Thursday, January 08, 2015

Manifesto Villafranca del Bierzo - Part 3

MANIFESTO -Section 3:  Tourism and Pilgrimage

The explosion of the leisure culture on the Camino de Santiago has multiplied the problems already present on the principal routes: the overbuilding, vulgarity, and loss of the unique spirit and values historically associated with the Jacobean Way. Public administrations are to blame for their disingenuous campaigns designed to sell the camino as a “tourism product.”

1.        “The explosion of the leisure culture on the Camino de Santiago..”

What does ‘leisure culture’ mean? 

Even a Google search didn’t come up with a definition of those two words used together. 
Do they mean tourists? 
Or, tourist-pilgrims?
Surely those people who visit the places on the Camino as Religious or Cultural tourists (as pilgrims do to Fatima, Lourdes, Rome or the Holy Land) can’t really be the cause of “vulgarity and the loss of the unique spirit and values historically associated with the Jacobean Way.”
(Photos from Wikipedia)

Do they mean pilgrims or people who walk the Camino but don’t stay in albergues or carry backpacks? 
That is what I have done for the past 4 years and there is nothing leisurely about walking a Camino!  Even if you stay in hotels and have your luggage transported between towns you still have to walk the same rocky paths, in the wind, sun or rain and eat pilgrim food like all the other people on the trail.  You risk the same blisters, tendonitis, shin-splints and muscle cramps.

Do they mean people who take groups of pilgrims on the Camino?  If you've never walked in those shoes you have no idea how challenging that can be!  There have always been 'tour groups' of pilgrims from the first Confraternities to the Knights of Santiago who appointed dozens of people from other countries as official pilgrims guides.  (Like Saint Bona of Pisa: )

As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned anyone who arrives at the tomb of St James in reverence and prayer is a pilgrim.  The way they get there is irrelevant. The cathedral recorded 12 million pilgrims in 2010.  This is the total number of people who entererd the cathedral during the year for religious reasons. The cathedral uses three  traditional methods for counting:

  • The number of those who go through the Holy Door on the east side of the Cathedral
  • The number of devotional cards issued to anyone who puts a donation in the alms box receives a card.
  • The number of donated communions during the Holy Mass in the Cathedral.
Walking/cycling pilgrims made up only 2% of pilgrims in 2010 according to the numbers who received a Compostela.  I wonder how many of those were considered ’pilgrims‘ using the above criteria?

2.   “ .... and loss of the unique spirit and values historically associated with the Jacobean Way”

 Really?  I really have a problem with this statement! 

The Jacobean Way was never sacrosanct.  It attracted much more than just pious, holy and saintly pilgrims.  Anyone who has read the Liber Sancti Jacobi or any other medieval pilgrim stories will be all too familiar with tales of false pilgrims, thieves, bandits, murderers, vagabonds, heretics, criminal penitents and the vain!  The medieval Jacobean Way and medieval pilgrims are not shining examples for 21st century pilgrims.

“What was even worse was the deplorable state of affairs encountered on the pilgrim routes themselves. Pilgrims by choice or by constraint met up with swarms of unemployed or seasonally employed vagabonds and a veritable horde of beggars. It became ever more difficult to distinguish between the motives of pilgrims on the road.
In 1523 the city council of Bern, which lay on the pilgrim route from Einsiedeln to France decided, to direct away all beggars, be they from the country, returning from the wars or pilgrims on the road to St. James, pedlars, heathens... and such like and not to house them or give them shelter.
Local by-laws throughout Europe, eg in Douai, in Compostela itself (1503) or in Tyrol province in 1532 reflected the same tendency.”

Imagine that, pilgrims not being offered shelter, even in Compostela!

What about the service providers along the Way?

I doubt our private albergue owners are anything as bad as the swindling inn keepers, toll road cheats, murderous tavern owners, false priests, prostitutes, horny young ladies who provided the basis for a legend about chickens miraculously come back to life.  Touts that met pilgrims on the road selling trinkets and souvenirs or trying to con the pilgrims into paying for rooms in already overcrowded inns. And the beggars who walked the Camino on behalf of the penitential pilgrims. 

