Rocks from Delaware County were carried to Spain and placed at the foot of an iron cross, by Kathy of Delhi, New York. The iron cross, also known as Cruz de Ferro, marks the highest point of the El Camino de Santiago, a network of trails that converge at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The cathedral is said to be the resting place for the bones of Saint James, an apostle who spread the news of the gospel throughout that region of northern Europe, two-thousand years ago.
In the 10th century, European Christians trekked their way to the cathedral and made it a popular pilgrimage. By the 11th century, businesses along the routes built up. In the 12th century, a handwritten guidebook was compiled for pilgrims.
Although a dip in walkers occurred during the Renaissance Age, pilgrims still walk the routes, generally for spiritual reasons.
Kathy, a Buddhist, walked 500-miles from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela, from October 1 to November 3, with a group of 14 pilgrims. “We walked about 15-miles each day,” she said.
A support services was enlisted to transport baggage from stop to stop.
Kathy, 73-years old, carried rocks from home and some of her mother’s ashes, with the intent to leave them at the iron cross.
Pilgrims leave rocks at Cruz de Ferro as a symbol of shrugging off the weight of one’s sins or worries. “There are a ton of rocks there,” said Kathy, who wanted to leave behind a sense of hopelessness.
“Really, I’d lost hope before the trip,” she said. “The American political situation and environment need so much help. I have too many sick friends. It all felt hopeless.”
In Spain, after placing the rocks at the cross, she then released her mother’s ashes and, “Tears welled up and I started to cry,” said Kathy.
A young woman came to Kathy and “patted me gently,” she added.
Affected with relief, Kathy then walked down the hill only to discover she had left behind her hat and gloves. “It was cold, about 30 degrees,” she said, so she dug through her backpack and found socks to put on her hands.
“A man came over and gave me his gloves. He insisted I take them,” said Kathy, who brought the gloves back to Delaware County.
Also brought home was a scallop shell marked with the cross of Saint James, passports, and certificates. “I carried the shell as a memento, but a thousand years ago, shells were the proof that pilgrims made it to the coast of Galicia,” said Kathy.
During the journey, Camino passports were stamped at churches, restaurants, and hostels. Certificates show how far pilgrims traveled before arriving at the cathedral.
History and architecture delineate the walk.
“It was an interesting and easy walk. Not a hike,” said Kathy, who has, in the past, hiked the John Muir Trail, Appalachian Trail, Anapurna Circuit, Catskill’s Peaks, and others.
She said, “Because it wasn’t physically demanding, and because I was away from America’s stimuli, I was able to enter a zone of reflection on the history, art, and people. It was illuminating.”
Kathy arrived home in time to vote. “I have no explainable reason why, but my hope was restored, and I was glad to be home.”