Modern Pilgrim Traditions

By Amarilys S.
Group 5

Going on a medieval pilgrimage is a tremendous experience filled with tradition and modern innovations, questions of authenticity, and a sense of the ethereal, as the past and the present meet and create a cultural phenomenon. Considering the past and reflecting on the present, I am able to compare certain traditions that are part of this ethereal sense of time and others that differ, as the progression of time makes certain breaches between pilgrims of the past and present.

For medieval pilgrims, preparing for a pilgrimage was preparing for a journey with unpredictable circumstances, including weather, war, bandits, disease, and famine. This resulted in the preparation process being more extensive and thorough, as pilgrims had to leave their affairs in order, especially if they were going far from their homes. This is perhaps why average medieval pilgrims packed so little, as they wanted to leave items for their loved ones to remember them if they did not come back, and to not have to carry an overload of supplies as they made their journey.

As for modern pilgrims, like myself, there is a higher chance of my return home, as I have precautions such as health care cards and embassies. Either way, I still had to leave certain things in order before I left, like my room and a list of passwords for my accounts if something were to leave me incapacitated. I also made sure to see my friends and family members before I embarked across the Atlantic, as there are still unforeseen circumstances in the present. Either way, preparing my luggage did not have the desperation or disparity of the thought of not returning home. However, despite my frugal efforts to pack less, my mother, at the thought of her child being across the Atlantic in Europe, made me take two knitted sweaters and scarves for the cold and other items that may or may not be necessary. I am sure medieval pilgrims had this same issue, even if they were not going to another continent.

As for traditions that concern El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the shell is a symbol that survives to this day. While medieval pilgrims would receive the shell as a sign that they were returning from Santiago, modern pilgrims adorn themselves with it to signal that they are on their way there. And while it is usually the scallop shell, I have chosen a clam shell to be my primary shell while on the Camino. It was a shell that I found the summer after watching The Way, the movie that introduced me to the concept of el Camino. I thought of el Camino when I found it and knew that I had to save it until the day that I would be able to go on it myself.