Such ‘peregrinatio poenaliter causa’ did as little to enhance the dignity of pilgrims as did the ‘peregrinatio delegata’ which led to beggars  making a living out of accomplishing pilgrimages of penitence in others' stead. (Haebler).

And it wasn't just the poor or mendicant pilgrims who didn't behave.  Robert Plotz describes some of the accounts of the many ‘noble pilgrims’ - those on horseback with retinues:

 The Saxon Duke Henry, later called Henry the Devout, was certainly not attending to his religious needs on his journey to Santiago, for two of his companions reported that, "gourmandising was our best prayer and indulgence on such a journey."  

And how are we to judge or condemn the pilgrim who artlessly tells us how to say "pretty maid, come sleep with me" in the Basque language (A von Harff).

Another new type of pilgrim was the prosperous patricians ... for whom a pilgrimage to Compostela took its place in a journey of information and instruction, a journey on which it was not uncommon to look after business interests too, as did Nicolas Rummel of Nuremberg in 1408/09.”

The ‘Camino’ today (and the person who walks it) is probably more pure, more honest, and the path more sanctified than it has ever been.  There are very few bandits, criminals or murderers lying in wait for unsuspecting pilgrims.  Some restaurants or hotels might overcharge but you don't ever feel that your life is in danger when you stay there!

The great majority of today’s pilgrims – and tourogrinos – are not prompted by a multitude of sins to walk to Santiago. What’s more, they don’t walk in expectation of rewards as did their medieval counterparts.  Many of us have to take at least 4 flights, over 24 hours, at great expense, just to get to Spain and start walking.  And then we do it all over again to get back home.  Surely this makes us  even more admirable - all that effort and suffering for no reward! 

Many people today say that ‘the journey is what is important’ not the destination.  For the medieval pilgrim, the journey was a long and dangerous slog (or a long holiday away from the drudgery of home!) but the thought of not reaching the destination and the expected rewards that awaited them, was unthinkable. 

3.   Public administrations are to blame for their disingenuous campaigns designed to sell the camino as a “tourism product.”

Are they? The first ‘European Cultural Route’ has always been marketed as a tourism product.  Right from the outset the Council of Europe was quite clear that their work was not aimed only at pilgrims but at tourism too.

At the opening of the 1988 Bamberg Congress on the Santiago de Compostela Cultural Route, the address read out for the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Marcelino Oreja, made it clear that this route was not chosen just to bring pilgrims back, but for cultural purposes too.  

 “The underlying purpose of the process initiated by the Council of Europe: to bring out the historical and cultural contribution made by this pilgrimage movement to the forging of the European cultural identity.  The set of principles and values which represent a heritage common to European nations whatever their geographical location, whether or not these routes pass through them.  For this reason, our work is aimed not only at the pilgrims, who are guided by spiritual motives, but also at those expressing cultural practices peculiar to our own age and society.
As we have pointed out on several occasions, and I should like to do so once again today, the purpose of our work is not merely to revive the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim routes for nostalgic, erudite or archaeological reasons, but also to project them into the future.”
[I stressed words in bold]

Loci Iacobi, a European Union project, aims to develop the pilgrims’ trails of Saint James as a European tourism product and to consolidate it as the first European Cultural Itinerary through the creation and promotion of new tourism contents of high add-value for tourists (and other tourism stakeholders) and through the introduction of the new technologies of information and communication in their consumption"

The pilgrimage road to Santiago has always brought riches and power, especially to Compostela.

"Indeed, for many centuries, it would seem that the chief purpose of St. James was to draw the sin-smitten and disease-afflicted people of Christendom to this distant and secluded part of the world, solely for their spiritual or physical good. Other benefits followed. The constant and increasing flow of pilgrims enriched Compostella, added power and dignity to its rulers, and helped Spain to gain that position in Europe which for no mean length of time made her mighty among the nations."

Rev James Stone - The Cult of Santiago 1927

Is marketing the Camino as a tourism project such a bad thing?   

