Trekking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela
Research for ‘Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time’
By Sylvia Nilsen
Paulo Coelho made it famous in his first book “The
Pilgrimage”. Shirley MacLaine wrote
about revisiting her previous lives in “The Camino – a Journey of the Spirit”.
After walking almost
two thirds of this ancient 800 km pilgrimage trail across the north of Spain I
had seen many extraordinary sights, but I was not prepared for the bizarre
sound of Tomás the Templar’s Gregorian chants echoing through the morning mist
as I climbed 1500m into the Irago mountains.
“You must stay
at Manjarin,’ I was told, “it is very atmospheric, an authentic medieval
pilgrim shelter with an eccentric, sole inhabitant.”
It is a shanty
shambles, no different from the shacks one finds in informal townships on the
peripheries of any city in South Africa. A tumbledown assortment of stone, wood
and plastic assembled twenty years earlier by Tomás Martínez de Paz, a jaded
corporate executive and sometime activist from Madrid who had acted upon a
dream and an epiphany to construct this pilgrim shelter in an inhospitable
mountain pass on el Camino de Santiago.
The long abandoned
pueblo of Manjarin provided basic materials of stone, a few old doors and
window frames, corrugated fiberglass sheets and thick plastic. There is no running water, no toilet and no
electricity. A bizarre hodgepodge of
wooden signs points out crazy mileages to - Machu Pichu 3453 km, Jerusalem 5000
km, Rome 2475 km, and Santiago 222 km.
On this misty
morning I see a group of pilgrims, like an ensemble of UN hikers, standing in a
circle holding hands, swaying and mumbling in time to the polyphonic chants of
a bearded man dressed in a tatty white robe with a bright red Templar cross
emblazoned on his breast. His eyes are
closed and he holds his wooden sword up to the heavens and entreats the
Archangel Michael to bless all pilgrims on their way to the tomb of the blessed
Sant’ Iago in the cathedral city named after him on the west coast of Spain. Two large geese waddle about, fussily hooting
their disapproval at the pilgrim’s invasion of their space.
to me to join in so I drop my backpack on the ground and self-consciously join
the circle. When the chanting is over pilgrims
smile and hug each other, calling out good-byes in German, Dutch, English,
French, Italian and Spanish.
“Buen Camino peregrinos”
Tomas calls after them, “buen Camino – ultreya!!”
I decide to spend
the night at Tomás’ atmospheric refuge, sleeping on a straw mattress in a stone
barn, sharing a candlelit meal prepared by Tomás for his 12 guests,
symbolically the number of apostles.
This is the
closest thing to a medieval encounter across the entire trail and the perfect
experience for my research. I am half
way through ‘Pilgrim Footprints in the Sands of Time’, a historical novel set
in the 12th century about a group of English pilgrims instructed by
King Henry to undertake a penitential pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James the
Greater (Sant Iago) in Spain. Staying in
this humble abode and walking the ancient paths, I can feel the souls of
pilgrims past through the soles of my shoes.
PILGRIM FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME
Publication Date: December 2, 2013
About the book
A few months after Richard FitzUrse and his fellow knights murder Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, Lord Robert and Lady FitzUrse are instructed by King Henry to make a penitential pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James the Greater in Spain in order to earn redemption for his disgraced family.
William Beaumont has made a promise to his dead mother and younger sister to go on a pilgrimage to save their souls. William is secretly in love with Alicia Bearham, niece of Lord Robert. He is overjoyed when he is asked to accompany the family and their servants on their three-month pilgrimage.
They face many adversities, dangers, and an attempted murder on the long and hazardous journey across England, France and Spain. Who is trying to kill Sir Robert and Alicia? What does the gypsy woman they meet in Paris mean when she predicts that Alicia and William are destined to be soul mates, but only when the eleventh flaming star returns to the skies and the water carrier rises over the horizon? One fateful night, a shocking event changes their lives forever.
Buy the Book
About the Author
Sylvia Nilsen, well known in the Camino world for her ‘amaWalker blog’ is a South African freelance writer who has been published in numerous local and international publications.
She has worked as a research agent and editor for a UK-based travel guide publisher and produced several African city and country guides.
Sylvia has walked over 5,000 km of pilgrimage trails in Europe including Paris to Spain, the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles to Santiago, from Lourdes to Pamplona, el Ferrol to Santiago, Santiago to Finisterre and from Switzerland to Rome on the Via Francigena. She also walked from Durban to Cape Town as part of the ‘Breaking Free’ team in aid of abused women and children. Sylvia has served as a volunteer hospitalero in Spain and is a Spanish accredited hospitalero trainer having trained over 40 people to serve as volunteers in Spain. She was the Regional Co-ordinator for the Confraternity of St James in South Africa from 2003 to 2010.
In 2009 she started amaWalkers Camino (Pty) Ltd and takes small groups of pilgrims on three weeks walks of the Camino Frances in Spain.