Friday, 29 March 2013

To The Field of Stars by Kevin Codd

In 2003 a fifty-year-old, American Catholic priest - Kevin Codd - left the modern world and pitted his body against the possibilities of heat stroke, frostbite, blisters, tendonitis, wolves, thieves, gastroenteritis and exhaustion to become a traditional pilgrim.

To undergo the historical pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is to enter the Christian tradition of piety and relics and the belief in prayer and miracles. The quest to revere the bones of St James (the Greater) believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela has been undertaken by millions of pilgrims who have suffered (and some have died) since the ninth century.

Kevin began his journey from the French village high in the Pyrenees and one of the jumping off points of the camino - Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port. Here he received the traditional symbol of the pilgrim - the conch shell - and his comino passport - the credencial - a folded white card numbered 3444 which is officially stamped (sello) at each refugio (hostel) in which he stays.

Kevin's recount is a mix of Catholic piety, in some parts an explanation of Catholic doctrine, but mostly it is his own spiritual journey where many of his biases, negative thoughts and bad habits are questioned by him, corrected and candidly confessed to the reader.

His first intrepid hike of the camino is to Roncevalles which is 25 kilometres away and one that he needs to make in eight hours to be eligible for a bed at the next refugio. He sets out in the rain with tender feet, a heavy rucksack, an untried back and an untested will. 

Unknown to him at this point, he will be chastened by the road. He will experience hardship and joy, aloneness and companionship, personal reflection and a deeper commitment to his calling. 

He will join a steady stream of other pilgrims over the next 780 kilometres (500miles) and learn that they too are motivated to take stock of their lives, plead a cause, or simply experience the medieval tradition of stepping out their door and travelling on foot to a place of reverence and worship.

With the prospect of walking between 25-40 kilometres per day in all weathers, Kevin follows the flechas (yellow arrows) from Roncenvalles to Pamplona, Puente la Reine, Logrono, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Carrion de los Condes, Sabagun, Mansilla de las Mulas, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada, Villafranca del Bierzo, O Cebreiro, Ligonde, Melide and finally Santiago de Compostela.

The Spanish word for road or way is camino which quickly becomes "my camino". The pilgrim's simple greeting to one another on the road is "Buen camino" which means "Good way to you" as they share the rituals of resting, washing, eating, sleeping, foot care, communication and the plotting of the next day's hike.

"Every body is in it together, yet everyone is really doing it alone." p49

Along the way, Kevin meets the selfish, the arrogant, the carefree,  the fit and the sick; he meets young and old, the lovers, the true believers and the imposters. 

He has a particular dislike for pseudo-pilgrims who "squawk and yak". He calls them "big mouths and lazy butts".  He complains that they lack the manners of the true pilgrim, and that they are cossetted by a car that follows the track and carries their equipment and food which they, in their ignorance, fail to share with other travellers.

Breaking bread amongst pilgrims holds great significance. Food is seen to be a refreshment to the body, it is an act of sharing and camaraderie, in a religious sense it is communion amongst friends, and it is also an expression of charity and generosity.

The pilgrimage is, at its nucleus, a journey within a journey. Genuine pilgrims are reminded of the saying; "Turistas mandin, peregrinos agrandecin". Tourists demand and pilgrims thank. 

"We consider how good it is to have a place, any place at all, in which to bathe and sleep and sit at a table with friends." p145

Although the camino is the most physically demanding thing Kevin has ever undertaken he writes; 

"I am learning something here about the camino, the expressive generosity and spontaneous kindness has woven as to this that begins to touch all of us with more caring and trusting." p44

Kevin gives us in an insight in to the early start by pilgrims to the day's walk ahead of them.

"There is a rustle in the morning ritual, the soft patter of two hundred feet moving across stone floors, the slick sound of nylon sleeping bags, the soft whispers...rucksacks being they go out the door and in to the dark..." p21

Along the entire length of the camino, wave upon wave of pilgrims perform the same rituals in convents, farmhouses, rudimentary campsites, converted school dormitories, gothic churches and castles. They set out in the dark coolness of the morning to traverse wheat fields, and wind farms, industrial sites, isolated villages, bustling cities, steep mountain tracks and death defying highways.

 "I have become aware that each day of the camino is a pilgrimage in itself. A small pilgrimage from one place to another, with its own adventures, mysteries and lessons learned along the way." p91

A welcomed morning ritual for most pilgrims is to stop at a bar mid-morning for rest, refreshment and camaraderie.

"I try a slice of almond pie. The rest and the nourishment is extraordinarily delicious and laughter comes new friends." p32

Interwoven within Kevin's memoirs are reminders of the past and a land seeped in blood.  Pilgrims walk in the footsteps of the armies of Charlemagne, Charles V and Napoleon, the bloodshed of the Crusades between Christians and Muslims and the bloody 1930's Spanish Civil War.

On the camino, hospitality and charity is everything. At one refugio word went around that paella and wine were to be served free to pilgrims. The paella is supplied by a charitable group cafradia - dedicated to the ministering of pilgrims.

"The scene of conviviality founded in bread, wine and plenty of created by their good work, strikes me as one lifted out of the Gospels with Jesus in the middle of it." p76

And later,

"I take my morning coffee and a slice of tortilla...the caffeine, egg and potato cure has worked its magic once again." p151 

As the pilgrimage draws to a close  pilgrims, now friends stand atop the Mount of Joy, the last stop before Santiago;

"A hilltop overlooks the city and from which the pilgrims for ten centuries have had their first tearful view of the city they longed to see." p257

Kevin describes mixed feelings of joy tinged with sadness. He has arrived after a long and weary trek, several kilos lighter, unshaven and sunburnt, flanked by his camino family. 

He becomes aware of the gravitational pull of Santiago that cannot be resisted, and yet, as the group descends laughing and joyous, he becomes acutely aware that they must soon part ways and return to their real lives. 

Kevin becomes aware of a change of direction as if Santiago is now pushing them away.

"We gather a final time for dinner in Santiago de Compostela. We break bread, share food and wine, tell stories, and we, both sad and glad as we slowly let go of one another's hands." p267

Spanish Tortilla 
Egg and potato omelette. Serves 6.


500gm potatoes peeled and sliced finely
6 eggs
1/3 cup of milk
1 onion sliced finely
Garlic to taste
150gram capsicum sliced finely
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup parmesan cheese


In a pan gently fry garlic onions, capsicums until soft.
Peel potatoes and boil until softened.
Pour eggs, milk and parmesan cheese in to bowl and whisk.
Add the cooked onions, capsicum and garlic.
Drain potatoes and add to egg mixture.
Pour mixture in to hot pan prepared with oil and pat down.
Allow mixture to cook until firm.
Place the pan under the grill until top is golden.
Slice in to wedges and serve with a salad.


To the Field of Stars. A pilgrim's journey to Santiago de Compostela
by Kevin Codd 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2592-6

                  Copyright All Rights Reserved Ann Etcell-Ly

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