The pilgrimage of St James, ie walking through parts of Europe and ending up in Spain at the church in Santiago de Campostela, can start anywhere. We have met pilgrim walkers from Germany, Switzerland who start in their home countries and do the walk across Europe, taking months and ending in Santiago. Many of these pilgrims walk for a week or two each year completing a new portion, like doing parts of the Appalachian Trail.
We chose to walk for part of the way through France from Le Puy (check a map) to Conques. None of us realized that the walk in France would be so difficult, stony, steep, muddy but extremely beautiful through endless green mountain pastures filled with sheep and cows ( I have certainly eaten most of a least one of the cows and its cheese). The journey really feels like a pilgrimage as we suffer and think and pray about people who have gone before us. We stay in Gites (guesthouses) or small hotels. The food is out of this world delicious: stews, cheeses, mouses, pates, soups, fish, pork, fabulous cheesy potatoes of the region and wine, wine, wine which makes up for the difficult walking days.
But we are truly each on our own personal pilgrimage. The priest in Le Puy blessed us at the beginning and at the end in Conques. We stop and pray at every church and there are many, one about every five miles. Tom lights a candle for his sister Mary Ellen who died and we sit quietly in the half light on the little wooden pews.
Our daily walk is anywhere from 10 to 16 miles and the steep inclines and plunges descents make the trail feel a lot farther. All along the route are crosses, prayer sites, statues of St James. Everyone: farmers, farm women, shop workers of all kinds in tiny hamlets bless us as we pass. It is most humbling. We seem to carry a great burden of a tradition that stretches back for centuries as well as the prayers for those at home and those around us.
I will put in some of the views that we saw recently. The villages are incredibly beautiful with churches and buildings dating from the 8th to the 15th century. Conques is especially startling when walking into town. Its churches, towers and roofs are all so old it makes one feel like an ancient pilgrim. We met the priest at the church and had an informal blessing.