Many thanks to the Fundación Jacobea for publishing this story.
What is different about walking to Santiago de Compostela during a Holy Year? That’s easy to answer – it’s simply magical.
It was ten years ago. I read in the local paper that a holy door into this cathedral I had read about but never seen, in a region in Spain I had never been to was about to close. The article in the paper said it would be a big celebration, that pilgrims who walked through that door would get some special blessings. And that pilgrims who also walked in winter to get there would receive even more blessings. So I bought plane tickets and left on Christmas Day. I took a long, lonely bus from Madrid to Sarria and checked into a hotel. I was remarkably confident.
The next morning as I was ready to leave, the woman at the front desk said, “Señora, no, there’s no light yet. Once you are out of town, it will be very dark.” I smiled at her like I knew what I was doing and took off walking. I remember so clearly thinking to myself, “Nothing will disturb me. Nothing will frighten me.” Then I got lost on my way out of town.
By the time I was half-way to Portomarín, I met a family from Mallorca with an older man leading them. I was resting by the side of the road and he came up to me and said, “Señora, you did not come to Spain to sit by the road. Vamos, señora!”
And that was how it went – everyone I met was looking out for me. In all my travels I had never seen such kindness: the man who picked up my shell when it fell off my backpack, the man at the restaurant who gave me an orange for the next day walking, the bartender who called a taxi driver to take me out to see Vilar de Donas and the old man with the keys who gave me a tour, the young man who offered to carry my backpack on his bike. And the woman on the Plaza Quintana who held a place in line for me while I checked my backpack before walking into the Cathedral. We vowed to meet up again during the next Holy Year so we could walk in together again. I never got her name.
There was something urgent, something pressing us on that I have not felt quite the same way since. It was different, special. I felt like I had become a part of history, that what I had done was important. And since the pilgrims’ office was closed for the holiday, I received my Compostela in the Cathedral.
If you are able to walk to Santiago de Compostela during the Holy Year, please do it. The rewards are great. I am not sure when I will be able to travel to Spain next year, given everything that is stopping us now, but rest assured, I will go. How could I not walk during a Holy Year?