"Under the sign of the shell" pilgrimage route to St. James, Camino del Norte: Germany, France, Spain, 2008.

Way of St. James

On August 8th, 2008 I went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with a mountaineer whom I found in the bike travel forum. I was proudly allowed to put the first stamp in my Credencial del Peregrino, the pilgrim passport, right beside the statue of St. James in Freiburg Cathedral. Blessed we kicked off after celebrating the pilgrimage mass. Crossing the Rhine river, we drove along the wonderful route along the Doubs in France - unfortunately it rained most of the time and we weren‘t spared neither by flat tires nor by broken spokes. In the lecture I will reveal why I had to crack my own bike lock on the very first day! We passed the war cemeteries of Morvillars, the twisted tower roof of the church of Pierre de Bresse, beautiful ceramic roofs and the gigantic fortress of Besancon, Fort Chaudianne, through numerous French villages decorated with lush flowers to Taizé, our first sub-destination. Two beautiful days with hundreds of believers, mainly young people, and prayer chants in six languages unfortunately did not make my exhausting “pilgrim infection” heal.

A feast for the eyes: landscape and architecture

Our paths parted at the Chateau die Lapalisse, and I cycled alone through wonderful landscapes over the Col del la Chabanne in the Massif Central to Roncesvalles, the famous castle, always following the blue and yellow shell signs of the Camino de Santiago. The cathedral of Rocamadour and the basilica of Lekeitio were just as worth seeing as many small and large village churches that I visited despite the 100-160 kilometers that I covered during the day. „Always pick up the pearls along the way“, is my travel philosophy..

In Biarritz, Basque Country, I reached the coast of the Atlantic ocean that was to be my guideline for the next 700 kilometers. With the constantly changing views of the ocean on my right and the many romantic fishing villages, whose residents kept offering me their warm hospitality, I happily fought my way up and down the mountains accompanied by “Bon Camino” calls. An army of guardian angels saved me from harm, first during the tremendous storm that surprised me in the mountains. A real angel rescued me! The fact that my flock of angels were not far away on the night I was accidentally locked in a monastery made things no less eerie. But the angels also saved me from drowning at sea, which I came closer to than I would have liked.

I was most impressed by the people.

The encounter with one of the richest families in Spain who hosted me, was just as warm and exhilarating as spending the night with drug addicts in a stable or with monks in a monastery - and many asked me to pray for them at the final destination of the pilgrimage, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Other big highlights were the popular cider festival in Villaviciosa and the folk festival in Colombres with residents who proudly wore their colourful traditional costumes. The granaries, horreos, on their high legs, nowadays often used as additional living space, were often decorated in shades of blue, the fabric houses on the beautiful sandy beach of Gijon were a motley mix of colors. At the westernmost point of Spain, Bares, a settlement with a few houses, no shop or pub, I was allowed to take a break for two days to heal my sore bottom. My hosts gave me their key to the house and drove off to Madrid. This overwhelming trust has honoured me again and again. At the pillars of Playa de las Cathedrales on the beach, I celebrated my daughter's birthday, then said goodbye to the sea and continued cycling over the mountains to the south-west towards Santiago de Compostela. When I realized that I still had five days left, I decided to go to Fisterra first to celebrate my end of pilgrimage ritual in the cave of the cliff, excitedly burning my pilgrim's shirt like all the others do. I cycled into the city from the west and was happy to read exactly 2500 kilometers on the speedometer on the forecourt of the cathedral proudly presenting 33 stamps in my pilgrim's passport. I was then able to enjoy the beautiful city with some completely exhausted pilgrims from all over the world for a few more days, take part in the obligatory feeding of the poor, and fulfill the many prayer assignments of the pious people who had stopped me on the way.

Look forward to an eventful lecture!

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