The Milky Way

Page 1


photographs by Yining He


photographs by Yining He



According to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by travelling pilgrims.


Walking the Walk?

‘Only mountains, gorges, defiles and torrent can have access to the pantheon of travel, inasmuch, probably, as they seem to encourage a morality of effort and solitude.’(1) As Roland Barthes in his essay on the French guidebook Blue Guide to Spain, he continued, ‘Spain according to the Blue Guide knows only one type of space, that which weaves, across a few nondescript lacunae, a close web of churches, vestries, reredoses, crosses… Christianity, is the chief purveyor of tourism and one travels only to visit churches.’(2) Thousands of years before the tourism boom in Costal de Sol and Ibiza, Santiago de Compostela, a place in the north west of Spain became the center of Christian pilgrimage in Europe, embracing hundreds and thousands of pilgrims every year. Legend has it that St. James's relics were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. It is believed that not long afterwards, ‘St James appeared on a white charger on a battlefield in Rioja, driving back the Moors and becoming forever Santiago Matamoro, patron of the Spanish Re-conquest.’(3) People came to visit his tomb and donate large sums of money to ensure his continued protection of Christian Spain. However, it wasn’t until the mid-10th century that European pilgrimage tradition to Santiago began to form. In 1189, Pope Alexander III declared Santiago de Compostela a Holy city, along with Jerusalem and Rome. Under his edict, pilgrims who arrive during Holy Years (July 25th, falls on a Sunday) bypass purgatory entirely, while those arriving in other years get half their time off.(4) The steam of pilgrims peaked in the 11th and 12th centuries, when about half a million people made the pilgrimage. Many of the towns and cities along the camino were built during that time. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the ancient routes are considered main ones, which include the Portuguese Way, the Spanish Way and the English Way. Nevertheless, the most famous route in the history of pilgrimage to Santiago is the French Way, which played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the medieval times An official guide, called Codex Calixtinus was published around 1140. It states that the 5th book of the Codex is still considered the definitive source for many modern guidebooks. According to Codex, the four pilgrimage routes originating in France began at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles respectively, and converge at Puente la Reina, followed by a well-defined route that crosses northern Spain, linking Burgos, Sahagun, Leon, Astorga and Compostela.





When David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson, writers of the book The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago began their first trip in 1974, they hadn’t met not even a single pilgrim on the road. As David noticed: “To most people in the 1970s the pilgrimage Road was hardly more than a vague memory of a historical relic: ‘You know, in medieval times…”’(6) In medieval times, as David goes on: ‘among millions of pilgrims who have been drawn to Santiago, some were moved by the spirit. Some by politics. Some came to enrich themselves on the pilgrim trade. Some came to be healed in the body. Some were sentenced to walk to Compostela in lieu of serving time in prison. Some had their expenses underwritten by their villages to go to pray for rain or relief from plague.” (7) Today, pilgrims come from the full spectrum of society, which means their interests and expectations of walking are correspondingly heterogeneous. It is likely that more pilgrims now walk for a life experience rather than for religious pompousness. Young and old, rich and poor, healthy and disabled, people from all over the world jostle each other to walk the camino that may last several days, weeks or months. Despite the experience being intensively unique to every pilgrim, there is a shared road to climb on foot – rough, with path in a landscape where everything is different. As Oxford University educated writer Edwin Mullins notices: “The naked glitter of the scared mountain stirs the imagination, the adventure of self-conquest has begun. Specifies way differ, but the substance is always the same.”(8) Among all the legends that related to Camino de Santiago, a scallop shell is the most famous. It is believed that scallop shells covered St. James’ body after it was found on the shores of Galicia, and it became the universal insignia of the pilgrimage to Santiago. Most pilgrims choose to carry a scallop shell to symbolize their journey in honor of St. James. Travellers can find scallops shells everywhere along the pilgrimage route, where the pilgrimage idea has been well spread. As Marke de Kroon discussed in his essay: ‘pilgrim souvenirs were not only carriers of visual information, they were also used as propaganda, spreading ideas through images.(9) While on pilgrim’s journey alone the way, one needs to carry a credential, a “passport” with which the pilgrim authenticates his or her progress by obtaining stamps alone the way. The credential gives pilgrims access to albergues or refugios along the route. Pilgrims will present their credential when arriving at The Pilgrim's Office in Santiago, in order to get an official compostela — a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage. To earn the compostela one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. The last 30 years have seen an extraordinary revival of interest in the pilgrimage to Santiago. The route known as the Camino de France was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987, and inscribed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites since 1993. In 2012, 192,488 pilgrims walked the Camino de Santiago, in which more than 70% of pilgrims chose to walk the Camino de France.(10) The classic route starts from St Jean Pied-de-port to Santiago de Compostela cathedral. Some choose walk further to Cape Finisterra, which follows the medieval customs. The route from St. Jean to Santiago has been divided to 30-34 stages according to different lengths and difficulties.



