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Camino de Santiago - Way of St James
Katrina Harrington (Graduated 2002)
Walking for several weeks in the hot sun with a rucksack on your back isn't everyone's idea of a summer holiday in Spain. Not that I was alone though; - there are thousands of people each year who complete the well established Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). Running from the North Eastern Pyrenean border and heading West, the most popular section of the route spans 500 miles (800km). Historically the Camino is a Catholic pilgrimage route but not all who embark upon it do so for religious reasons. I met a wide variety of people along the way with a whole range of other motivations for making the journey to Santiago. Some professed a love of walking or a desire to further their interest in Spanish culture, others felt attracted to the spiritual idea behind the pilgrimage but did not regard themselves as Christian whilst many others simply wanted to have some 'time out' to reflect. These were the main reasons I came across but more often than not it was a combination of several of the above.
My motivations were definitely multiple. I first learnt about the Camino as a result of a course on pilgrimage that I chose as one of my options in my Religious Studies degree at Lancaster. The course looked at pilgrimage throughout the world, from mediaeval to modern times and across many religious traditions; but for some strange reason this particular pilgrimage seemed to stand out to me. I think I'd always thought of Christian pilgrimages as belonging to the mediaeval world and was genuinely surprised that in this modern day and age, with the advent of speedy transport, such large numbers of people still continue to make the journey on foot each year! Feeling inspired by this fact, along with a keen interest in Spain and a nagging desire to learn more about a religion I had rejected, I thought about doing it myself one day. I really didn't think it would be quite so soon though!
I chose this summer to go because I had time to travel between finishing work and starting an MA course and I really needed the opportunity to take 'time out' to think about things. I'm really glad I did as I had some very interesting experiences and enjoyed meeting a wide variety of people and talking with them. I think it is very important to try to understand things from other people's points of view - especially when they are vastly contrasting with your own and I feel that my Religious Studies degree has helped me to do this. It has enabled me to empathise with the contrasting ways in which people behave, by understanding the rationale behind their different value systems.
The most interesting and challenging conversations I had on the Camino were with a Catholic priest from a monastery in Scotland. He spoke frankly about his belief in Christianity as the one true religion and at first I really struggled to apply my broadmindedness to such a bold perspective. This is because whilst I recognise various 'truths' amongst different religions I have not been convinced that any one particular religion holds the key to the Truth. Somehow though, and seemingly against all the odds, I found myself gaining a real insight into such a mindset. I am by no means a convert to Catholicism or even Christianity (not yet anyway) but I have found myself much closer to understanding the religion than I ever imagined possible. Many of my prejudices about it have been blown apart and I feel that I have learnt as much about myself as I did about Catholicism. My agnosticism is much more engaged as a result and I feel much better prepared to face the challenges that life throws at us.
One of the things that propelled me to go on the Camino sooner rather than later was a recommendation from a fellow student and friend who had undertaken the journey herself the summer before. I am grateful for her encouragement and would definitely recommend the pilgrimage to other people.
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