.

Conduce sus pasos con bondad. Que de día los proteja tu sombra

Y de noche los alumbre la luz de tu mirada,

Para que, acompañados por Ti, puedan llegar un día

A postrarse ante el sepulcro del Apóstol Santiago.

Por Jesucristo nuestro Señor. Amen

Beannú an oilithrigh

A Thiarna Dia, a thaispeanann Do thrócaire dóibh siúd a ghránn Tú

Agus nach mbíonn riamh i bhfad ó éinne a bhíonn á do chuardach,

Tabhair Do chúnamh d’oilithrigh ar a mbealach go Compostela.

Dírigh go grámhar a gcéimeanna. Go dtuga Do scáil cosaint dóibh de ló

Agus i ndorchadas na hoíche, go soilsigh solas Do cheannaithe a mbóthar, 

Ionas, agus Tú á dtionlacan, go sroisfidh siad tuama an Aspail Séamus

Agus go n-umhlóidh said go séanmhar os a chomhair,

Trí Íosa Críost ár dTiarna. Amen

Pilgrim Blessing

Lord our God, Who are merciful to those who love You

And never far from those who seek You,

Give succour to pilgrims on their path to Compostela.

Kindly direct their footsteps. May Your shade protect them by day

And in the dark of night, may Your gaze light up their way

So that, with You in their company, they may happily arrive

To kneel before the tomb of the Apostle Santiago,

Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

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The beautiful basilica of St Sernin, Toulouse.

The following prayer to St Roch – I found and photographed in the basilica of San Sernin in Toulouse in France. Toulouse is an important end of stage destination on the Camino which begins in Arles. This Camino, known in Spanish as La Via Tolosana and in French as Le Chemin d’Arles, goes on to cross the Pyrenees at Col de Somport, goes through Jaca and joins the Camino Francés at Puente la Reina. Long associated with the Camino, the church of St Sernin which is the largest Romanesque church in France, houses, among others, relics of St James. When I visited the basilica two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find a series of posters which were placed up one side of the nave and down the other. There were 14 posters in all and on each one there was a little spiritual homily on the theme of pilgrimage: setting off, journeying; arriving and thoughts for post-camino. 

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Photo of poster hanging in nave of Basilica of San Sernin

St Roch was born in Montpellier, France, early in the fourteenth century, into a wealthy family. His parents died while he was still young. Roch set off on pilgrimage to Rome and shared his wealth with poor people he met on his travels. Other sources say that Saint Roch was a qualified doctor from the university of his hometown and that while on pilgrimage he looked after fellow pilgrims suffering from a plague which was prevalent throughout Italy at the time. Upon returning to Montpellier, he was taken for a spy by the authorities and he spent time unjustly incarcerated. 

Usually depicted showing a wound on his leg and accompanied by a dog with a loaf of bread in his mouth – the dog being the symbol of loyalty – Roch is reputed to have spent time hiding in a wood and the dog brought him lifesaving bread each day. 

Down through the centuries great devotion has been accorded to St Roch, and, in many places along the Caminos that cross southern Europe to Santiago de Compostela one finds churches and chapels dedicated to this saint. 

In Santiago de Compostela, one can find the beautiful Capilla de San Roque on Rúa de San Roque. It is a short walk from the Plaza del Obradoiro – as are many of the other little historic churches dotted around the old quarter of Santiago and it is well worth visiting them if the duration of one’s stay in the city allows.

Prière Paidir

Ô Saint Roch, A Naomh Roch

Toi, que t’es fait pèlerin en Europe Tusa, a bhí id’ oilithreach ar fan san Eoraip,

Toi, qui a été malade de la peste A leagadh ar lár leis an bplá,

Et emprisonné injustement, A cuireadh faoi choinneáil go héagórach, 

Toi qui guérissais les corps Tusa, a tháinig i bhfóir ar easláin

Et amenais les hommes à Dieu Agus a mheall na fíréin chuig Dia,

Intercède pour nous Bí id’ idirghabhálaí ar ár son,

Et préserve-nous des misères Agus ó aimléis choirp is anama

Du corps et de l’âme. Tabhair slán sinn.


Dear Saint Roch

You walked in pilgrimage throughout Europe,

Were laid low by the plague

And suffered unjust imprisonment.

You healed the sick

And drew souls to God.

Intercede for us

And save us from the miseries

Of body and soul.

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Copy of painting of St Roch accompanied by the faithful dog.

St Roch is known as the patron saint of pilgrims and prisoners. His feast day is the 16 August and that date is celebrated as ‘festivo’ in Santiago de Compostela. In olden days St Roch was invoked in times of pestilence. In these days of Covid19, we could perhaps do worse than ask St Roch to make representations on our behalf so that we may come safely out of our present crisis.

Nóirín Uí Mhaolaoí