Santiago de Compostela

After walking 311 kilometers from León to Santiago de Compostela in two weeks, finally arriving in Santiago was a surreal experience. Walking into the square in front of the beautiful Cathedral of St. James, we celebrated our achievement with our fellow pilgrims from Fordham and those we had met along the way. The city of Santiago de Compostela is legendarily the resting place of St. James, revealed to a local shepherd by a miraculous guiding light in 813. The cathedral was built upon the site where his remains were supposedly found, and is both the center of the medieval city and the ending point of the Camino. It has been repeatedly renovated since its construction, and now features a famous baroque façade facing out onto the main square, completed in the 1700s. Although this façade was partially covered in scaffolding during our visit, the cathedral was still a glorious sight to behold.

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The Fordham peregrinos, all dressed up in front of the cathedral a day after completing the Camino!

Once we had all arrived in Santiago, we attended a mass, where we were fortunate to be able to experience the Botafumiero, the largest censer in the world, which swings high above the worshippers at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Watching the enormous censer come improbably close to the ceiling of the cathedral was breathtaking, and one of the highlights of our time in Santiago. We also were able to take a tour of the roof of the cathedral, which provided absolutely stunning views of the city of Santiago, as well as an opportunity to see parts of a cathedral that usually are hidden from view. Some Fordham peregrinos thought that the view from the cathedral’s roof was the most beautiful one they saw during the whole Camino – it was a breathtaking vista, and an amazing way to cap off our walk.

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View from the roof of the cathedral

In Santiago, pilgrims can receive their compostelas – certificates stating that they have walked at least 100 kilometers, as demonstrated by a completed pilgrim’s passport with stamps collected along the way. The compostela is given to any pilgrim who says they walked the Camino with at least a partially religious or spiritual motivation, and also is an indulgence, for Catholic pilgrims. A tip that many of us discovered is that large groups can fill out one form with all their information rather than wait on the long line, and return later in the day to pick up their completed compostelas from the pilgrim’s office. The compostela certificates are beautifully decorated and include a Latin version of your name, and for a few extra euros, come with a separate certificate stating how many miles you walked.

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A completed pilgrim’s passport, ready to get a compostela!

While Santiago was a beautiful city with lots of important medieval history, for many pilgrims the best part of the city is the simple experience of walking into it, turning into the courtyard and being greeted with celebrations and congratulations from all those who you have walked alongside. No matter what reason one chooses to walk the Camino, succeeding in reaching Santiago is a moment of pride, accomplishment and emotion.

-Allie Burns

many ways, one goal

From the Bronx, New York City, and all over the country, students and faculty are converging today in León, Castile, Spain, for Fordham’s trek along the Camino de Santiago to the shrine in Santiago de Compostela. We will begin walking in Spain on Thursday, 26 May, but for everyone the pilgrimage has begun already, in hikes along the Hudson and across the Brooklyn Bridge, in occasional classes, and in our individual journeys. Louisa Foroughi and Rachel Podd, our excellent junior colleagues, spent an exhilarating weekend in Burgos and have wandered with me to Leon. Fresh from commencement and receiving her well -earned doctorate from Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion, DOCTOR Alexandria Egler has now arrived as well.

For me, this Camino started nearly a year ago, with the end of our last trip to Spain and the conviction that this course represents a good opportunity for students and faculty alike. I mark the actual beginning, though, neither in New York nor Spain, but in Munich, Germany. Strange as that seems, the Way of St. James (Jakosbsweg) goes through Germany and Munich’s St. James Square (Sankt Jakobs Platz). In that square, the city and the Jewish community of Munich in 2006 dedicated the new synagogue Ohel Jakob (Jakob’s Tent) to replace the temple deliberately destroyed in the Pogrom of November 9, 1938, known to some as “the Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht). As feeble as it might seem after such devastation, the dedication represented an attempt both to remember and somehow to restore the vibrant Jewish community in the city.

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The synagogue stands now in the center of the square and next to the Catholic Church of St. James (Sankt Jakob), also rebuilt after being destroyed by American and British bombs in World War II. The two buildings remind us of our good fortune—our luck–in being able to choose, freely, to walk along the Way. For much of human history, peoples have been forced to wander and migrate—to undertake forced pilgrimages to unknown lands and unwanted fates. Whether of Africans ripped from their homes and shipped across the Atlantic in the seventeenth century, or Jews hauled in train cars to work and death camps in the twentieth, migration and wandering have been a common part of human experience and misery.

The photograph of Ohel Jakob reminds us of that experience. Elsewhere in Munich, there is a statue dedicated to another forced pilgrimage—the prisoners of Dachau, scattered with the camp’s closing in the last days of the war in 1945, found their way together back to a battered and blasted city.

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Today, a new forced migration has brought wave upon wave of unwilling pilgrims to Europe, to Germany, and yes, to Munich, where their final reception, though a credit to the city at least for now, remains uncertain.

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students marching 2015

For us, meeting in Spain, the burden we FREELY CHOOSE is not merely the packs on our shoulders. It is also the burden of remembering and acknowledging our common experience, in the tenth century as well as in the twenty-first. And my three wonderful colleagues and I hope we will recognize that the true Way is not a gravel road, but compassion, and the goal is not a church of brick and mortar, but charity.

Ich bin dann mal weg—I’m off!

Buen Camino,

David