Chairman's Report for 2006
The following report was delivered at the Confraternity's AGM on 27th January 2007, and will be published in a forthcoming Bulletin. You may quote reasonable extracts without permission, though we would appreciate an acknowledgement. For more substantial use, please contact the Secretary.
A couple of months ago, I went to the island of Malta, my home country, for a most interesting conference on pilgrimages and religious routes. The scope was wide, including Jewish, Christian and Islamic perspectives, but the pilgrimage to Santiago did get a look-in. I was struck by one of the speakers, Rabbi David Meyer from Brussels, comparing the concepts of sacred place and sacred time in Judaism. Ancient Judaism certainly gave great importance to the pilgrimage to the sacred place, the Temple in Jerusalem, and we are still inspired by the psalms sung on these pilgrimages. Modern Judaism places much more emphasis on the sanctification of time than of place. He quoted a modern Jewish thinker, Abraham Heschel (1907-1972) who metaphorically answered the question : “Where are the great Cathedrals of the Jewish tradition ?” with the statement “The Sabbath days are great Cathedrals”. Our tradition of pilgrimage to a sacred place is also, of course, an adventure in the sanctification of time. I can imagine encountering a pilgrim who is on a section of the road that is not rich in human monuments, perhaps the Meseta of Castille. I can imagine that pilgrim, if questioned, saying “Today I have walked, I have prayed, I have rested, I have encountered others, I have eaten my food and drunk my water. Metaphorically, I have entered a Cathedral. Perhaps even, I have contributed to the building of a Cathedral.”
In this spirit, of recognizing the sacredness of time in every day of our pilgrimages, I would like to look back with you at the year 2006. It was not a Jubilee Year, not a Holy Year with a capital H. We did have a very joyful and memorable occasion in the blessing of the Casa Rectoral in Miraz for its new purpose as a pilgrim refuge. But Miraz was already receiving pilgrims last year, and the work of gathering funds for the continuing works there is by no means finished. So the special characteristic of 2006 is the same that makes every year special for us : that people set out into the state of pilgrimage, and that all of you, those here today and those absent today, make it possible , by banding together in this Confraternity, for people to be pilgrims. Metaphorically, that is the Cathedral we are helping to construct.
At Miraz, and at Rabanal, our two refugios, the construction is not just metaphorical. Literal building works take place whenever a working party goes out. Metaphorical works of building hospitality take place whenever an hospitalero receives a pilgrim. Essential works of fostering pilgrimage take place whenever anyone organizes or contributes to the many and varied works of fundraising. You will be hearing more details shortly about both Miraz and Rabanal. I would just like to recall two particularly beautiful events concerning Miraz in the past year. One was the blessing of the house on 28th September. The Bishop of Lugo, Fray José Gomez Gonzalez, was prevented by illness from coming himself , so, after Mass in the church of St James, the house was blessed by the Dean, Don José Fernandez Fernandez. The gathering included many of the villagers, the local authorities, members of the Confraternity and the Galician Amigos del Camino, and most importantly, 5 pilgrims (one of whom performed for us on his trumpet). The small group of members that I was with, driven by the indefatigable Mary Moseley, took the opportunity to visit the refuges immediately before and after Miraz, at Baamonde and the Cistercian monastery of Sobrado, so as to have a better understanding of our place in the network of hospitality.
The second event on which I look back with particular pleasure was the reception at the Spanish Embassy in aid of the Miraz appeal, by kind invitation of Their Excellencies the Count and Countess of Casa Miranda. His Excellency has been our President since coming to London some 2 years ago, but this was the first opportunity for a large number of our members to meet him, and to be greatly encouraged by his commitment to our cause. Many distinguished guests including His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio and Members of both Houses of Parliament joined our members in enjoying the Embassy’s hospitality and in hearing Revd Colin Jones give an inspiring illustrated account of the Miraz project. It was particularly fitting to discover that the Civil Guard there to protect us came from Baamonde, just up the road from Miraz. Together with all the other ways of raising funds that people have thought up and carried out , the Embassy evening was thoroughly imbued with the pilgrim spirit, the spirit of hospitality. We are very grateful to Alison Thorp for her work in coordinating this and the other fundraising activities.
These two events symbolically announce that the first phase of the continuing Miraz project is now achieved. It makes a fitting moment for Maureen and Keith Young to tell us that, having nurtured the New Refuge project through its early stages of discernment, guided us to the providential choice of Miraz, and co-ordinated all the early processes of work there, they now wish to step down from the role of co-ordinators as Chairman and Secretary of the Miraz Development Group. We owe them an immense debt of gratitude. Happily, they are not leaving the scene altogether, and will remain active for Miraz, Keith concentrating on the property and Maureen on the fundraising. Many of our members have become involved with Miraz, and you will be hearing a detailed report shortly , but I must mention especially Alan Cutbush’s co-ordination of the hospitaleros, and Peter Fitzgerald’s co-ordination of the structural work on the building.
What of our senior refugio at Rabanal ? The Refugio Gaucelmo was inaugurated in October 1991, so 2006 was its 15th anniversary. Another very significant milestone is approaching : it is expected that the 100,000th pilgrim will be welcomed there some time in the summer of 2007, and you will be hearing of a proposal to celebrate that event. Paul and Cristina Spink have continued to do magnificent work heading the Rabanal Subcommittee, along with Stuart and Tricia Shaw, Michael Krier and Graham Scholes, and I shall leave it to them to give you the more detailed account of the year.
