During the summer of 2001, the friends of Saint
James of Loiret rejoined the tradition of pilgrimages to
Compostella by river and maritime ways.
The pilgrimage of today changed, even if the
places remained the same. The geographical and sociological
conditions are different from those in the Middle Ages, and to
believe that, under the pretext of walking on a stony path, one
finds the mentality of the pilgrims of the old days leads to
adopting caricature attitudes. The way of Compostella suffers from
it, encumbered by pilgrims who have a few days only and "act" the
part of the poor long-term pilgrim. Compostella can be reached on a
path starting from one's place and returning to it, either on
ground, or by sea. Other sanctuaries, other ways offered less to
the pilgrim both in terms of reasons for him to go there and in
terms of nourishing his dreams and his imagination.
in compostella, millions of pilgrims
These riding pilgrims at the stage of
Roncevaux in 1982 received one of the 120 Compostelas of that year
- photo DPM
The initiative of the Council of Europe, relayed
by the European Institute of Cultural Routes, bears its fruits
fully. It brought back to Compostella its eighteenth century luster
and it receives crowds it had never known before. More and more
Europeans and increasing numbers of pilgrims from other continents
discovered the meaning of the effort and the duration of the
advance on the pilgrim path.
In that respect, Compostelle exerts a particular
magic: one goes, one walks on, one rolls towards Compostella, and
once arrived one does not remain there.
No other sanctuary proposes the same approach.
(Its rise was heavily based on the railroad!) Miracle of collective
memory. The pilgrim of Compostella is invited to give up the modern
means of transport. The forgotten ways come to life again.
a Roman way in Vendée, suggested to
the pilgrim of today - Photo Union
This symbolism of walking is powerful; it is that
of the Elect of the Apocalypse.
But there are dangers to watch for. As in the
past, Satan readily wears the costumes of saint James to exploit
the credulity of pilgrims and the "merchants of the Temple" are
always present at sanctuary doors and on the roads. The pilgrim
left his comfort and his practices for a while. He saw one
exceptional moment, made certain unusual efforts but also knew the
joys of meetings and new experiences. He lives in a closed world,
among pilgrims like himself, in a fraternal environment.
But isn't a transitory fraternity with unknown
people whom one will never see again a mere illusion? Too often it
disappears with the return to everyday life, even within
associations of former pilgrims.
Don't these meetings between pilgrims, all
similar, embarked on the same "coach", as Father Michel Bureau puts
it, occult the meeting with the foreigner whose country one
crosses? There is also the danger of pilgrim overpopulation; don't
these European ways become certain days of pilgrim motorways, where
the competition for being the first to reach the lodging
Compostella exerts its attraction on extremely
various people, of all confessions and nationalities. The
statistics concerning the "Holy Years" are revealing: in 1965 4.5
million pilgrims came; in 1971, 5.4 million; in 1976, 6 million, in
1999, 9 million. The "compostela" delivered to the pilgrims who
have marched at least the last 100 kilometers increased from 120 in
1982 to more than 50 000 in 2000. Among these pilgrims, almost 90%
are Spanish. The others come from the whole world, even if the
starting point of their walk often does not exceed the famous final
one hundred kilometers that give the rule.
Is there no urgency to find the Compostellan
contribution for other places of pilgrimage? Saint James, venerated
everywhere in the Middle Ages, also invites us to many other
sanctuaries, as many unifying traits of Europe, innumerable
sanctuaries of the Virgin and of saints whose universality
obliterates the nationality of origin.
Ci against a certificate of pilgrimage or
"Compostela", delivered to the pilgrims who made the last 100
kilometers on foot.
sanctuaries for the cult of the virgin
N D of Daurade in Toulouse (France) - Photo
Europe owes a lot to Mary, who takes an active
part in her construction through exchanges and meetings in her
innumerable sanctuaries. She proliferated in the West in the
nineteenth century after the proclamation of the dogma of the
Immaculate Conception in 1854. She supported Jean-Paul II and the
opening towards the East. She continues to appear regularly, in San
Damiano in Italy, she cries in Civitavecchia, near Rome, where
pilgrims precipitate. There are no language barriers, the prayer is
same from Lourdes to Medjugorjé, the rituals are also
similar and the offerings are the same, money and candles. In
France, pilgrims come from all Europe to pray to the Virgin in
Rocamadour, in Chartres, in Puy, La Salette above Grenoble, the
abbey of Frigolet near Tarascon, in Lyon, in Marseilles...
More mysterious and originating in dark ages, the
Black Virgins maintain their popularity intact. One of them has
been incarnating since the seventeenth century the independence of
Poland - the icon of the Black Virgin of Czestochowa. Nothing could
stop the surge of pilgrims, neither divisions, nor wars, nor
Communism. On the contrary, the worship of the "queen of Poland"
nourished dramatic political conditions. Popes Pius IX, John XXIII
and John-Paul II went in pilgrimage there. Other Black Virgins
continue to be venerated, surrounded by marvelous myths and
Particularly invoked to facilitate difficult
pregnancies and births, in which even the obstetrician cannot come
to the help of young mothers, scientific progress did not make them
lose their functions: In Toulouse, Notre-Dame de la Daurade
continues to lend her belt to certain pregnant young mothers and
the parish distributes blessed medals and ribbons to those who
Fragment of the belt of the Virgin - Photo
N D of the pillar in Namur (Belgium)
The pilgrimages are one of the oldest forms of
tourist migration, which still occurs nowadays. Religious tourism
forms an integral part of the tourist industry. It can be defined
from a spiritual point of view as offering to believers a facility
to put themselves in relation with the saint they venerate. From a
sociological point of view, it proposes cultural access to sacred
art, which exerts fascination even upon atheists, conscious that
the roots of their culture plunge into these places. Catholicism
seems to know a change that privileges the inner experience and the
effective involvement of the subject, for example by a long walk
towards a remote place of pilgrimage: certainly Compostella, but
also from Mount Saint-Michel to Lourdes, from Lourdes to Rome or
Fatima, or to remote Jerusalem. The Catholic Church encourages
these practices today.
Religious tourism is placed at the crossing of two
realities that seem irreconcilable to a certain extent: the image
of the tourist evokes banality, frivolity, consumption, while that
of the pilgrim is related to seriousness, asceticism, engagement.
Professionals of serious tourism can adapt their proposals to the
demand. At choice, they can cater to those who wish a spiritual
retreat, or propose a priest able to accompany a group and
evangelise it, or simply help understand the major significance of
a religious building testifying to a living church, or include the
religious domain in a study trip with broader ambitions (to
understand usage, industries, food...) or finally simply provide a
guide of works of art from religious places considered simply as
museums. The professionals note this development of a "spiritual
market, animated by the need for demanding knowledge, apart from
regulated religious systems". They endeavour to adapt to it.
Saint James on the facade of the church of
Saint-Gilles du Gard - Photo LM
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