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ISSUE 118 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/1/2004

Holy pilgrimage to Spain

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, October 1, 2004

Art and medieval historians Alice Bauer and Scott Montgomery spoke to a sizeable crowd in Viking Theater Friday on the topic of their 1000-mile, 67-day pilgrimage from Le Puy en Velay, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The couple shared fond memories, amazing stories and breathtaking slides of their journey, relaying to students just how intense and rewarding a medieval pilgrimage can be.

As an historian, Montgomery wanted to, as he put it, understand the everyday lives of the medieval pilgrims. In order to best understand the mindset and experiences of medieval pilgrims, Montgomery and Bauer decided to undertake a pilgrimage of their own, retracing one of the most famous routes used during the Middle Ages.

We wanted to walk through history as participants, not just spectators, Bauer said.

Pilgrimages to the relics (bodily remains) of saints were incredibly important to the people of the Middle Ages. Their physical journey to a holy place (such as Santiago de Compostela) signified their desire to experience a piece of heaven while living on earth.

Pilgrimages make tangible on this earth things that cannot be touched with earthly means, Montgomery said.

Beginning on May 18, 2000, Montgomery and Bauer walked the pilgrimage route, covering a distance comparable to that which separates Dallas, Texas and Madison, Wis.

Despite pre-pilgrimage jitters, both Bauer and Montgomery were excited to embark on their journey. Few sensations rival the exuberance of the beginning, Montgomery said.

On their first day of traveling, Bauer remembered feeling overjoyed with the thought of participating in an ancient tradition.

The second day was one of the couples most memorable, as they experienced excruciating pain and exhaustion. As the two travelers dealt with the demons of doubt, they were forced to re-examine their own convictions. How much would we be willing to suffer? Bauer asked.

Once they hit their stride, however, Montgomery and Bauer grew to enjoy their time spent on the road.

We were a living vestige of an era long-gone, Bauer said. She recalled how farmers and villagers would come out of the fields and houses to see them and wish them well on their journey.

One of the most important aspects of the journey was the camaraderie the two discovered with other travelers while on the road to Santiago de Compostela.

It was an amazing collective experience, Bauer said. We were all drawn together through motion and emotion.

Montgomery recalled a day when he collapsed on the road, overtaken by a 105-degree fever. Weeks later, several other travelers came up to him and inquired as to his condition.

Word-of-mouth brought to my fellow pilgrims my plight, Montgomery said. He experienced firsthand how quickly word-of-mouth news still spreads on the pilgrimage routes.

The pilgrimage road was lined with hospices, small towns and monasteries, all of which graciously offered shelter to pilgrims for a nominal fee. Montgomery described the accommodations as cramped, crowded yet full of camaraderie.

After traveling through pouring rain and scorching heat, over mountains and into valleys, Montgomery and Bauer finally made it to their destination, Santiago de Compostela, and the relics of St. James. It is impossible to describe how we felt when we viewed the façade of the Cathedral, Bauer said.

After entering the cathedral, pilgrims customarily hug a statue of St. James. This [gesture] shows the physicality that is at the heart of pilgrimages, Bauer said. It fosters the direct connection between the pilgrim and the saint.

Montgomery explained how the goal of medieval pilgrims was to greet St. James personally. It was believed that by involving the entire body, one would involve the entire soul as well. You arent just traveling to a place, Montgomery said. You are traveling to a place to meet a person.

Although Montgomery and Bauer only traveled half of the medieval pilgrims journey  the typical medieval pilgrim would walk back home as well  they nevertheless were inspired to incorporate their amazing experience into their daily lives.

Bauer found her faith stronger after the journey.

It is impossible not to be wrapped up in the mysticism of it all, she said.

As a medievalist, Montgomery has long thought like a medieval Catholic. On the journey, however, he went from simply thinking like a medieval Catholic to acting like a medieval Catholic. It all just makes sense, Montgomery said.

From the lecture, it was clear that Montgomery and Bauer treasured every moment spent on the road, even though it took an entire year for Bauers feet to stop hurting. Experiencing an actual medieval pilgrimage themselves and having the direct soul-to-saint experience made all the pain and exhaustion worth while.

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