Twelve kilometers after Pamplona, past the fields of grasses splashed with red poppies (or the fields of dry dirt, depending on the time of year), the crumbling monasteries, and the towering hay bales, and up a steep set of switchbacks, the Camino Frances arrives at Alto de Perdón, the Mount of Forgiveness.
I’ve stood twice on its windy peak, in the shadow of the deceptively quiet, impossibly tall wind turbines.
Like most Camino pilgrims who pass this way, I’ve posed for pictures beside the iconic sculpture, which has graced the summit since 1996.
I’ve read the words inscribed on it: Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas — “where the path of the wind crosses with that of the stars.”
But last week, as I read one of my Christmas presents — The Lore of the Camino de Santiago, by Jean Mitchell-Lanham – I discovered a whole new layer of meaning in that famous place.
According to the author:
“The sculpture exhibits a small history of pilgrims and the pilgrimage…through various stages of development, from the beginning in the Middle Ages up to the present day, in the form of a procession. Of the twelve pilgrims, the first pilgrim appears to be searching for the route and symbolizes the beginning of interest in the pilgrimage. Next is a group of three that depicts the growth or rise in popularity of the Camino. These three are followed by another group depicted as merchants or tradesmen on horseback that symbolize the medieval era of merchants hawking their wares to the pilgrims. Spaced away from them is a solitary figure that characterizes the decline in pilgrimages due to political, religious, and social unrests from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. At the very end of the procession are two modern-day figures depicted to show the renewed interest and rise in popularity of the pilgrimage in the late twentieth century.”
I’ve never heard this particular explanation before, but it makes sense when I look at the figures. Those last two on the right, with their practical hats and backpacks, always seemed a little out of place with the folks on horseback.
Just goes to show that there’s always something new to learn.
You can check out Jean Mitchell-Leham’s book The Lore of the Camino de Santiago: A Literary Pilgrimage (Two Harbors Press) on Amazon here, and probably purchase it wherever books are sold.