Here at the AGM, you will find Walter Ivens ready to help you to sponsor a week, either at Rabanal or at Miraz. You will find the co-ordinators of hospitaleros for both refuges ready to discuss signing you up as an hospitalero, if not for 2007 then certainly for 2008. And you will also find John Hatfield, the man from Vézelay. Ah, Vézelay ! Most beautiful of the four French starting-points of the Roads to Santiago. Its Basilica the glory of Romanesque architecture, with its relics of St Mary Magdalen.and its sublime liturgies of the Jerusalem Community. Its route wending through Burgundy, through the very rich hours of Berry, of the Limousin and the truffle-scented riches of Périgord. A route far from crowded, still a route de solitude… When John Hatfield wrote his Guide to the Vézelay route for the Confraternity, it was the first such guide in any European country. The route then was still lacking in accommodation and a real challenge for pilgrims. This has changed over the years, thanks to Monique and Jean-Charles Chassain and the Amis de la Voie de Vézelay. They were themselves inspired by John’s pioneering Guide to produce their own mighty Itinéraire, to waymark the route, and to foster the provision of accommodation. As you know, a particular link of friendship has grown in the last few years between our Confraternity and the Vézelay Amis. John has been the first to recognize that his pioneering Guide has been superseded by the Chassains’ Itinéraire. One little difficulty remained : could the Itinéraire be used by a British pilgrim with limited French ? This difficulty has been overcome : I am proud to introduce to you the English edition of the Vézelay Itinéraire, its glowing golden cover enhanced by the distinctive blue slip. This masterpiece of bilingualism, principally the work of Alison Raju, contains the integral IGN maps and French route directions, a glossary translating any obscure terms in those directions, and translations by Alison of the important introductory booklets. This monument to the international spirit of the pilgrimage rolled off the French presses in the autumn of 2006. How to get it to England ? Was the Confraternity to squander the hard-earned pennies of its members’ subscriptions on freight charges ? Certainly not ! Taking advantage of the presence of some of our members at the excellent Symposium on “Les Chemins de Saint Jacques ; Mythe ou Réalité” in Paris in December, 66Kg of Itinéraires were handed over to our members, and trundled in a variety of wheeled suitcases onto the Eurostar, not without exciting a certain amount of interest from the Customs. “Watch the wall, my darling, when the Itinéraires go by !” The Itinéraires are with us ; they are for sale on the bookstall [i.e. in our on-line Bookshop] for a modest sum.
And what of accommodation on the Vézelay route ? The Chassains have researched and inspired a wide variety of types of lodging, among which are the refuges run directly by the Amis de St Jacques de la Voie de Vézelay, as we ourselves run Rabanal and Miraz. For the last 3 years, a number of Confraternity members have served as hospitaliers at the refuges of Corbigny, in Burgundy, and Sorges, in Périgord. This year a third refuge is to open, in the province of Berry, shortly after the town of St Amand-Montrond. It is in a village called Boozy, or, to be more accurate, Bouzais. (I have already warned the Chassains that its name will inspire great hilarity among English pilgrims and hospitaliers.) If any of you, having been pilgrims anywhere on the roads to Santiago, and possessing reasonable French, are inspired to serve for a fortnight in one of these refuges, do please contact John Hatfield, who co-ordinates these matters on behalf of the Chassains.
We are a Confraternity. Whatever we do, we do together. I must thank especially all those who have worked for us in the Committee : our Vice-Chairman Alison Raju; our Secretary Marion Marples; our treasurer Tony Ward; our Systems Officer Alison Thorp; our members Jane Bradshaw, Gosia Brykczynska(who edits our wonderful Bulletin), Paul Graham, Revd Colin Jones, Catherine Kimmel, Mary Moseley, Graeme Taylor and Revd Ricky Yates. Jane Bradshaw and Paul Graham are not standing for re-election. We thank them for all they have given. Jane and Michael have shown a particular talent for organizing West Country Practical Pilgrim days, which we hope will continue, not to mention their invitations to go on pilgrimage to the well of their local Saint Arilda. Warm thanks to all who help receive members and enquirers in the Office, not only Marion, Alison Thorp and Christine Pleasants but many volunteers. To Howard Nelson, John Hatfield and Michael Krier for offering us the riches of our Library, Slide Library and Digital Image Library. Howard also offers us the riches of the Website, with its number of “hits” up to 60,500 in 2006. Gosia’s quarterly offering of the Bulletin comes with the invaluable assistance of James Hatts, John Revell and the gallant band of stuffers. Our guide-writers keep the Confraternity’s guides the envy of all other pilgrims; Ricky Yates and his Publications Subcommittee keep them and our other publications rolling off the presses. Many of you have given talks about the pilgrimage, in this country and abroad. I say “abroad”, knowing that many of you have been far abroad to create links on behalf of the Confraternity. Laurie Dennett has spoken about Don Elias Valiña to the Amigos del Camino of Madrid ; Marion Marples has been all the way to Boulder, Colorado to tell the American Pilgrims about us. All of you, just by banding together in this Confraternity, strengthen and enrich our fellowship, and strengthen and enrich the pilgrim nature of mankind.
This is very well expressed in a letter we have recently received from one of our members, Alastair Millar, who lives in the Czech Republic. He says : “The role that the Confraternity fulfils in encouraging and helping pilgrims to prepare for their journeys, and to better understand those journeys and their motivations for them ( both before and after the event !), cannot be lauded enough. As the Book of Proverbs has it: ‘Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses his way.’ (Proverbs 19:2).”
Lord, increase our desire, increase our knowledge. St James, pray for us, walk with us, that we may not miss our way.