Santiago de Compostela. The path of the stars

filled by Giulia

El Camino de las estrellas. In medieval times it was the galaxy of the Milky Way the compass reference that illuminates the path of pilgrims traveling to Santiago from all points of Europe. In the second millennium the sign fell from the sky and the pilgrims of today just do not get lost and watch it on the walls of the houses can not go wrong if you follow the yellow arrow and the symbol of the shell, the road leads definitely to the city where are buried the remains of Giacomo, moved from Palestine to Galicia with a boat, according to tradition, and almost accidentally found by a hermit in 813.
The French path, the most famous of the various paths that lead to the cathedral, built around the tomb of the saint entered into Spain from France through the Pyrenees Mountains and is over 700 km. Them on foot or by bicycle from Roncesvalles is not for everybody. That's why many opt for a compromise solution: the last 200 km of track, those from Ponferrada, Templar castle of the city, bring in Galicia through the pass of O Cebreiro. Nine steps to get to Santiago from canonical here: Villafranca del Bierzo, O Cebreiro, Triacastela, Sarria, Portomarín, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Mount Gozo. Through vineyards, wheat fields, farming villages and paved roads proceed from medieval castles and Romanesque churches in the peace and quiet of a land that has mantained its detachment from modernity.
Backpacking, hiking boots and shoes, a hat for the sun and a poncho for rain. The pilgrims of all ages, are recognizable at a distance, and almost all exhibit a shell, in memory of the ancient travelers, no cameras, to give proof of a scallop pilgrimage gathered on the beaches of Finisterre, 90 km after Santiago.
In more than a millennium, the road has been traveled by millions of people, and only for 2005 was estimated a flow of 80,000 pilgrims.
And here they are on the path, from all over Europe, especially Spain, but also Italians, Germans, French, British, Dutch ...
Some are left alone, in search of themselves, others in pairs or in groups, embracing the idea of an alternative holiday and a bit more constructive than usual.
In the dark summer dawn a dozen of people proceed in single file, silent and with eyes still sleepy. You are up early on the path to avoid the heat of the sunny hours to be able to find a place in albergues de Peregrinos, which is accessed exhibiting credentials issued by the Brotherhood of San Giacomo di Compostella. It is the only document required in the hostels, which identifies the pilgrims on the path: your full name, residential address and many little boxes to fill with stamps of different stages.
Although not all love to win the race for the post of a bunk bed in the dormitories. Sarah, Italian, computer consultant, fascinated by the history and culture of the path without giving up the comforts: a hotel room to sleep and also the possibility, when there, to give up its 11 pounds of backpack in a taxi. Although it is the first to realize that the experience thus missing something, and after a few days promises more basic issue.
Most adhere to the spirit of a sober way, because of fatigue during the day and sharing of rooms, bathrooms and showers in the evening: to strengthen the spirit of those who, from a religious, who in order to feel closer to the pilgrims of time.
Miguel, 27, of Barcelona, he left only to forget an unhappy love. Limps disheveled and sweaty under the sun that beats at noon on the leading vineyards in Villafranca, his first stop.
Peter is a handsome German around 50 years of age:
walking in the rain on the path up the hill, wrapped in his green military ponchos. Walking for five months, he wanted to start from Vienna, his home town, were he left his wife and daughters for a trip that has long felt he wanted to do.
In the evening, at eight o'clock Mass in the sanctuary of Santa Maria in Real O Cebreiro, he who will read a psalm. The priest wanted a representative on the altar for each nationality in the way.
Outside the church, the atmosphere of the mountain village is surreal. As mentioned in the guides, O Cebreiro can not be seen but you can feel it, and only those who understand why. Almost always, a few houses are in fact the misty, subtle and rarefied as in a dream. We would like to stop a few days but you can not lose the rhythm: Adelante, adelante.
A memorial stone by the roadside, between Sarria and Ferreiros, indicates that there are 100 km from Santiago.
After Portomarin now near the end, “tiro de vieira”, a shot shell.
It's hot, some pilgrims discuss about blisters, tendonitis and other disorders of the joints. These are common health problems. But a little later a man in his seventies relativizes every complaint: walking alone on crutches, the drone of wood that comes from his backpack.
A German Ratisbona,, his name is Walter and already looks back on 2800 km. He wanted to start from his house, must have made a lot of hard work, and had to replace the drone at Ponferrada with crutches because a doctor, visiting, imposed it to him "I had a fortunate life," admits right away without reservations, "I want to atone for my sins with this path."
Mount Gozo is the penultimate stage, go down the hill, the spire of the cathedral in the distance ... Finally Santiago. Here it is the cathedral, here are the statues and relics of San Giacomo and the rites to be performed upon arrival: the head is place three times on the column with the head of Mastro Matteo, the architect of the Portico of Glory, brilliance and intelligence and to transmit then hugs from behind the statue of San. Giacomo on the altar. And at noon there is always the Misa del Peregrino, the Mass of the Pilgrim, in an atmosphere of celebration and a meeting between old friends, Peter is, the German Ratisbona too, also Miguel, Sara ...
And if you're really lucky, during the Eucharistic celebration can happen to witness the spectacular Botafumeiro, fifty pounds of incense flying from one aisle to another hanging from a rope tied to a pulley.
Now you just have to wait in line for the office which is next to the cathedral, where all stamped credential of sellos are given and releases the Compostela, the pilgrim's parchment.
"I am planning my next trip to Santiago, the third," says Moira, 29, from Erba, with a twinkle in her green eyes. It is not the only one to feel magnetically drawn to these paths, there are many pilgrims who report being in their second or third time.
"What does the path give me? When you learn to live with a few things, to taking away the superfluous backpack every day because they do not make it to bear the whole load on his shoulders, what you have left is the very essential. You understand and live, it is difficult to explain in words. "

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