Santiago de Compostella

This is the view of the cathedral that greeted me on arrival.

This is the view of the cathedral that greeted me on arrival.

We have arrived at the destination we set out for nearly three weeks ago - Santiago.

We arrived late in the day after a long drive. It was raining and the streets of this ancient city were not designed for cars. Further, the city is laid out - at least, the old part of the city where we are staying - like a rabbit warren. 

The next day we go to see the cathedral. I am disappointed. Everyone who has given me advice about coming here has spoken of the beauty of the cathedral's facade. When we arrive, the facade is completely unavailable for viewing as it is under rennovation. 

Is this a metaphor for our times?

Is this a metaphor for our times?


We went into the cathedral and though it is massive, almost beyond belief, and impressive, it is not to be compared in beauty to some of the other cathedrals we have seen. What is impressive are the pilgrims who are here. They have arrived from all over the world it seems. The plaza in front of the cathedral is teeming with groups of pilgrims who were celebrating their arrival. One trio of women asked us to take their pictures. They were from Germany.

This is a photo of a portion of the processional. Notice the huge censor hanging in the upper left of the picture.

This is a photo of a portion of the processional. Notice the huge censor hanging in the upper left of the picture.

Inside the cathedral there was a long line, well over a hundred people, waiting to have a few seconds to touch the statue of St. James situated behind the high altar. The crypt where his alleged bones reside is barely visited. This is a puzzle to me. 

We go into the cathedral shop and there I see a book that makes me think of the direction much of religion has gone in our time: quick and easy. 


This is the censor as it is being pulled into place to begin its wildly swinging arc through the cathedral.

This is the censor as it is being pulled into place to begin its wildly swinging arc through the cathedral.

We left the cathedral and went to explore other aspects of this city and its culture. Again I am struck by the sheer number of pilgrims we encounter. There are hundreds of them.

On Sunday morning we have decided to return to the cathedral to attend one of the many masses that will be held today. When we arrive, we are denied entrance into the cathedral as there is a service in progress. We go to stand in line to be admitted later. 

When we do finally gain entrance, the place is packed. There are probably two thousand people in the cathedral. There is no place to sit so we have to stand for the entire service. The procession begins and at least fifty priests enter to assist in the mass. It turns out to be a most welcoming service. Pilgrims are greeted in many different languages. It is clear that, in addition to pilgrims, there is a congregation of "regulars" to whom the priest directs his remarks when he gives his homily. The service ritual is rich and the organ music is powerful. I am thinking as the mass is being celebrated that there is no way this "congregation" of several thousand will be served the host. I am wrong. This is why there is such a large contingent of priests. It is so that everyone who so desires can receive. 


At the end of the service, a group of eight or ten men, all in vestments of some sort, lower the huge censor that hangs in the center of the cathedral. Some of the priests open it and ignite the incense. Then, they raise and lower the censor in such a way that it begins to swing back and forth from one end of the cathedral to the other. Smoke pours from it as it swings almost to the top of the cathedral. It is a most spectaculor event and the congregation is clearly spellbound. When it ends, everyone is clearly appreciative. We had been led to believe that this is something that occured rarely.


The service ends. My appreciation for the cathedral, the welcoming worship it offers and the persons who make up this congregation deepens. This feels like a fitting climax to the journey we have been on.

This is likely my last post about our "camino" until we return home. Perhaps on the journey home I'll have reflections to add. At this point I feel that our journey to Santiago de Compostella has been both gratifying and satisfying. 

Much love, 

Bill Kerley
Santiago de Compostella

Toward Santiago

These are my traveling companions, Sherry Beeman, Dianne and Dick Schenke.

These are my traveling companions, Sherry Beeman, Dianne and Dick Schenke.

After the official tour of the Via Podiensis, which took us almost to the border of Spain, four of us have decided to go on to Santiago. In addition to me and Sherry Beeman, my beautiful bride, there are Dick and Dianne Schenke. The Schenkes are dear friends and we have travelled with them in England, Turkey and Costa Rica. They are also vital members of St. Paul's in Houston. Dianne has a gift for organizing and planning and has put this part of the trip together, including making all the reservations and driving our rental car.


These shell symbols are common in streets and on sidewalks of cities leading to Santiago.

These shell symbols are common in streets and on sidewalks of cities leading to Santiago.

The first place we spent the night is Burgos, another way station for pilgrims going to Santiago. One of the first things we saw when we got out of the car was the symbol of the camino, the shell. These shells are brass and very large. They are placed in streets and on sidewalks all along the way. 


This is one shot of the exterior of the cathedral in Burgos.

This is one shot of the exterior of the cathedral in Burgos.

The cathedral in Burgos looms large over the city and is directly opposite our hotel. It is indeed impressive. We arrived late in the day and decided to visit the cathedral the next morning. The fee to go inside seemed high to us and the cathedral itself unwelcoming. This prompted a discussion among us about churches, cathedrals, abbeys and monasteries we have visited that seemed welcoming and those that did not. Dianne refers to these as "churches that are loved" and "churches that are not."  To me some spaces seem quite sacred and treated as such and others more like commercial enterprises. It made me think of St. Paul's definition of itself as "a sacred space in the heart of Houston where people seek, find and respond to God's love and grace." Why is it that some spaces seem like this and some don't?


