On the Way of St. James
El Camino de Santiago—Spanish for “the way of St. James”—consists of several different walking routes through France, Spain, and Portugal. All of the trails culminate at the cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela (at left), which is the supposed burial site of St. James, one of the 12 apostles who is historically considered the first to be martyred for his beliefs. After his death in 44 A.D., he was allegedly buried in his homeland of Spain, where he is now the patron saint. Pilgrims started taking the trail as early as the 900s, and have continued unabated ever since. Although it was originally a religious journey, people walk the trail for a variety of reasons.
For College President Scott Bierman, the journey was one of continuation. He originally walked the French route with his youngest daughter Emily after she completed her master’s degree in 2010. This time, they decided to hike the Portuguese section, starting in Lisbon, before she began her new job as a history teacher. Taking this alternate route—which stretched for approximately 540 km., or 300 miles—proved to be a fascinating experience. “It was a delight to be introduced to the generous, thoughtful, and non-judgmental people of Portugal who helped us on our travels,” Bierman says.
Bierman describes the experience as “really impactful.” “To do this alongside all these other pilgrims who are being deeply impacted in their own unique ways added to the gravitas of the moment,” he says.
Lucas Fares’18, from Appleton, Wis., originally decided to hike the trail after watching the 2010 Martin Sheen film The Way, in which Sheen’s character makes the trek in honor of his lost son. Additionally, Fares says, “I wanted to practice my Spanish, and it seemed fun.” Fares walked the entire French route, a distance of 500 miles. One of his favorite aspects of the trip was the chance to interact with diverse cultures and people; though traveling alone, he occasionally walked with other Americans, Canadians, and a pair of Scottish brothers, as well as a few Spaniards. He also connected to the locals in a somewhat unorthodox way. After setting out on a 15 km. (9 mile) walk with no water, he began to run out of energy halfway through. Luckily, some residents from a nearby village offered him food and water. “It’s interesting to see people go out of their way to help a stranger,” he says.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spanish Gabriela Cerghedean made the trek for academic expansion. She specializes in medieval Spanish literature, history, and culture, and as a result, “Camino de Santiago was something I always read about and heard about, but I never had a chance to do it,” she said. She got her chance during a summer program led by the Council on International Educational Exchange, which involved a series of interactive lectures at points along the last 100 km. (62 miles) of the French route. “Everything comes to life from the texts we studied in class,” she says. Her goals now are to incorporate the experience into her classes as a way to complement the textbooks, to get students engaged, “and maybe invite them one day to come along on an ancient way of discovery.”
Bierman sees the encounter as further evidence of the way that Beloit students—and their families—seek to engage meaningfully in the wider world.
“It should not surprise us, when at the end of some particularly meaningful adventure, we often run into another Beloiter,” he says. “This is who we are.”
Kiernyn Orne-Adams’16 is a creative writing major.