This is like the tail wagging the dog! 
I believe that marketing the Santiago de Compostela route to cultural and religious tourists came first, with walking pilgrims following afterwards.  (Not the other way around)

Remember that for almost 400 years the pilgrimage routes were forgotten, relics of the past. 

Less than 150 years ago, in the Holy Year of 1867, just 40 pilgrims turned up to celebrate the saint's feast day mass on the 25th July.

The late Don Jaime of the Pilgrims Office found an old record book kept by his predecessor which showed that 37 pilgrims received the Compostela in 1967. 

 “In the 1970’s there survived only a remote memory of the Jacobean pilgrimage” wrote Don Elias Valiña Sampedro (father of the modern Camino).  But, he also predicted the invasion!

One day in 1982, with fears of terrorism rife, the sight of yellow arrows painted on trees along a Pyrenean road aroused the suspicion of the Guardia Civil. Following the trail, they came upon a battered white van. A small, smiling man got out. When prompted, he opened the van's back doors to reveal tins of bright yellow paint and a wet paintbrush.
"Identification!" barked the Guardia.
"I'm Don Elías Valiña Sampedro, parish priest of O Cebreiro in Galicia."
"And what are you doing with all this?"
"Preparing a great invasion…"
(Johnnie Walker’s blog)

Santiago de Compostela tourism: 
In a previous post I mentioned the road map of the five road routes that lead tourists and tourist-pilgrims, by road, to Santiago which were published for the 1954 Holy Year.  A concertina style credential was issued, with blank squares so that travelers could obtain a stamp at the places they stopped at along the road and earn a diploma when they arrived in Santiago.  This was clearly aimed at people travelling by motor vehicle and not the foot pilgrims (if there were any.)

In 1971 a book was published by the Ministerio de Informacion y Turismo entitled "Santiago en Espana, Europa y America" (still available on Amazon and 

Robert Plotz writes:
“It describes itself as ‘como una afirmacion del ser historico de Espana’ (as an affirmation of the historical essence of Spain) and also as an invitation ‘a los peregrinos de nuestra epoca que son los turistas ... porque el turismo es una forma moderna de peregrinar’ (to tourists, who are the pilgrims of our age ... because tourism is a modern form of pilgrimage).
Despite its absurdity, the questionable attempt to unite the pilgrim tradition and modern mass tourism, it brought Compostela again to mind as a holy place. 
In the Ano Santo 1965, two million visitors were said to have come and in 1982 the official figure was around six million. These numbers certainly included many pilgrims.  Compostela did not merely gain tourists but pilgrims, who came in ever greater numbers and increasingly in the spirit of pilgrims in the medieval meaning of the term.”  
(Does'nt this tell us that the tourists came first and then the pilgrims followed?)

The road itself (which was arbitrarily decided upon 1984-1987) is not a holy or sacred path. As a World Heritage site it must be preserved but why should it be protected from tourists?  There are numerous monuments, churches, bridges, cathedrals, hospitals along the way, many of them cultural and religious attractions which were awarded World Heritage status years before the 'Camino'.   Most of them charge tourists (and pilgrims) entrance fees.  They are all vigorously promoted to attract tourists – and why not. 

How do they propose to stop or monitor websites like this one?

Spain has so much to offer when it comes to "religious tourism". A few suggestions: follow the Way of Saint James on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela; live the intense Easter Week celebrations; take part in the El Rocío pilgrimage; visit important monasteries and cathedrals, or achieve the "jubilee" (a kind of blessing granted for carrying out certain rites in Santiago).   All while you discover some of Spain's most relevant monuments.  The holy city of Santiago. Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, is the main destination for religious tourism in Spain and marks the end of the Way of Saint James. Visiting its old town, which has the UNESCO World Heritage designation, and the route of the Way of Saint James, are unique experiences.

The First International Congress on Tourism and Pilgrimages took place in Santiago de Compostela, on 17-20 September 2014.  

The aims were to highlight the positive contributions of pilgrimages and spiritual routes to sustainable and responsible tourism, as well as the contribution of tourism to cultural understanding and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage related to ancient trails and sacred places.  (Full program link at the end of the post).

(Note especially, the reference to ‘spiritual routes’.  Spiritual Tourism is the new big thing in tourism.)  