This is one interior shot of the Catedral de Santa Maria de Leon.

This is one interior shot of the Catedral de Santa Maria de Leon.

If the cathedral in Burgos was a disappointment on the inside, the place we visited next was just the opposite. We drove on to Leon where we saw what I think may be the most beautiful and spiritually evocative Christian site I have ever entered. Even the energy of the city felt different.

All of these cities are, of course, ancient. Leon can date its history back to 70 AD when a Roman legion set up base here. Once again, we find a city that was and is a major place for pilgrims to rest on their way to Santiago. The number of pilgrims we see increases. You can tell those who are on their way back from Santiago because they wear, around their necks or on their backpacks, large shells that indicate they have accomplished their goal. 

Both the exterior and interior of this cathedral are breathtaking. 

 

I wish we could have stayed longer in this space but the custom of Spain forced us to leave the "Catdral de Santa Maria de Leon" at 1:30. Except for restaurants, most business extablishments close for the afternoon "siesta." 

After a wonderful Spanish lunch at an outdoor cafe we get in our car and head out for Santiago. As Dianne drives, I recall that Sherry and I drove this same route a few years ago on a driving trip from Lisbon, Portugal to Nice, France. The motor way is a marvel of modern engineering. At the time I knew nothing about the Camino or the "spiritual" importance of Santiago.

This becomes a metaphor for me of how much more there is out there in front of me that I am totally unaware of: jewels of experience waiting to be discovered. On life's journey, unless we are careful, we pass by so much. Every spiritual teacher teaches about the importance of having open eyes and of seeking. 

Before this day is over we will enter Santiago. 

Much love, 

Bill Kerley, 
en route to Santiago, Spain

Last Day of Guided Tour

This is a picture of the "pilgrims" walking in front of me. We are actually going away from Santiago here but this three mile walk deepened even further my appreciation for those who made the journey from Le Puy to Santiago. Remember, it took the first pilgrims a year to make the journey.

This is a picture of the "pilgrims" walking in front of me. We are actually going away from Santiago here but this three mile walk deepened even further my appreciation for those who made the journey from Le Puy to Santiago. Remember, it took the first pilgrims a year to make the journey.

On our last day in Esterencuby our guide, Peter Sills, had arranged for those who so desired to take an optional walking tour originating from the village of Larrau. This village is high in the Pyrennes. So, once again, we board a coach to make the journey over treacherous roads to go to this village that grew up around a pilgrim hospice and church. Once we arrived, and only about half of our group elected to do this, we had a time to refresh and then off we went - walking a pilgrim way.


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On our way back to where we were staying, we had to traverse a route even further up in the mountains. I have seldom seen such beautiful scenery.

 

We returned to our lodgings exhausted and in need of showers and a change of clothes.

This evening brings to a close the organized portion of our "camino." We have a closing ritual and a meal together. During these days we have formed relationships and created memories. Tonight is the time to say our thanks to Peter and our farewells to one another. Four of us will continue on our way to Santiago stopping at significant pilgrimage points along the way. I plan to write about these as well. 

I am so grateful for the events that have allowed me/us to cross paths with Peter Sills. Saint Paul's has a rich shared past with him and with Ely Cathedral. He has put such care into structuring this pilgrimage - especially the various worship rituals we have shared - vespers, Eucharist, Compline, etc. 

One of the hymns, unfamiliar to me, that we sang had this verse: 

We are pilgrims on a journey,
Fellow travellers on the road; 
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

Though I am sure there are other lessons to learn as one makes the journey to Santiago, this one, regardless of one's motivations for making the trip, is essential. 

Bill Kerley, 
Esterncuby, France

PS - More to come. Four of us are going on to Santiago with significant pilgrim stops along the way. Stay tuned. 

Pilgrims Progress


This places advertises rooms to rent for pilgrims.

This places advertises rooms to rent for pilgrims.

This is one of the official way-stations where pilgrims can get their pilgrim document stamped to indicate the route they are traveling.

This is one of the official way-stations where pilgrims can get their pilgrim document stamped to indicate the route they are traveling.

The place where we have been staying for the last days on the organized part of our journey, the Basque region of France, was visited by heavy and devasting rains for the week before we arrived. There was much damage. Peter Sills, our leader, has wanted us to stay in the kind of geography early pilgrims experienced. Of course, our accomodations have been luxiourous by comparision. He has also wanted us to travel not the main highways but the back and mountainous roads that follow the early Camino. In the process of doing repair to the road leading to where we have been staying, the phone line was cut thus depriving all of us from any contact with the outside world. No cell phone, no internet, no television. It's been wonderful. It has also hampered these postings in a timely manner.

We saw literally hundreds of pilgrims walking this street. If you look closely, you might see one you recognize.

