The Cathedral in Santiago will be the end point for a group of Reading-based pilgrims Stephen Colebourne/flickr.com
A group of 34 parishioners from the catholic community across Reading will be following in the footsteps of their medieval forbears as they set off on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain this September.
Santiago is said to be the burial place of St James the Apostle, who was beheaded in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Emperor Herod Agrippa in the 1st Century AD.
In the Middle Ages pilgrims from all over Europe made their way to Santiago along well-known pilgrims’ routes to pray at the tomb of St James. These days, the ‘Camino’ or Way of St James is a very popular walking route; more than 200,000 people completed the walk last year.
Reading also has a special connection to the Saint as the main holy relic in Reading Abbey was said to be the hand of St James, given to the Abbey by its founder, King Henry I.
Pilgrims flocked to the town to pray at the shrine where the relic was kept and were given two days’ free hospitality by the monks.
It is especially fitting that the group of modern day pilgrims will start their journey from St James Catholic Church, in the Forbury, which stands within the ruins of the medieval Abbey. There they will each have their pilgrim’s passport, known in Spanish as a credencial, stamped with the symbol of the scallop shell, which is particularly associated with St James but has become the emblem of pilgrims everywhere. (It can still be seen on Reading’s Coat of Arms as a reminder of our history as a place of pilgrimage.)
Unlike their medieval predecessors, however, the group will then fly to Spain and begin their journey on foot from Sarria, a town that lies 111km from the city of Santiago on what is known as the French Way. After walking for five days, spending the nights in pilgrims’ hostels and small hotels, they will reach Santiago on Tuesday, September 16.
They will then join other pilgrims from all over the world at the special Mass for Pilgrims which is celebrated each day in Santiago Cathedral.
Like pilgrims through the ages each person will have their own reasons for having journeyed to Santiago but all will be giving thanks for their safe arrival and be hoping to return home spiritually refreshed and having made new friends along the way.