Julie Barr from the Sanctuary First team shares her experience of being a lazy pilgrim…
I have visited a number of the major Christian pilgrimage sites across the world but I would not claim the accolade of being a pilgrim. Why? Because I am one of the lazy pilgrims, the ones that hop on a plane or a ship to get to the country then into an air conditioned bus or a car (or in one case a camel) only walking the very last part of the journey to get to the site.
No long hours of walking, no blisters or staying in less than comfortable pilgrim hostels, just straight to the place of interest. I am sure that those who have for example walked the length of the Camino have a whole different and probably much deeper experience however even a lazy pilgrim can find something of at the end of their journey.
The faith that spans over centuries can be seen in the mighty buildings and can almost be felt in the air around you like a tangible thing when arriving at an old and venerated place of pilgrimage. I am always moved by the public displays of devotion, people who are not frightened to show that they have been on a journey walking each step with the almighty. Here in Scotland most of the time faith is neatly confined, quietly and privately, within the walls of a church with the occasional public appearance. It is not something that is clearly visible on the street as it is in these places of pilgrimage.
Visit for example Santiago de Compestella, Jerusalem, Assisi, Fatima or Rome and the crowds approaching the shrines or churches might make it feel like the worst kind of tourist trap. The plastic tat on sale at the numerous souvenir stalls adds to that general impression. Stand still for a moment and really look about you and I guarantee that the impression will change. People queue, sometimes for many hours, to gain entry to a church. They stand in the heat in a long line to get just a few minutes at their final destination, it is just that important to them. Once there, they pray.
We were informed that we were extremely fortunate the day we visited the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua as the queue was (supposedly) short. Once inside the church there were massive baskets with hundreds of long white candles piled up in them. Our guide explained that this was just the candle offerings so far for today, a quiet day at that. As too many people wished to light candles they were no longer able to do so due to the fire risk but the candles were stored and eventually all used in religious services.
If you happen to visit Santiago then I can highly recommend the Parador (Hostal dos Reis Católicosin) on the main square across from the Cathedral. It is an oasis of cool elegance where the well dressed Spanish and international clientele mingle happily with the short and T-shirt wearing, slightly dusty pilgrims and sip sherry. Similarly In Padua the cafe Pedrocchi is a must see, with its red, green and white rooms. The green room was set aside for students and pilgrims who could sit in warmth undisturbed. They serve a wonderful mint coffee which is the house speciality.
In places of pilgrimage there is a shared experience with those who are there on the day and with those who have been there in the past. A continuum of Christian faith focused in one place. They are worth visiting just for this sense of Christian community.