We saw literally hundreds of pilgrims walking this street. If you look closely, you might see one you recognize.

One day trip we made from this place was, first, to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The name of this town means "foot of the pass" and was, and is, a place where three pilgrim routes converge.  




While in this village, we had a Eucharist service in the cathedral here.

After the service and a lunch on our own, we departed for Roncesvalles. This meant travelling over a mountain pass that took us not only into Spain but also to a height of over 900 meters. There we had a tour of the Abbey that has been a pilgrim stopping place since the tenth century. To think of humans that long ago climbing to this height is amazing. In doing renovations to the Abbey, which houses a wonderful museum documenting the church's history at this time, the remains of pilgrims who did not make it to Cantiago were found. 

This Abbey has been a place of hospitality for pilgrims on the way to Santiago since the 10th century.

This Abbey has been a place of hospitality for pilgrims on the way to Santiago since the 10th century.


In doing renovation to the Abbey the remains of pilgrims from decades ago were found and respectefully preserved.

In doing renovation to the Abbey the remains of pilgrims from decades ago were found and respectefully preserved.

On the long way back from the Abbey to our lodging, we stopped at a place pilgrims have revered for centuries. It is a place that signifies they are now on the "downward" slope toward Santiago. Still a long way to go but the hard climb is over.

We drove back from this day absolutely filled with experiences, memories and - for me - musings.

More to come, 

Bill Kerley
Esterncuby, France

This is a look Eastward from the highest point on the pilgrim journey to Santiago.

This is a look Eastward from the highest point on the pilgrim journey to Santiago.

The Narrow Way

As we made our way from Auch to where we currently are, Esterencuby, yesterday, I thought ot the spiritual teaching about walking spiritual path. One way is the broad and easy way that leads to "destruction." The other is the straight and narrow way that leads to life and enlightenment. The actual physical routes we have travelled have been exceedingly narrow but nowhere near straight. More about that next posting.

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We are in the Basque region of France. Though I have been in this part of the world before I don't think I had noticed how very different it is from the rest of France. To get to where we are, we had to cross the Pyrenees. The views were spectacular. 

We stopped at three places along the way.

In one of the main pilgrim churches

In one of the main pilgrim churches

One place was Navarrenx. This town played an important part in the Wars of Religion. Now, there's an oxymoron for you! It was also an important halt on the pilgrim way. 

We had time not only to explore this church, still in use, but also to explore this defended town.

At this point we deviated, because of road availability, from the Via Podiensis and got on anther pilgrim route, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. As information about the pilgrimage to Santiago grew, different routes developed. As they get closer to the border of Spain, they begin to come together.  We are getting closer to this becoming the case.

We stopped along the way and had Vespers in the atrium of a very ancient church. As is true with these ancient churches, the cemetery was right next to it.

It is becoming more and more common as we enter churches like this, first begun being built in the 10th century . . .

It is becoming more and more common as we enter churches like this, first begun being built in the 10th century . . .

Then we came on to our current location. It is as remote a place as I have visited. There is no cell phone coverage at all. I am amazed I can post these musings. The road we travelled down the mountainside was perilious with parts of it having been washed out by the recent rains. In several places cars approaching our vehicle had to back up, sometimes for quite a distance in order for us to make way. At times, the road itself was so narrow I wondered about our bus driver's ability to squeeze the coach forward. But she did. We were sitting on the front of the bus and I was able to get videos of this with my iPad.

To find statues like this. They are put in places of prominence near or in the chancel area.

To find statues like this. They are put in places of prominence near or in the chancel area.

We will have to traverse this narrow and frightening road several times because we are making this place our point of departure to a place where three pilgrimages routes come together.

Several times a day, at our worship services or on the coach, Peter Sills reads to us from histories of the pilgrimage and from his fictionalized account, based on history of a man who made this same pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. In two days this part of our journey will conclude. Then, four of us will go on to Santiago.

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In the talks Peter has given as well as in experiencing this journey I am reminded how difficult it must have been for those first pilgrims. I know I have written about this theme before in these postings. If one wants to learn any valuable skill, there are hours of practice to put into the matter. It is not all drudgery. There is a pay off but not without the practice. 

The place where we are staying is run by a multi-generation family. They are fond of dogs. After we arrived and were refreshing ourselves, one befriended Sherry. 

It's not all serious stuff!

It's not all serious stuff!

More to come.
Bill Kerley
Esterncuby, France






Being Formed by the Pilgrimage

This street in Auch dates back to the time before the Middle Ages.

This street in Auch dates back to the time before the Middle Ages.

Tomorrow, July the 14th, is Bastille Day here in France. It is the beginning of what became the French Revolution. One of the consequences of the French Revolution is that upon its completion, the newly formed French government took the land and shut down the monasteries of France. Consequently, many of the places we have visited, places that were once welcoming places for pilgrims on the way to Santiago in the 10th and 11th centuries are, unless they are churches, no longer active religious communities. This is not true for all but for most. The Revolution also affected many churches.

