When you arrive to Santiago after walking, biking or horse backing riding the Way, you have to fill out a short questionnaire to receive your Compostela (certificate). You have to check a box. The questionnaire asks you to check whether the reason for your walk was religious, spiritual, or for sport.
I think for most, the Camino is a little of each of these. I found that one of the most enjoyable details of walking the Way of Saint James was encountering small prayers along the way. At some moments, spaces or areas felt like hallowed ground,… a little like passing through a Native American burial ground or walking across a battle field or passing in front of a war memorial. Maybe there are many spirits still walking the Camino.
One thing is clear on the Way, Pilgrims have a thing about packing rocks. You pass mile markers (ie kilometer markers) with stones on top. You pass piles of rocks and patterns made of rocks. Pilgrims pack rocks around.
I think that it may be a method for starting and finishing a prayer. You pick up a rock, and the when you are done with your prayer, you set the rock down in some notable spot. Rock piles grow, mile markers accumulate rocks and periodically you find stray rocks with messages on them.
There are many small memorials along the trail where people died on the Camino. I counted eight small memorials, two of which were for clergymen.
The Camino offers anyone the chance to walk. There is no prerequisites or preparations required. You don’t have to sign a form declaring your physical shape. All you have to do to start on the trail is check into an alberguee, pay approximarely 12 euros for a “credential” where stamps of the albergues and holy places you visit are registered. This credential is presented as evidence that in fact you have walked, biked or horseback ridden the Way of Saint James once you get to Santiago. In short, anyone can walk the Camino and some don’t make it to the end.
Another method Pilgrims register small prayers is with graffiti. Some are sort of witty, and some are just happy, celebratory scribbles. There seems to an inordinate number of happy people on the Camino with permanent markers
Along the Way, you find a lot of small prayer memorials. These usually have mementos tied to them or piled around the bottom. Many times you see photos of people that might be the reason a Pilgrim is walking the Camino.
The small prayers you find along the really make the Camino de Santiago a special walk.
And I love to imagine the middle century pilgrims staggering along the paths, hoping to find a miracle at the end.
Thanks for reading – Steve