El Camino de Santiago  –   a  Zeitgeist phenomenon  

Since the beginning of the 21st century the popularity of the Camino de Santiago has spread well beyond the borders of Spain and Europe, and in the last 20 years the annual number of pilgrims has increased tenfold. From 1970 to 2006 there have been more than one million pilgrims. These remarkable facts make one wonder about what is happening. Pilgrims decide to walk the Camino for many different reasons but there may be something about the times we live in that accounts for the great increase in the number of pilgrims in recent years.

Everything needs to be seen for what it is, not through the lens created by the presuppositions of the industrial mentality. We are in transition, we see much of the new world, but our habits of thought and our innate presuppositions confine many of our organisations and institutions, and even our lives, to the pipelines that made the world work in the past two hundred years. We are in conflict. We know that the prerogatives of the central order don’t work any more. We still use the measures of success and the standards of accountability that come from the old order but they have lost their meaning. And so there is great confusion and, in the absence of a sense of purpose and a framework for accountability, many of our most trusted organisations and institutions put their own self-interest above that of society.

In the industrial world we allowed organisations, government, business, civic bodies to marshal community resources, to transform them in ways we believed would benefit society, then deliver them through pipelines to people. We built systems to make the delivery more effective and efficient, we surrendered something of ourselves to allow a greater benefit to ensue. We allowed ourselves to be streamed to meet the needs of industry. We allowed our world to be reshaped in countless ways, and we enjoyed the benefits of the improvements in communication, transportation, commerce, and our standard of living. Parallel to these events, we have lost something. In the past it was enough to say that something well-delivered was well-done. Now we wonder why resources should be used to feed pipelines instead of to enable individuals, organisations, communities, regions, nations to achieve goals that will lead to greater self-reliance, independence, entrepreneurship, and connectedness to each other and the world.

Although it is changing in countless ways, pipelines dominate our experience. We go to school to be filled with knowledge ,we go to the supermarket to receive our goods, we watch the television to receive our entertainment, we allow others to interact with the world for us, to digest experience and resources and provide us with an outlook on life and the means of sustenance. The pipelines not only govern and distribute resources, they govern our experience. The scope and range of our decisions is limited by the frameworks of the industrial world.

We are in the midst of change. We can no longer trust the pipelines to make decisions for us. The world is too complex. Diversity is far too apparent. Communication, travel and science etc. have illuminated the diversity and intelligence of even the smallest of human and natural environments. The tools and techniques of the industrial world illuminate individualities but do not connect them. However, emerging networks offer a new way sharing experience and knowledge. Networks connect individuals, communities, organisations, businesses and societies in ways that generate new knowledge and new answers to existing and emerging problems. The world can work in a different way, but we are not there yet.

The pipeline is a linear way of organising the world. The main focus is what goes in at one end and what comes out at the other. People either like the product or they don’t. It either fits their needs or not. They either qualify for the program or not. They either fit into the industrial society or they don’t.

The Camino is more like a continuum than a pipeline. In a continuum, there are stages of interaction and changes that occur as people or societies move along the continuum. In a continuum the organising principle for resources is not the needs of people, but their purpose and their goals. Unlike a pipeline, a continuum is open to the world. As people move along a continuum, they interact with the world in diverse ways, they are subject to the influences of their changing environment, they adapt and change, they may see different routes to the achievement of their purpose, and they may use a wide variety of resources to sustain their growth and development. The continuum is not about fitting in, it’s about gathering resources to achieve goals that relate to vision. It’s about becoming more self-reliant, independent, entrepreneurial, innovative and, ultimately, more connected to others through the identification of common goals. The continuum is not about moving a product down the line, it’s about interaction,change, growing awareness and consciousness.

The Scallop Shell  – symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago.

From the very earliest days, the scallop shell (vieira in Galician) came to symbolize the Camino and is worn by every pilgrim. The form of the shell represents the many European starting points from which medieval pilgrims began their journey, all drawn to a single point at the base of the shell, Santiago de Compostela. The origin of the scallop as the badge of the pilgrim is open to more than one explanation. Found in abundance along north-western Spanish coast, the scallop shell has become closely associated with the Camino de Santiago and its image is found carved into the walls, monuments and churches throughout Europe. Some argue that the shell was adopted merely as a device for sipping water from streams along the way but although this is quite likely the case, it quickly took on greater meaning even to the earliest pilgrims.

