Ten years ago, I walked the breadth of northern Spain along the Way of St James, the ancient and arduous pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St James the Apostle are said to rest in the cathedral crypt. The 500-mile, month-long journey, I have increasingly come to realize, was a seminal event in my life. Along the pilgrimage trail, episodes and encounters unfolded with the clarity of parables. I was variously taken in by shepherds, gypsies, country priests, and nuns under vows of silence. I was shut out by one of the archbishop's underlings. I walked through unsullied landscapes of immense beauty and the dark, labyrinthine medieval quarters of Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon. I encountered living saints and misanthropes. I harvested apples and olives, joined a wedding party, and nursed a vagabond through a particularly vicious bout of delirium tremens. But more than anything else, I had the opportunity to reflect and to meditate. The Way of St James was not only a taxing physical journey, but a spiritual exercise.
From Nicholas Shrady's Sacred Roads: Adventures from the Pilgrimage Trail (1999)