The Iberian Peninsula, then Hispania, was conquered by the Roman Empire in 17 BC and its ruling lasted for more than 500 years. Hispania served as a granary for Roman market, providing agricultural products as well as gold and wool. Christianity was introduced in to Hispania in the 1st century, and became popular in the cities in the 2nd century. The Roman control over Hispania was lost after the invasions by the Germanic Suevi, the Vandals, the Sarmatian Alans, in 409, and then the Visigoths, leading to the division of Hispania. Finally, Hispania was reunited by the Visigoths. In the 8th century, Muslims invaded the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa and conquered almost entire peninsula. In the latter half of the 10th century, Cordoba, the capital of an Islamic caliphate, was then one of the largest and most sophisticated cities in Europe. Under the Islamic rule, the Reconquista (Reconquest) proceeded concurrently. It was the centuries-long period of expansion of Iberia’s Christian Kingdoms. In 1492, these kingdoms captured Granada, the last remnant of Islamic rule in Iberia. That same year, Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. The Christian kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were unified by the marriage of the monarchs of Castile and Aragon, and the word España began to be used to designate the whole of the two kingdoms, forming the basis for modern Spain and the Spanish Empire. In the 16th century and the 17th century, Spain enjoyed its golden age. The Spanish Empire, comprising the territories and colonies in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, was one of the largest empires in the world history. In the latter half of the century, Spain went into a relative decline, but still maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century. In 1793, Spain fought war against the new French Republic. Spain was defeated and effectively became a tributary state of France. The Spanish economy was devastated by war and other problems. The French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century triggered the independence movements leading to the political instability of Spain. Spain lost all of its colonies through the continued power struggles in the early 19th century. In the 20th century, the Spanish suffered a devastating civil war which led to the authoritarian government under the leadership of Franco. He maintained his control by taking severe measures against his ideological enemies. During his reign, Spain suffered years of stagnation but achieved an unprecedented economic recovery called the “Spanish miracle? in 1960’s. After Franco’s death, democracy was restored in 1978. Spain joined the European Community, now European Union, in 1986. Tourism is now one of Spain’s main national industries and a large source of development.
Early in the morning, we arrived at Corunna. Unfortunately the sky was covered with clouds. Until we had a permission of landing, the sky was gradually getting clear.
There is so much rain, wind and moisture in Corunna that balconies of buildings are covered with glass to prevent them. It rains to such an extent that it is said to rain “400 days a year!” The balconies of the buildings entirely covered with glass were shining with the reflection of light. It was a very beautiful scenery. Corunna is also called the city of glass.
This time, I had a plan to join a tour to walk part of the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, 84km away from Corunna.
Santiago de Compostela is one of the three holy places together with Jerusalem and Rome, and the apostle James (Santiago in Spanish) is enshrined there. Pilgrims travel to Santiago de Compostela from all over Europe and other parts of the world. There are several ways to Santiago de Compostela. Corunna is the starting point of the pilgrimage for those who come from the sea such as British. The route from Corunna to Santiago de Compostela is called “The British Way” The way I walked this time was the most popular route called “The French Way”. I walked about 5km from Melide to Boente. Melide was a small and charming town.
Pilgrims follow the scallop shell marks. Many scallop shell marks were around every corner, and you would be able to reach the city of Santiago by following the mark. I was worried that some pilgrims might miss such a small stone marker, but the stone existed at every fork on the road. The yellow-arrow sings showing the way to Santiago de Compostela were painted on power poles, walls, and even on the center of the road at places where the pilgrims were likely to miss the mark on the stone.
Some hotels and coffee shops have the scallop shell mark showing the pilgrims that they can overstay or rest there.
We walked the way in the town for a while, and gradually there became fewer and fewer houses and at last there was nothing but fields and the road. I thought we probably past the town of Melide. The road went into the forest. I noticed something smelled good in the forest. Our guide said numerous eucalypts were imported from Australia and planted because they grew fast and were good materials for making paper. I enjoyed walking in the air with good smell in the forest.
There were some places where I felt daily life of the local people; a common laundry of the village, a small granary of each home. Also, there was a small stand for pilgrims selling water and fruits. Water fountains were made in many places.
According to our guide, the route chosen for this walk was relatively easy to walk and lush green. The French Way is one of the traditional routes to Santiago. The national roads constructed later for cars run over the French Way in some places, and the French Way goes under national roads as tunnels in some places. The road of the French Way is given priority over newly constructed roads. I thought that the respect for the traditional pilgrimage routes was one of the reasons that the Way of Saint James was named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
We walked past more pilgrims than expected on the route. Probably, the reason for it is that this year is the “Jubilee Year”. A pilgrim has to walk at least 100km on foot, 150km on horseback, or 250km by bicycle if he/she wants to obtain the official certificate of pilgrimage.
We walked with many pilgrims, finding the shell-marked stones. We walked only 5km of the route, but some walk 800km at longest. Through the walk, I felt that I could come close to what the pilgrims thought and how they felt about the pilgrimage. I might be sentimental to know the seriousness of the pilgrims toward the pilgrimage. I really had a precious experience in just one-hour walk of the French Way.
When we came closer to the last destination of the walk,Boente, a town church appeared. Pilgrims have the credential, which is stamped at churches which have the official St. James stamp of each town and village located in the Way of St. James. Of course the scallop shell mark tells pilgrims that the stamp is provided there. By obtaining the stamps at the churches they have traveled, the pilgrims have a proof that how long they have walked and their pilgrimage is accomplished according to the official route when they arrive at Santiago. Pilgrims are supposed to travel 45km from here to Santiago de Compostela in about 2 days, but we visited there by bus taking an easy way.
Amazing! So great! I was deeply impressed by the cathedral and was overwhelmed by the decoration adorning the building and its stunning size. We entered the cathedral from the northern gate from which the pilgrims walking the French Way usually enter.
We proceeded on to the central part inside cathedral. Then, I saw the huge thurible I have seen on TV at the center. The statue of St. James became appear on the altar. I got goose bumps just entering inside the cathedral. It was more impressive to see the pilgrims hugging the statue of St. James. Only those who completed their pilgrimage walking all the way to Santiago de Compostera are allowed to hug the statue. We visited here as tourists but they did not. For those who walked all the long way, the cathedral is the place of salvation, which made me so impressed. I really had firsthand knowledge of pilgrimage. The atmosphere of the cathedral made me feel refreshed and comfortable though I was there for a very short time.