This chuch in Auch was most recently used as a place to play volleyball

This chuch in Auch was most recently used as a place to play volleyball

We have come to Auch to stay three nights because of the wonderful Gothic cathedral here and because, from here we have easy access to several major pilgrimage stopping places on the way from Le Puy to Compestela. Auch is another one of those cities that has a very ancient history that can be dated into years before the time Christianity came on the scene. 


After having a guided tour of Auch we left to visit two places.

This is one shot of the exterior of the Abbey.

This is one shot of the exterior of the Abbey.

One was the Abbaye de Flaran. This former Cisterian Abbey was a place where pilgrims would stop on their way to Santiago. The Cisterians were a reformed group of Benedictines.  The Abbey is now run as a non-profit cooperative and tourist attraction. It also houses a fine collection of art.



After spending time in this Abbey we went on to the town of Condom. Condom is another important pilgrimage stop and is built around the abbey. Here we not only visited the beautiful cathedral built in the 12th century but also had vespers here sung by the Ely choir. After the service the choir presented a concert.

Here is the Ely choir in concert in this marvelous cathedral.

Here is the Ely choir in concert in this marvelous cathedral.


We did not have nearly enough time in this cathedral as we had a schedule to make in Auch. It is one of the most unusual Gothic cathedrals I've seen. The iconography in the choir in very impressive.

This morning, Sunday, after breakfast we went to Choral Mass at the cathedral here in Auch. Contrary to what you may have heard about church attendance in Europe, everywhere we have been the services have been well attended. That was certainly true today. 

Here is an example of the strained glass in the cathedral in Auch. The "story" in the bottom panel is that of Jonah and the whale.

Here is an example of the strained glass in the cathedral in Auch. The "story" in the bottom panel is that of Jonah and the whale.


Just like there is no way to take a photograph of the Grand Canyon, there is no way to take a photograph of the cathedral in Auch. 

 

This is one attempt to capture the interior of the Auch cathedral.

This is one attempt to capture the interior of the Auch cathedral.

I am grateful for the fact that we have had opportunity to worship at least once a day in these sacred spaces. Of course, as I once heard Wendell Berry say, "All places are sacred. We just desecrate some of them." I am grateful to be exposed to the beautiful art, in the paintings, stained glass and architeture we have seen. Much of this was created during a time before the majority of people could read so the various art objects inside and outside of the cathedrals presented the story to them.

I have also been mindful all along this trip of how easy it is for the church, or any institution, to get and abuse power, to never gain an ability for self-critical reflection. Or, to easily lose it. I am mindful of how many people, because of this institutional ignorance and abuse give up on the spiritual journey altogether as well as the religious rituals that undergird the journey toward wholeness.

There has been so much to take in on this pilgrimage so far. It is easy for me to focus on being informed about it. Whereas, the real purpose of pilgrimage is not to be informed about it but to be formed by it, to be shaped by the Sacred. 

More to come. 

Bill Kerley
Auch, France

Being So-So On The Spiritual Pilgrimage

The church in Lauzerte had this painting of Jesus welcoming all indigenous peoples.

The church in Lauzerte had this painting of Jesus welcoming all indigenous peoples.

One of the first things I learned this morning as we left Cahors and headed for Lauzeret is that today is the feast day of St. Benedict. Our tour leader, Peter Sills, is an authority on Benedict and has been to St Paul's twice to give lectures on the Benedictine Rule.

This is the church where "choir eucharist" was celebrated.

This is the church where "choir eucharist" was celebrated.

Lauzerte is a major halt on the pilgrim way. It is one of the most beautiful villages in France. We came here to visit the church of Saint-Barthelemy. While there we celebrated Choir Eucharist.  

After our time in Lauzerte we departed for Moissac to visit the Cloister of the Abbey Church. The Abbey and its Cloister is one of the major Romanesque sites of France. The cloister is on a grand scale and contains the oldest and largest collection of carved capitals still in their original place. 

This is one image of the cloister.

This is one image of the cloister.

This is one of the 116 carved capitals. Each depicts a different biblical scene. The Abbey dates from the 8th or 9th century.

This is one of the 116 carved capitals. Each depicts a different biblical scene. The Abbey dates from the 8th or 9th century.

After spending time looking at the carved capitals and being struck by not only their beauty but also their age, we received a lecture about the ornate carving above the entrance to the cathedral. Most such carvings of these pilgrim churches are about "the last judgment." This one has a very different theme.

One scene of the carving above the cathedral door is about the parable of Dives and Lazarus.

One scene of the carving above the cathedral door is about the parable of Dives and Lazarus.

After this, we went into the cathedral and experienced a sung vesper service by the Ely Cathedral choir.

We have visited today two of the major places pilgrims stopped for their rest and physical healing, if necessary, on their way to Santiago.

You can tell from this sign post, we have yet a long way to go.

You can tell from this sign post, we have yet a long way to go.

