Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sunday, July 31, 2011


When the Romans arrived in the second century BC in what would later be called Costa da Morte--Coast of Death--they believed it was the end of the world, the last outcropping of land before the sea and nothingness, and so it was called Finisterre. It was a pagan area, Galicia, a Celtic land. Santiago, St James, one of the disciples of Jesus, travelled to Spain and to the end of the world to spread the word of Christ. The Virgin Mary sailed in a stone boat to Muxia, a town a days walk from Finisterre, to encourage James as he spread the word. In 44 AD James was beheaded in Jerusalem. His disciples went to the city where Finisterre currently lies to ask a Roman legion if they could bury James in what is now the city of Santiago. The Romans threw these men into prison, but they escaped and ran east. The Romans chased the disciples of James and were about to catch them when a bridge the disciples had just crossed collapsed before the Romans could get over it. They buried James in the forest. His remains were found in the ninth century and pilgrims have been traveling to Santiago de Compostela ever since.

Today some pilgrims choose to continue after Santiago, after visiting the remains of St James, to walk across the bridge that had collapsed before the Romans, to arrive at the ocean and the end of the world. Some choose to walk farther, to Muxia, where Marys stone boat could still be found into the 16th century.

I began my camino by visiting my own sea in Bellingham. Last night we began walking at 12:30 to follow the stars to Finisterre. If you walk at night you can see the Milky Way, like God dragged his thumb across the sky, slightly smudging the stars in a path traveling west. You can follow the Milky Way to Santiago and beyond to Finisterre, which is why the city is called Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that Compostela comes from the Latin for Field of Stars.

We followed the Milky Way west until the sky grew light, until we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as we set foot on the beach we removed our backpacks and boots, our clothes and pilgrim trappings, and ran into the ocean, tasting the salt water. We walked along the beach choosing caracoles, the sea shells that have become the symbol of the Camino. Tonight we will walk the last three kilometers of the Camino from the city of Finisterre to the farthest point of land on Cabo Fisterra, to the lighthouse, to watch the sunset and end our Camino at the end of the world.

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