Unprecedented Holy Year on the Camino! Happy St. James Feast Day!

Happy St. James’s Feast Day to all!

For fans of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes in Spain, today marks a special occasion. It is, after all, St. James who is the rock star of the Camino. They don’t call it St. James Way or The Way of St. James for nothing. Pilgrims walk on different routes that all arrive at the same place… the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela… and ultimately to the supposed bones of St. James himself. And they have done so for centuries.

Michael and I shortly after arriving in Santiago de Compostela in September, 2019, from the Camino Frances. The Cathedral in the background.

The city’s name itself gives clues to the place of worship it houses. Santiago means St. James. With Compostela, there is debate about its meaning, but the one I prefer is that Compostela is derived from Campo and Stella (or the Latin Campus Stellae–Stars Field) and means FIELD OF STARS. (There is also a theory that it is from the Latin compositum and the Galician local bastardized Latin Composita Tella—or burial ground.) I choose St. James in the Field of Stars as the more illustrious and apropos translation, because FUN!

There he is, St. James, resting beneath the altar in a sepulchre in his little cubbyhole home!

As a non-Christian hiker and wanderluster, I have a different view of pilgrimage than those people. I have visited the sepulchre said to contain the bones of St. J. TWICE now. It’s quite lovely in its little cubbyhole home under the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The part that is so hard to believe, even though it’s ultimately fun to do so… After the apostle was executed, his disciples eventually recovered his body and put it in a STONE boat. Then the said STONE boat magically floated its way across the Mediterranean and out to the Atlantic Coast. It eventually came ashore in Iria Flavia (now Padrón), where some of his followers gathered up his body from the STONE boat and took them inland for burial. Eventually, they discovered a place so lovely with the field of night stars shining down upon it, they just had to bury him there and build a monument in his honour.

Every fairy tale has a grain of truth and a brick of salt attached to it. It doesn’t matter what the folklore is, it’s still St. James Day today! And because of the pandemic, the Pope guy in the big house has declared this year 2022 a HOLY YEAR despite the fact it does not qualify to be called one. This papal declaration means that anyone who travels any of the Camino routes this year, making their way into Santiago de Compostela, will find more pageantry than usual.

Credencials or Pilgrim Passports. These ones were issued for the Holy Year (which is 2021 with a special extension to 2022). Michael and I, along with his sister, will be walking the Camino Portugues into Santiago de Compostela this coming September… when we will be able to enter the Cathedral through the Holy Door.

Here’s the breakdown on what a Holy Year is:

The Feast of St. James always falls on 25th July. If July 25th falls on a Sunday, that year is declared a Holy Year. This happens every 6, 5, 6 and 11 years. The last Holy Year BEFORE THE PANDEMIC was in 2010. Then the pandemic hit and there was a HOLY YEAR last year, 2021. Since Holy Years see a considerable increase in the numbers of pilgrims to Santiago, but that increase was stymied by the pandemic, the Pope made a special dispensation and declared 2022 a Holy Year as well. This is the 2nd time in history that a Holy Year has been given the special dispensation to run for two years. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) created a fragile political situation that caused the Church to decide to extend the Xacobean Holy Year of 1937 to 1938.

I believe this is the HOLY DOOR, as seen from inside the Cathedral. I have never been to the Cathedral when the door is open, and it’s so easy to get turned around inside the humongous building, but I think this is it. This door is right across from where you go into the area where the sepulchre is, beneath the altar. So it would make sense…

What’s special at the Cathedral, besides extra special celebrations, during Holy Years? It is the one time that the “Holy Door” at the Cathedral opens. The Catholic Church offers a plenary indulgence during this time to pilgrims who cross the threshold of the Holy Door.

There you have it… the reason why 2022 is not exactly a Holy Year on the Camino de Santiago, but, in fact, IS a Holy Year.

Here’s a shot from when Michael and I walked the Camino Frances in September, 2019. My sandals in the foreground and Michael admiring the facade of the Cathedral in the distance.

I realize I use a lot of tongue in cheek when I talk about the religious aspects of the Camino, but I respect the Camino de Santiago for all it represents while walking its paths. I was raised Catholic, but I consider myself rescued from that organization. I do carry with me its ceremony and pomp…I remember all the rhetoric and liturgy. I don’t walk for religious reasons, but respect those who do. I walk to feel my feet touch the earth and to have moments of reflection and for the beauty and camaraderie. There is room on the Camino paths for people from all walks. And there is room to respect all the people walking.

Happy St. James Feast Year! If it was your hope to walk a Holy Year, I do hope you were able to do so. Enjoy your walk to the field of stars!

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright

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