So, this is some description of the way we have travelled today and some images to give you an idea of what we are seeing. The first place would have been a good day's walk from where we slept last night. The next one, four or five more days. However, as I said yesterday, the first pilgrims took longer to savor their journey.

I'll have more to say about Benedict later. He lived five hundred years before the pilgrimage to Santiago was instigated. At the time of Benedict, pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem and then, Rome. 

Benedict asked those who joined the community he founded to take certain vows. Usually, people think of these vows as being vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Not so for Benedict. What he asked for was that people who joined his order take the vows of  -

Silence. This is easy enough to understand. If we are called on to speak the truth, it is often easier just to say notiong.

This is one half of the Ely choir in the cathedral - all m en and boys and they sound wonderful.

This is one half of the Ely choir in the cathedral - all m en and boys and they sound wonderful.

Obedience. Those who joined the order were to obey the "rule" and be obedient to the Abbot. 

Stability. This means sticking with the order and not running off to find another if the going gets rough. 

Openness. We can easily, once we think we have "the truth," become closed to new ideas and insights. 

Silence. Obedience. Stability. Openness. 

If you take up these pilgrim vows, and our world as well as our lives would be better if we did, when someone asks you how your spiritual life is going, you can say, "So-so." 

Much love, 

Bill Kerley

Auch, France

Make Haste Slowly

This is one view of the cloisters.

This is one view of the cloisters.

This was, at one time, a huge community. There were only thirteen cloistered monks who kept silence the entire time they were here. From the time they entered the order until they died. They had absolutely no contact with the outside world. The community around them here supported them in their devotion and welcomed pilgrims.

Part of the monks daily practice was walking meditation which they did for hours. There are other communities to this day that also practice this contemplative life. The first I knew of were Buddhist. Then, I learned of others. You might want to check out the movie, "Into The Silence." I was moved by the devotion of those who built this space and those who occupied it. 

This walk, goes all around the green space, and is called the ambulatory and is where the monks walked. They were, at death, buried in the green space.

This walk, goes all around the green space, and is called the ambulatory and is where the monks walked. They were, at death, buried in the green space.

We had vespers in this sacred space. 

This sign I found on a bridge in Cahors. It reflects the contemporary popularity of "the Camino."

This sign I found on a bridge in Cahors. It reflects the contemporary popularity of "the Camino."

We went on after this to Cahors. Cahors is situated on a peninsula formed by a tight bend in the river Lot. It is one of the oldest cities in existence, dating back to the time before Christ. It was "Christianised" in the 5th century and became an important place for pilgrims.

We had a wonderful guided tour of this medieval city, including St. Stephen's Cathedral and the 14th century fortified bridge.

The day involved lots of walking. So far on this journey, I have seen lots of modern day pilgrims. They are apparent by their back packs which are clearly designed for long hikes and sleeping "camped out." Such "hikes" make cities and places of refuge and refreshment vitally important and pilgrams may stay in such places for days in order to renew themselves. Then they are off again. 

My pedometer indicates that I have walked over 13,000 steps today. Miniscule compared with someone who is walking all the say to Santiago. 

Lessons from this part of the trip: 

Be clear about where you are going. Take time out to rest and replenish. Then, be on your way. 

This bridge, the Valentre Bridge, is from the 14th century.  

This bridge, the Valentre Bridge, is from the 14th century.

 

Don't just go about. I was reminded of this line as I wondered about the variety of motivations that makes someone decide to make this journey. A professor of mine from seminary days said on the last class he taught before we went to places of service, "Jesus went about doing good. Make sure you don't just go about." 

More to come. 

Much love, 

This is one exterior shot of the cathedral in Cahors. A very popular "hospitality" place for pilgrims in the 10th century.

This is one exterior shot of the cathedral in Cahors. A very popular "hospitality" place for pilgrims in the 10th century.

Bill Kerley

I couldn't resist posing, in France!, by this children's ride in a super market here. I was going to claim it was my method of transportation. Notice the Texas license plate.

I couldn't resist posing, in France!, by this children's ride in a super market here. I was going to claim it was my method of transportation. Notice the Texas license plate.

Cahors, France


Difficult and Dangerous

This is a map of the route we are taking. 

This is a map of the route we are taking. 

My intention when I began this journey was to post text and photos every day that would be representative of traveling "the Camino."

That I have been, for a variety of reasons, unable to do so, may, in fact, be far more representative than I had intended. Ever since leaving Lyon, my hopes regarding these postings have been beset with difficulties. I give thanks to Wayne Herbert who has been able to put together the texts, e-mails and separate photos and put them together in one piece. If the final result doesn't make sense, the fault is with me and not with Wayne.

I must add that before we left Le Puy we heard, late at night for me and up those very difficult steps for me, the wonderful Ely choir in concert. I think that if you were looking for a Christmas gift this coming season, their Carol album would be greatly appreciated. 

We left Le Puy and travelled along this route called the Via Podiensis. This is one of the principal routes to Santiago de Compostella. Though the country side is beautiful, it is also very difficult terraine to cover. It is mountainous and the roads are, at points, treacherous. The weather turned cold and rainy.