 “The Secretary of State for Tourism of Spain, Isabel Borrego, recalled that “the city of Santiago de Compostela is a reference for religious tourism in Spain. To visit its historic centre, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and walk the Santiago path are unique experiences. Spain has much to offer in terms of religious tourism”: Santiago, intense pilgrimages and religious celebrations, important monasteries and cathedrals and many religious festivities of great interest.”

At the end of the Congress the “Declaration of Santiago de Compostela on Tourism and Pilgrimages” was read by Marina Diotallevi, Programme Manager, Ethics and Social Responsibility Programme, UNWTO  (Link at the end of this post)
The 5th (and last) proposal was about developing spiritual tourism in a sustainable manner:

“To encourage new initiatives and the creation of international networks that foster the exchange of experiences at the level of research, training of tourism professionals, promotion, marketing and the management of pilgrimage routes and sites, that engage faith groups and local communities as equal partners in developing spiritual tourism in a sustainable manner.”

(".... faith groups and local communities?"   Why were the local guardians of the Camino - AMIGIOS and FICS - not represented at this Congress?)

MANIFESTO:  We agree and propose:

1. Reorient institutional touristic campaigns to build respect for traditional pilgrimage values.

This should also include non-institutional campaigns like the travel and tourist agencies.   

2. Urge associations, confraternities and camino-related organizations to better explain camino values and behavior to new pilgrims.

At our workshops we give all future pilgrims a handout which includes a list of pilgrim and albergue etiquette.  In my planning guide ‘Your Camino’ I included four pages on do’s and don’ts. 

3. Initiate rigorous inspection of all services directed at pilgrims.

This is a bit vague – what does it mean, which services – and who will the inspectors be?

4.  Support and organize programs to open and secure the churches, hermitages and monuments along the pilgrim paths.

Totally agree but hardly possible for churches if you have a circuit priest who is only in certain villages on certain days.  I don’t recall ever seeing a hermitage on any of the Camino routes I’ve walked.  (Maybe I just didn’t recognize the dwellings as such!)
By monuments, do they mean cathedrals, hospices, churches etc?

Perhaps by marketing the pilgrimage as a cultural, spiritual and religious destination for tourists and pilgrims, the Camino might one day change the world!
Ben Bowler - Founder World Weavers, Monk for a Month, Interfaith Express & Blood Foundation recently published this article on ‘Spiritual Tourism’.

“Long-time travel industry observer and journalist Mr. Imtiaz Muqbil gave an interesting overview of a tourism industry in transition - moving from what he called the three "S"s of the old tourism - Sun, Sand and Sex towards what he sees as the emerging three "S"s in the new tourism being Serenity, Sustainability and Spirituality.

If this evolution of values in tourism gains traction and is ongoing then there are some serious implications. Considering that tourism is the largest service industry on the planet employing 260 million people, responsible for 9% or the worlds GDP and now having passed the 1 billion mark in arrivals each year, it is not hard to see that even small movements of the needle measuring travelers’ motivations and values can have a big impact on our world. 

In an age of soulless materialism and endless consumption, taking time out to explore the depths of the world's wisdom traditions is probably a good idea. Such "spiritual vacations" may well be a catalyst that brings greater enlightenment to the individual, increased understanding between different cultures and may even help to foster an emerging spiritual renaissance.”

For a biography of the speakers:


1 comment:

  1. Dear Sil,
    This is saying, far clearer and far more eruditely exactly what I would want to say. I have already expressed my concern on the Forum that most Confraternities did not appear to be part of the discussion which seemed to concentrate on knocking promotion of the Camino as a "tourist attraction".
    The "modern" Camino was set up as a "tourist attraction" to publicise the European ideal. Nothing wrong with that as it has revitalised all the Pilgrimage routes.
    I am glad that you have provided references to mediaeval pilgrimages and the goings on that there were in those far off days. Again, my thoughts exactly!!
    I wonder how many modern day "tourists" find that they end up as "pilgrims". The Camino speaks to any who have ears to hear.
    I look forward to any other thoughts that you may have.
    Tio Tel