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(part of an ongoing series from Pastor Carl about activities during his sabbatical)

Just a few days after finishing our Civil Rights tour (you can read all about that in on the church website under “Blog”) I boarded a plane for Madrid, Spain to spend 13 days on the Camino de Santiago (the Camino, for short). The Camino is a network of historical pilgrimage routes in Spain, France, and Portugal all with their final destination in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, the traditional burial site of St James the Apostle. That is the James we know from the Bible as the brother of John, the son of Zebedee, one of the sons of thunder. The oldest known Camino is the Camino Primitivo, which is the one I chose to walk. The Primitivo dates back to the 9th century when King Alfonso II made a pilgrimage from Oviedo to Santiago after the discovery of James’ remains.

Tradition tells that after Jesus’ resurrection, James traveled to Iberia (modern Spain) and preached there before returning to Jerusalem where he was martyred by Herod (Acts 12:1-2.) When I refer here to tradition I mean that which has been passed down orally and in writing; James’ journey to Spain and the site of his subsequent burial are not in the Scripture. To say it’s tradition does not mean it’s untrue - some tradition has much more historical support - by tradition I am speaking of beliefs that have a long history but are not found in Scripture and don’t have definitive historical evidence.

There are several reasons I chose to do this as one of my sabbatical activities. As I was praying and planning for my sabbatical I wanted to have a variety of experiences including some time on my own to spend in reflection. I had heard about the Camino from several fellow pastors as well as in a book I had read and as Christine and I talked about the sabbatical, it seemed like good choice.


When I left the Army in 1994 to attend seminary I spend several weeks camping and hiking in the National Parks  between Washington and Michigan and that was a significant time in preparing me for ministry. The Camino seemed like it might provide a similar experience as I prepare for the years of ministry ahead.

I chose the Primitivo based on its length which would allow me to walk the full length of that Camino (approximately 194 miles) in the time I had. This is significantly shorter than the most popular route, the Camino Frances, which is about 470 miles long. The Primitivo also appealed to me because from what I read it was not as popular which means there would be fewer others walking. Additionally the Primitivo is considered one of the more picturesque with much more elevation than the other routes.


I landed in Madrid, Spain and from there got a train to Oviedo, the starting point for the Primitivo. After a good night’s rest I began the next day with a visit to the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo. With this being my first time in Europe, it was wonderful to experience entering into a building that had been founded in 782, over 1200 years ago. The primary structure today dates “only” to the 14th-16th century, so it’s a mere 700 years old. This was one of the draws of the Camino to me - not only seeing the sites but to know that I was walking on trails that had been walked by others for hundreds of years. That was a powerful image for me of the Christian journey, of being surrounded and encouraged by a cloud of witnesses.

To be sure, many of the people who walk the Camino today do not do so for religious reasons. I only met a few who professed any sort of faith. Most were walking for pleasure or perhaps for reflection. But, as is tradition, all those who walk on the Camino are known as pilgrims, whether they are on a pilgrimage or not. And that’s how I chose to see it - those I met were pilgrims whether intentional or not, because all are on a journey and though they may not be looking for God, the Father is looking for them. For me, it was not a pilgrimage in the traditional sense because I was not focused on the destination but the journey. And during that journey I wanted to spend time in prayer, reflection, and meditation, particularly on the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.

Back to the cathedral …

After several hours in the cathedral, I headed out on my pilgrimage. The Camino travels through towns and cities as well as countryside and mountains. The route is marked in various ways but typically with a scallop shell and yellow arrows on the ground or walls in the city and on stone markers along the trail.

My intent in this series is not to detail each and every day but instead to highlight some of my experiences and the things I learned along the way.

I hope you are blessed as I recall my journey,


Carl Franzon, Pastor