There is one of our group who has actually walked every step along this route. She did about twelve miles a day. Not easy going. All along the way we see numerous people walking "the way." They are in the rain and cold. My personal difficulties seem minor in comparison with what they are enduring. I think back to the 9th or 10th century and wonder how those people managed. 

This is the Eglise de Perse where pilgrims have stopped for centuries.

This is the Eglise de Perse where pilgrims have stopped for centuries.

This sculpture over the church's doorway is unusual as it depicts, not the final judgment scene, as is typical, but the day of Pentecost.

This sculpture over the church's doorway is unusual as it depicts, not the final judgment scene, as is typical, but the day of Pentecost.

I appreciate the fact that every place we stop Peter Sills has insured that we stay reminded of why we are making this pilgrimage - at least the possibilities that are open to us. This, I am becoming increasingly aware, is a hard journey. Not because I don't have internet service. That has become laughable. It is because spiritual work is difficult. A teaching I was offered decades ago takes on new flesh: this work is simple; it is not easy.

This is a photo of those of us who celebrated the service.

This is a photo of those of us who celebrated the service.

We ventured on to Conques. This place is a major pilgrimage destination and way-stop on the way to Santiago. The church is served by a small Augustinian community. I was privileged to be invited to serve as one of the officiants at the Eucharist service held in this ancient Abbey.  

I find that I have drifted away from the point I was wanting to make. 

The "difficulties" I have experienced on this trip have reminded me of not only the difficulties those who first made pilgrimages encountered but also of how "easy" we have it in our day-to-day lives. This ease seduces us, I think, into the false belief that all of life - perhaps especially our religious and spiritual lives - should be easy. 

This is one view of this 10th century church.

This is one view of this 10th century church.

As for the dangerous part, there is this to comtemplate. Undoubtedly there were dangers abundant for those who first set out from le Puy (as well, eventually, from other places.) Dangers we in the "modern world" cannot imagine: illness, physical perils from weather, animals and humans intend on doing evil. 

The real danger of serious spiritual pilgrimage, however, is at the level I frequently speak of in my teaching: that of transformation. To be truly transformed could cost one a lot. Even one's "life." I think this is something Jesus was fairly clear about. "If you want to follow me," he said. "it could cost you." 

So, here is my point: spiritual work, religious discipline, psychological growth are difficult undertakings. No doubt about it. However, well done, there is no real danger. No matter what it costs. 

More next time. 

Much love, 

Bill Kerley

(This posting was made from Cahors, an important stoping place for pilgrims.)

Walking

Woodcut of Robert Langton, clerk, setting off on his pilgrimage

Woodcut of Robert Langton, clerk, setting off on his pilgrimage

One of the first Buddhist teaching stories I received from my teacher over fifty years ago now was this:

Buddha was asked, "What do you and your monks do?"

He replied, "We eat, we walk, we sleep."

The response was, "But, everyone eats, walks and sleeps."

"Yes," Buddha said, "But, when we eat, we are aware we are eating. When we walk, we are are aware we are walking. And, when we sleep we are even aware we are sleeping."

On pilgrimage, awareness of walking is an essential. One of the ways early pilgrims could identify other pilgrims was by their distinctive garb - especially the hat and the staff. Just so on this pilgrimage. The hat is essential to protect one from the elements - sun and rain. The staff is essential to help maintain balance and sure-footedness. The terrain is sometimes quite steep and uneven.

Two spiritual matters are brought to mind about both of these matters.

First, the garb helps identify those around you who are also on pilgrimage. At the cathedral here it has been easy to see those who have come to le Puy to begin making the journey. Some people do it entirely by foot making, at times, up to 30 miles a day. Some have their luggage taken from one place to another by companies who specialize in such tours. Some, like us, stay in of one four or five key places and make treks out from there, such as we have done today. More about that in a moment.

When the Bishop in le Puy decided to institute the pilgrimage, he encouraged churches, abbeys and monasteries along the way to provide places of hospitality along the way. This is the origin of our modern hospitals.

We learn on pilgrimage that who we hang out with and what we talk about greatly determines the quality of our lives.

This is the abbey courtyard

This is the abbey courtyard

The second matter is the importance of paying attention. Certainly taking time out from one's regular routine and entering an entirely foreign terrain, a different language and culture cause one to pay keen attention to what is going on. This "paying attention" is crucial to psychological and spiritual growth.

This is one of the "panels" of the Dance of Death

This is one of the "panels" of the Dance of Death

Today, we ventured out to the Abbey of La Chaise Dieu, which was the first major stop on the journey from le Puy. Today the Abbey is famous for its mural "The Dance of Death." During the Medieval Period this part of the world had its population reduced by as much as half by not only the Black Plague but also the Wars of Religion (now there's an oxymoron for you!) I looked at these murals made around 1450 and thought of what most of us in the State know as "the day of the dead."

