Summer Camino – day 10 > excerpt 2

The first pilgrims walked the Camino from the 9th century onwards, and their stream increased to such an extent that over time hostels, hospitals and other facilities had to be built. There were no neat and orderly structures such as this castle in Ponferrada, and on the route to Santiago life was certainly not as it is today. Initially, facilities for pilgrims were non-existent. They had to rely on the generosity of others and the rule in general was probably ‘everyone for himself – and may the strongest survive!’ I imagine that, to be a pilgrim under these circumstances, one had to be really dedicated – or desperate. It meant walking for hundreds of kilometres and from central Europe it would have been well over 1500 km each way, making it 3000 km on a return trip. And all this to obtain forgiveness of sins and to prepare for one’s way into heaven.
Religious orders and the church in those days and for centuries to follow often spread panic and uncertainty amongst the general public, instilling fear and horror by proclaiming everlasting punishment in hell for those who were not obedient and devoted to the Christian faith. For compliant and submissive behaviour they were promised glory in heaven. The church also condoned practices such as torture, witch hunting, burning at the stake, and so on. This created further fear and insecurity and compelled its flock to save their souls by all means possible – including walking the Compostela road, no matter the distance, what dangers to encounter and the hardships their family members had to endure when left behind without a breadwinner.
I had imagined that most pilgrims who could afford the many months-long journey were predominantly from the middle class, probably tradesmen, merchants and obviously those engaged in religious matters. I was wrong, historic accounts tell of the masses of poor, unemployed and homeless pilgrims on the roads. Also many nobles, who must have been equally concerned about their salvation, were part of the masses. Surely they were protected by their entourage. Then there were also those ‘clever’ nobles who kept their pilgrimage comfortable and sent their servants onto the road to seek absolution in Santiago on their behalf!
Protecting pilgrims from vagabonds and vandals and keeping order in those early days was managed by religious institutions. At a later stage, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Knights Templar and other military orders that settled along the Camino performed similar duties. They expanded the available infrastructure and in time the path to Santiago was better defined, rivers were bridged and hostels, hospitals, castles, hamlets and other facilities were established.
The Knights Templar was a secular order of dedicated nobles and their followers. They played a major military and political role at the time of the crusades against Muslim expansion in Jerusalem and the Levant. They ultimately were perceived to be fabulously rich and, after their crusading ventures to the Middle East, they spread their influence, wealth and property holdings throughout most parts of Europe. They were devoted Christians and followed a strict code of conduct, although it is said their rituals were interwoven with strange mysticism.
Because of their alleged riches and their secretiveness the French king, Philip IV, and Pope Clement V decided to act against the Knights Templar at the beginning of the 14th century and they eventually confiscated their castles and belongings.

Posted in Blog, Summer Walk permalink

About Dieter Daehnke

Born in 1941 in Gdansk, Poland. In March 1945 the family fled the Russian army. Met my wife Uta in Hamburg and as she is South African, I followed her home. We live in Cape Town, have 3 children, and 2 wonderful grandchildren. I established an Engineering company and since its sale, I enjoy walking Caminos. I have recently completed my book 'Journey of a Stickman'.

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