Pilgrimpace's Blog

a pilgrim in spain
November 24, 2011, 10:37 pm
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This review of A Pilgrim in Spain by Christopher Howse appeared in the most recent Confraternity of St James Bulletin. 

Pilgrimage is the expectation of a particular grace to be found in the journey.  In Spain it is never looked for and found wanting.”  This book is a pilgrimage through Spain.  Howse travels, over the course of many years and by train and bus, through the central region of Castille, with excursions north and west.  He loves Spain deeply, and while not turning his gaze from Spain’s troubled past, he conveys that love and helps the reader travel more deeply into Spain.


A Pilgrim in Spain has found a place on my shelf of essential books about Spain.  As one would expect from a writer on religion for the Daily Telegraph,  Howse is deeply attuned to Spanish Catholicism: “The quickest introduction to a Spanish village is to go to Mass there.  A pilgrim in Spain does not have to share that faith, but it is essential to be aware of it.”  He is excellent at distilling Spain, its cultures and customs and history.  I was frequently illuminated as to why a village or town was the way it was when I walked or hobbled into it.


He is very witty.  A description of the smell of a bar in the evening leads into a discussion of the changing smells of Spain in the past decade with reference to the influence of the tobacco laws and the introduction of deodorant.  An excellent and concise exposition of the lives and teaching of Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross recounts a football chant directed by fans of Avila to those of Seville:


No tiene agua, Sevilla

No tiene agua.


Howse is critical of contemporary pilgrims walking the Camino to Santiago.  He sees the devotion and fellowship of the modern pilgrimage but warns of “a dangerous undercurrent of self-centredness, as if the journey were to prove oneself”.  While this may be well-directed, it is not the whole story of pilgrimage to Santiago.  I would see the Camino as a School of Charity where, in a kind of crucible, we are invited to move beyond self in love of others and God.  Howse is also blinkered on Camino books, criticising easy targets and making no mention of the several excellent books to have emerged from the Camino.


It is a pity that he has not walked a Camino.  A few stages, perhaps on one of the quiet routes, would add more dimensions to the book.  Being a pilgrim to Santiago is very deep in the Spanish soul; you encounter Spain in a different way and are often treated with such respect and kindness.


However, A Pilgrim in Spain adds positively to one’s experience of Spain.  It is a good reminder that there are other pilgrimages to make there, and that the pilgrim does not always need to walk.  And if we think Santiago de Compostela is busy, there is always the pilgrimage to Nostra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico.  6.1 million pilgrims visited over two days for her feast in 2009.




2 Comments so far
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Thanks for the recommendation

Comment by Andrew Petcher

welcome – I enjoyed it


Comment by pilgrimpace

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