Pilgrimage, then, reminds us of our finitude. Pilgrimage calls us to focus on what matters most and not to live shallow lives that reflects the mistaken belief that we have forever.

We walk. We converse with and come to know our companions along the way. We pay attention. We know that life, no matter how long we live, is short. And, precious.

More to come. 


At The Beginning

Saint Michael

Saint Michael

The thirty of us who are making this pilgrimage, with only four of us going all the way to Santiago, gathered in Lyon and took a motor coach to Le Puy-en-Velay. This is the starting point of the first pilgrimage made to Santiago and the route is call Via Podiensis. Both the name of the village and the name of the route are words that mean "podium." This is because of the relatively high volcanic peaks on which both the chapel and the cathedral are built. The Church of Saint-Michael is spectacularly perched on top of one of these volcanic pinnacles. It is almost 300 steps to climb to this edifice.

One of the first things I discovered after arriving is that the app and internet connection I have used so far to post these musings, no longer works. How things have changed since 950 when the local bishop made the first pilgrimage from here to the shrine of St. James. It took him over a year to make the journey and he took between four and five hundred people with him. During the height of the popularity of the pilgrimage during the Middle Ages, an average of 500,000 people a year made the trek. Now the average number is more like 30,000.

This cathedral took over 200 years to build

This cathedral took over 200 years to build

The cathedral from which this bishop presided took a little over 200 years to build. It, too, is well situated on another volcanic outcropping and takes over a 100 steps to reach. Both of these churches are placed where they acted as a defensive measure.

This pilgrim statue resides in the cathedral where it all began in 950

This pilgrim statue resides in the cathedral where it all began in 950

From the beginning pilgrims have not travelled the Camino alone. It would have been too dangerous. Besides, at the heart of spiritual practice is getting to know and love "the neighbor." This is true, as I have recently been saying, because our neighbor is us. Consequently, on this part of the pilgrimage, we have been requested to share a meal with a different person on the journey each time we eat.

The Rev. Peter Sills

The Rev. Peter Sills

Our leader, the Rev. Peter Sills, former vice-dean of Ely Cathedral has written a fictional piece that he is sharing with us each day. It is about a merchant Medard whose brother is an abbot of the monastery in Le Puy. He makes his pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.

The original pilgrimage to Santiago was made for both religious and spiritual purposes. Consequently, there were rituals to be performed along the way at the various churches and holy sites specified by the bishop. I'm sure the sites and rituals evolved. The implication of that for this pilgrimage we are on is that there are religious rituals conducted every day. Today we had high mass in the cathedral. The local bishop, though aged and ill, spoke to the congregation in both French and English. Afterwards, we had a guide speak with us about the construction of and the art in the cathedral.

We are making this pilgrimage in absolute luxury compared with those who made it before us. I'm thinking of how much of the time since the pilgrimage's inception this part of the world has been affected and afflicted with and by war - particularly "religious" wars.

We make our "camp" here for two more evenings though we journey out each day to experience parts of the "camino" route. We return to the Cathedral tomorrow evening to hear music preformed by the Ely Cathedral choir. We have heard them three times today and they are outstanding.

The geographical space where we are staying has been continuously occupied since the Bronze Age. Archaeological studies reveal that one or more of the huge stones used in the building of the cathedral were associated with a site dedicated to the worship of the Roman emperor sometime between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

All of which is to put into perspective one's life at the beginning of the journey. Very often we spend our time and energy making much of matters that matter not at all. The pilgrimage is designed to allow those who choose to take it to determine for themselves what matters most.

Much love,

Bill Kerley 

Seeking a Deeper Reality

This was taken from the back of the Notre Dame Cathedral that overlooks this city of 1.6 million inhabitants.

This was taken from the back of the Notre Dame Cathedral that overlooks this city of 1.6 million inhabitants.

There are thirty of us who are going on this pilgrimage, and only four of us will go all the way to Santiago, have selected Lyon, France as our starting place.

Evidence has been found that shows Lyon to have been consistently inhabited since prehistoric times. Indeed, yesterday we spent hours touring the largest - six floors! - museum of Roman artifacts I've ever seen. The second settlement of Christians in the Roman world settled here in 177. The church that sits atop this highest part of the city, the "Mary Church," is much like Sacre Coure in Paris in that it was built in response to a promise made to God that if the city was spared the horrors of WWI such an edifice would be built.

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Here are three representative photos. 

There is evidence that at the time the first pilgrims began going to Santiago, Lyon was a starting place and a way-point for those who made the journey.

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As I write yesterday, those who first conceived of and made this pilgrimge were seeking comfort and healing that met their religious and spirituals understandings of the time. Those who make the journey today do not have the same concerns but are seeking both deeper meaning and deeper reality in a world where meaning seems mostly focuses on the material and reality seems so superficial. 

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We pilgrims met in Lyon and traveled to Le Puy-en-Velay which was the original starting point of the pilgrimage in the year 950.

Being A Pilgrim

Every living spiritual tradition, whether it makes claims about being a religion or not, has embraced the notion of pilgrimage. Sites that people have held to be "sacred" have been a part of human consciousness and practice from the beginning of human history.