Cruz de Ferro

A small iron cross mounted on a wooden pole marks the highest point (1504 metres) on the Camino Francés in the ‘Montes de León’.

On the origin of the cross there are several theories and legends.
It can be found in Roman times, in the milestone that marked the separation of two territorial constituencies. For others it is a pile of stones, erected since Celtic times to mark the strategic locations of the roads and then later Christianized with crosses. In this case, the cross was placed there in the early eleventh century. However, because of its strategic and significant location it has been a point of importance sine Celtic times.

The cross is placed on a mountain of stones which is constantly growing thanks to the pilgrims who adding new stones. The tradition is to leave a stone here, brought from the place of origin of the pilgrim, symbolizing what the pilgrim wants to leave behind and get ready for rebirth on the last part of the Camino.

In 1982 a chapel dedicated to St. James was built by the Cross. The cross on the wooden pole is actually a replica. The original is preserved in the ‘Museo de Los Caminos’ in nearby Astorga.

The Ermita de San Nicolás

The poverty of documents received does not allow to faithfully reconstruct the past history, but certainly has undergone several transformations and interventions over the centuries, clearly visible both internally and externally. Presumably built in the twelfth century in Romanesque style, the church has a single nave. We know that it belonged to the Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, later known as the Knights of Malta. They protected the pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela crossing the bridge near Fitero on the “rio” Pisuerga, which united the kingdoms of Castile and Leon and now the provinces of Burgos and Palencia. 
Almost certainly, the church has fulfilled the function of a hospice for pilgrims. In recent years, she returned to the ancient destination: the beginning of the ’90s of last century. Paul von Caucci Saucken, Perugia university professor and rector of the Confraternita dei San Jacopo (the Italian Confraternity of St James) as well as a leading expert on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, managed to be given a loan from the Archdiocese of Burgos to restore what was left of Ermita de San Nicolás of Puente Fitero. The church was basically a ruin, which, by then, through the centuries was half buried under the earth. With the help of young volunteers of the Brotherhood, the restoration work was completed in 1995.

The Roman Road

In some parts of the Camino, the pilgrim has the choice between walking the old Roman Road or the common Camino Francés. The Roman Road carries usually fewer pilgrims because it is oftentimes longer. In between Calzada de Los Hermanillos and Mansilla de las Mulas the pilgrim witnesses the most perfect, extant stretch of Roman Road in Spain. This stretch is about 24 km in distance and there is no water along the way, no shade, and no lodging. You have no other choice than to finish the distance. Built by the Romans 2000 years ago, the Via Romano—or Calzada Romano—connected Rome with the gold mines of Gallaecia. This ancient path was already used by the Visigoths, the Moors, and later then by Caesar Augustus, Charlemagne’s 7th Roman Legion, and others during their battles for supremacy. They were followed by millions of pilgrims throughout the centuries on their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.

The Stained Glass Windows of León Cathedral

The Cathedral María de León, also called The House of Light or the Pulchra Leonina, was built on the site of previous Roman baths of the second century which, 800 years later, King Ordoño II converted into a palace. The cathedral, the most representative of the Gothic French style in all of Spain, serves as the bishops’ church of the diocese of León.
Of all the remarkable cathedrals in Spain I visited, one of my favourites is León. I was lucky to enter this temple of light on a bright summer day with the sun producing this glorious illumination inside, giving this temple a magical appearance. The luminosity resulting from the magnificent and extensive stained glass windows is something to see. 
In the heyday of stained glass windows, they were not as mere decorations but rather, a key part of the building. One of the early problems with church architecture was how to keep the walls up if wall supports were sacrificed to provide for non load-bearing windows. A technique was adapted that would virtually eliminate the need for buttress walls as a support element and allow for the use of larger windows. In this sense, the Cathedral of León was one of the buildings that benefited from this technique, dedicating more square feet to creating openings for windows in proportion to their size. León Cathedral is known for its array of windows, perhaps the most important in the world along with the Cathedral of Chartres. It harbours two of the most important stained glass collections in Europe. The technique of stained glass has its origin, it is believed, in Muslim culture. It was incorporated into Christian art in the eleventh century to reach its peak two centuries later.

The last milestone at Cape Finisterre


Alto del Perdón – The Mount of Forgiveness

Cirauqui – El Camino de Santiago

“Ermita Nuestra Señora de la Peña” – Tosantos

Canal de Castilla

En route to El Acebo


The Green Shell

The Violet Shell

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