Santiago de Compostela
Literature is full of metaphors and what better metaphor for our literature festival than the route of the Santiago de Compostela – an expedition to a spiritual destination, or in our case, a journey either locally or from other parts of Europe to our festival of learning, debate and reflection.
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the self-governed community of Galicia, in north western Spain. The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century. In 1985, the city's Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.
The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century (year 814) when the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula was discovered. (This was just after the Greeks adapted the Phoenician system of writing by adding vowels. The alphabet takes its name from the first two letters in the Phoenician system, alpha and beta, borrowed and adapted by the Greeks).
Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela has become a pilgrim’s destination for the entire European continent. The Way is defined by the net of Roman routes that joined points of the Peninsula. The impressive human flow that went towards Galicia resulted in the appearance of lots of hospitals, churches, monasteries, abbeys and towns along the route. During the 14th century the pilgrimage began to decay, due to the wars, the epidemics and the natural catastrophes.
The recovery of the route began at the end of the 19th century, but it was during the last quarter of the 20th century when the resurge of the pilgrimage took place, across the European continent. There is no doubt that the social, tourist, cultural or sport components have played a huge part in the revitalization, but we cannot forget that the route has gained its prestige thanks to its spiritual value.
The most popular route (which gets very crowded in mid-summer) is the Camino Francés which stretches 780 km (nearly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. This route is fed by three major French routes: the Voie de Tours, the Voie de Vezelay, and the Voie du Puy. It is also joined along its route by the Camino Aragones (which is fed by the Voie d’Arles which crosses the Pyrenees at the Somport Pass), by the Camí de Sant Jaume from Montserrat near Barcelona, the Ruta de Tunel from Irun, the Camino Primitivo from Bilbao and Oviedo, and by the Camino de Levante from Valencia and Toledo.
The network is similar to a river system – small brooks join together to make streams, and the streams join together to make rivers, most of which join together to make the Camino Francés. During the middle ages, people walked out of their front doors and started off to Santiago, which was how the network grew up. Nowadays, cheap air travel has given many the opportunity to fly to their starting point, and often to do different sections in successive years. Some people set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons; many others find spiritual reasons along the Way as they meet other pilgrims, attend pilgrim masses in churches and monasteries and cathedrals, and see the large infrastructure of buildings provided for pilgrims over many centuries. In the same way, literature festivals have popped up all over Europe and now enthusiasts are joining together and travelling from one to another to share their passions and learning.
Via Podiensis, the Chemin du Puy passes through the middle of Eauze and is marked out by the brass plaques set into the pavements. You can see these within the main square and surrounding streets. The Chemin de Puy is the most popular pilgrimage route in France. It starts near Lyon, in the town of Le Puy-en-Velay until Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where the Camino Frances commences.
The countryside is very scenic and there are many interesting towns along the path such as Condom, Eauze, Figeac and Moissac. Waymarks are plentiful and it is easy to find your way.
The best time of the year to walk this route is the summer but then it is the busiest and accommodation may be difficult to find at times. Autumn provides a huge opportunity to bring your walking boots and try a small portion of the route, getting some exercise while reflecting on the events and learning at LittFest Eauze.