The scallop shell is to be found all along the way of the camino. Pilgrims made this sign to mark the way and, after arriving in Santiago, went on to the coast to pick up a shell for themselves. This signified they had made the trip.

The scallop shell is to be found all along the way of the camino. Pilgrims made this sign to mark the way and, after arriving in Santiago, went on to the coast to pick up a shell for themselves. This signified they had made the trip.

Movement is an important part of physical, psychological and spiritual growth. If someone is unable to move physically, we say they are "handicapped." If someone doesn't move from one developmental stage to another psychologically, we say they are "immature," "not grown up." I have for decades referred to our spiritual work as making, and I got this phrase from Robert Johnson, a "journey into wholeness." 

In religions, pilgrimage is a sacred journey, to a sacred place with a sacred goal. This would be true for the early followers of Jesus to journey to Jerusalem or for Muslim people today to make a trek to Mecca. Buddhists also have their sacred sites they journey to to practice their sacred rituals. 

For over a thousand years the cathedral in Santiago, Spain has been the destination of such a pilgrimage. Tradition, or legend, has it that James, one of Jesus' closest disciples and the first follower of Jesus to be executed for his faith, went to Spain to preach the "good news." When he returned to Jerusalem, he was executed. His disciples took his body back to Spain for burial. According to the legend, a hermit was guided to the place of burial by a star. The body was found in a field by this hermit and the place was named "field of the star" or "Compostela." For over a thousand years now, pilgrims from all over the world, first beginning in what we now call Europe, walked their way to this site. The journey is called "the way of St. James," or, simply "the Camino."

There are many routes pilgrims took to Santiago coming, as they were, from so many different places. The entire route now made popular by books and the film "The Way" with Martin Sheen is about 500 miles and the popularity of this pilgrimage, for whatever reason, is growing.

We are starting the portion we will be doing this time in Lyon, France and will go all the way to Santiago where there is a great and beautiful cathedral. As one gets closer to Santiago, the route narrows to become just one path. 

In the beginning the church took advantage of the pilgrims' faith and turned the pilgrimage into something one did to gain forgiveness in this life and merit in the life to come. I doubt very many people today do it for that reason. The pilgrimage is made for a variety of reasons: as a physical challenge, as something that is gaining in popularity, as a way to learn about history. I'm sure there are more reasons than these. 

On my first experience of doing part of the Camino a few years ago, I was moved by the ancient art and archectiture. This sort of thing touches something deep within me. My intention is to write about each day's experience and post here a few pictures that you might find touching as well.

One theory, and it is only one, about why labyrinths came to be used by the ancient churches is that people who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem or, later, to Santiago, could vicariously experience the pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth and reflecting on the experiences of others. Perhaps this "blog" will serve that purpose for you. I know that the act of writing it is going to help me be more present to my own experience. 

As I said, we start in Lyon. We arrived in Leon on Thursday, exhausted after international travel. After a while to recover, we went to dinner. Lyon is the culinary capital of France - not Paris. We had a wonderful meal. On our way back to our hotel, which is in the old part of the city, and Rick Steves says Lyon has the best collection of medieval buildings of any city in Europe, I looked down and saw the sign of the pilgrimage. 

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Our intent is to explore Lyon on Friday. I'll give you an update after that day is complete.

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I'm putting below two additional random pictures taken in Lyon our first day. 


Route to Santiago

On July 2, 2014, we are going to join the Rev. Canon Peter Sills on part of the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compestela in Spain.

This is the cover of a book full of beautiful photographs and text about the pilgrimage

This is the cover of a book full of beautiful photographs and text about the pilgrimage

The "way of St. James" has been a pilgrimage event for over 1000 years as people have flocked to the site of the burial of the apostle St. James the Great. Legend states that the body of James was carried by boat from Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where a church was erected on the site of the tomb. There is no single route for the pilgrims to follow, but there are several key paths.

A few years ago we did the beginning of one of these routes going from Mont Saint-Michel to Bordeaux. The art and architecture we saw along the way was incredible. The guides we had were the most knowledgeable I have ever experienced.

When we found out that Peter Sills, a man some of you know and have heard speak - he was the first Kerley Endowment speaker we had speak to us - announced that he was taking another group on another part of the route, we decided to go.

We will start in Lyon, France. Though Peter's tour will go only to the border of Spain, four of us are going on to Compostela.

If you want to see a movie about this trip, you can watch "The Way" with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

I wanted a way to share this trip with those who would like to join us. I am grateful, very grateful, to Wayne Herbert for helping me learn the technical aspects for doing this - and for keeping the Ordinary Life website up-to-date and posting e-mails in my absense.

This is Peter's 25th pilgrimage to lead. It is also the 25th anniversary of the Ely Cathedral choir and we will be travelling in tandem with them worshipping in some of the great churches in France and Spain. As they say in the new tech lingo, I'll keep you posted.

Much love,

Bill Kerley