So, what is the meaning of pilgrimage? What is the camino is really all about? What do pilgrims bring back from their adventure that is of lasting value? Pilgrimage, as defined in the Oxford dictionary, is a journey to a holy place. The idea of life itself as a pilgrimage, deriving from Christian thought, became a prominent theme in literature, popularised in such works such as Pilgrimage of Life and The Art of Pilgrimage. Whatever the particular goals and destination may be, the journey of the pilgrimage is a symbol of life itself. “The Camino, by its nature, serves as the ultimate metaphor for life. Footsteps along a well-trodden path may be our guide, but do not shield us from the questions that most of our busy everyday lives prevent us at times from fully recognising. The road offers very little to hide behind. The process of life is life along whichever road, path, Camino, or Way we find ourselves on. Our humanity toward ourselves and others, our history and our future is what defines us. Take the journey of life.”(12) The way you live your life during the pilgrimage becomes the way you live your daily life afterwards. It is the journey of life, whichever way you choose to achieve it. Some respect the stages. Some prefer the shortcuts. Some rush themselves forward and some slower their pace. The journey of a pilgrimage is the art of minimalism. You will find your basic needs of water, food and place to rest during the pilgrimage. It will help you to understand the importance of letting go of attachment, reducing suffering and increasing happiness, mindfulness and focus, kindness and compassion. The idea of progress within and of the mind is central to the ideals of pilgrimage. Whatever your current lever of mind, you can progress to the next level. So that’s your life will be. Walking along the Camino de Santiago is a unique journey through time and history. As James Nesbitt who plays an Irish travel writer says in the movie The Way: “The idea of a pilgrim’s journey on this road is a metaphor bonanza! Friends, the road itself is amongst our oldest troops. The high road and the low. The long and winding. The Lonesome… There’s the road stretching into infinity, bordered with lacy mists, favored by sentimental poets.”(13) Camino is a road to purification and knowledge. Set apart from everyday life, it is a spiritual journey for people who long for self-purification, who believe in the catharsis of an arduous journey and the merits of constant prayer. The long and hard walk carries you through strange lands filled with stranger people. It allows you to experience the wider world —— probably for the first and only time. Camino is a road to Utopia. This particular route connects people who might hardly know each other before. It is a unique community, where one can find their father, mother, brothers and sisters along the way. There is no prejudice or discrimination on this road. People help each other and walk towards the final destination. Buen Camino! 8


1 & 2. Barthes, R. (1972) The Blue Guide. In: Lavers, A. Mythologies. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Pp.74-7. 3. Kelly, T. (2011) Catalonia & The Spanish Pyrenees. 4th ed. Peterborough: Thomas Cook Publishing. Pp103. 4. Mullons, E (2000) The Pilgrimage to Santiago. Oxford: Signal Books Limited. P1 5. Codex Calixtinus (2010) [online image]. Available at: <> 6 -7. Gitlitz, D. & Davidson, L. (2000) The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 8. Mullons, E (2000) The Pilgrimage to Santiago. Oxford: Signal Books Limited. P1 9. Kroon, M (2004) Medieval Pilgrim Badges and Their Iconographic Aspects. In: Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles: Plates. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. Pp385. 10. 2012 Pilgrim Statistics. (2012) [Internet] Available from: <> 11. The detailed map shows the route is taken from the back of the official pilgrims passport. It shows the main towns and cities along the Camino de Santiago. 12. Cousineau, P. (1999) The art of pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Scared. Shaftesbury: Element Books Limited. P63 13. The Way. (2010) Directed by Emilio Estevez. Spain: Fllmax Entertainment [Video: DVD].



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The project pays tribute to victims of the July 24th train crush on their way to Santiago de Compostela, on the eve of the annual festival of St. James.









Acknowledgements The photographs in this book were taken in France and Spain along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Taking the pictures was relatively easy. It could be done alone. The hard part was walking the camino without proper equipment. I only had a camera backpack with me, filled with film. There was no space for a sleeping bag, raincoat, medicine or a change of clothes. Countless people during my journey encouraged me to finish the project. Thanks to all the pilgrims I’ve encountered with. Especially Miss Zheng Lu, who walked the last 300 km with me, I am especially grateful to her. This work would not have been possible without the help of my tutors at LCC. Thanks to Peter Fraser, a brilliant photographer who shared his experience and ideas with me. Max Houghton thanks for your patience and creative ideas. Paul Lowe, among smartest photographers, who gave me confidence to start and actually finish this project. Thanks to Jenny Good, who helped me sharpen my ideas in landscape photography, and John Easterby, who gave me the chance to be part of the group. Also, Special thanks to Roberto Zampino, Michelle Bale, Zheng Lu, Karlous Talutis and Kim Seok Hyun who shared their Camino memories with me. And many others who are going to write me back. Thanks to Helen Tang, who kindly proof read my essay. I am also grateful for the comments, feedback and references that my fellow classmates generously shared. And above all, a great big thank you to my friends who, as always, offered comfort and help when I was in need of it.



To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour

- William Blake


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