“The Way is a bridge to the sacred in a profane world”

A string of murders shakes the Camino de Santiago in the early sixteenth century. And to clarify them, the researcher and author of ‘La Celestina’, Fernando de Rojas, mixes with the pilgrims while investigating the crimes with the help of Elías do Cebreiro, clergyman and archivist of the Cathedral of Santiago. This is the argument of ‘The mud manuscript’ (Espasa), the last historical novel truffled with a crime novel (or the other way around) by Luis García Jambrina (Zamora, 1960), who with this new fiction (the fifth in the series that began in 2008 with the award-winning ‘The stone manuscript’) immerses the reader in the mysteries and legends of the ancient pilgrimage route.

-What was the Camino in the 16th century like?

-At that time, the Camino had been filled with rogues, beggars and criminals of all kinds, which caused the pilgrims themselves to decrease.

-In 2015, an American pilgrim was murdered near Astorga. That episode filled the pilgrimage route with fear, as happens in his book..

– I remember it very well and I had it very present when I wrote the novel. As far as I know, the murderer was quickly arrested, but released for lack of evidence, until he made a mistake.

-In a passage in your book a character says: “Bad times are coming for pilgrimages.” Five centuries later, covid through, has hit the nail on the head …

-I am very sorry to have thrown that bad omen. In any case, there were much worse times for the Camino, to the point that it almost disappeared, since there were very few who made the pilgrimage. In the end the pilgrims pass and the Camino remains.

-In this Holy Year, the Camino, which had to be filled with pilgrims, is going to be very affected by the pandemic …

-When the pandemic ends, there will be a great desire and need to go on pilgrimage; the safest thing is that there are so many that all the forecasts are exceeded.

-What moves people to pilgrimage?

-Life is a pilgrimage. Apparently, the reasons that lead people to pilgrimage are very different, but deep down everyone is driven by the need to test and find themselves. It is a path of knowledge and self-discovery.

-Does the Camino transform people?

-The one who returns from doing the Camino is not the same as the one who started it in his day. It is another, I do not know if better or worse, but different. He returns reborn after a symbolic death.

– Would you say that the Camino is a sort of Ithaca in which the important thing is the journey and not so much the final destination of embracing the saint?

-As Kavafis points out in his poem, the important thing is not the goal, but the path, which must be made long and rich in experiences and adventures. The thing about the tomb of Santiago is nothing more than a pretext, an excuse. In fact, the Way where it really ends is in Finisterre, at the end of the known world.

-Why is it still such a powerful source of inspiration?

-It is a very fruitful and exciting life experience, a concept in which all facets of life intersect: of course, the religious, the spiritual and the sacred, but also culture, politics and the economy. The Way is a bridge to the sacred in an increasingly profane world.

-Do you think the route is still wrapped in a halo of mystery that makes it more attractive?

-It is a route that goes from East to West, following the Milky Way, a propitious space for legends, the extraordinary and the supernatural. Walking at night under a starry sky or through a lush and shady forest is something that still imposes.

– What are the temptations of the pilgrim of the XXI?

-For many, the Way more than perfection is one of perdition, and, rather than doing penance for their sins, what they are looking for are new opportunities to sin. But it can also be an antidote to lust, because you get so tired that there is no desire for anything.

-In past centuries, most of them made the Way to atone for sins, would you recommend the Jacobean route to atone for something?

-To expiate xenophobia, intolerance and stupidity. Very diverse people meet, ideas and experiences are shared.

-Tell me any anecdote you know about the Camino?

-I live near the Salamanca pilgrim hostel and once I met a very old pilgrim who told me that she was doing the Camino with her husband. “What is it, is it lost?” I joked. The woman explained to me that she was carrying her husband’s ashes in her backpack, as she had promised to throw them into the sea when he arrived in Finisterre.


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