The urge to undertake a pilgrimage is both ancient and universal. The Egyptians made their way to Sekket's shrine at Bubastis; the Greeks sought counsel from Apollo at Delphi and the cures of Asclepius at Epidaurus. Quetzal, Cuzco and Titicaca were all sacred precincts in pre-Columbian America. Christian tradition draws the faithful primarily to the Holy Land, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, Fatima, Lourdes, and more recently, to Medjugorje, Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary is purported to appear daily to a group of village seers. In the Islamic world, the pilgrim's obligatory journey or hajj to Mecca is one of the Five Pillars of Faith. Buddhists venture to Bodh Gaya where the Buddha attained enlightenment; Jews bow in prayer before the Western Wall of the Temple; and Hindus bathe in the ash-filled waters of the sacred Ganges. Every religion possesses its prescribed rites and rituals, but pilgrimage, in particular, seems to appeal to an instinctive movement of the human heart. The Latin phrase ambulare pro Deo, 'to walk for God', is as valid for a Christian pilgrim setting out for Santiago de Compostela as for a Muslim drawn to the Ka'ba shrine at Mecca, or a Buddhist circumambulating a stupa . . .
. . . The notion that God or the Absolute can be approached while journeying, I discovered, is all but universal. It is telling, for example, that Yahweh means the 'God of the Way'; or that in Arabic Il-Rah, originally used to signify a migration path, was later appropriated by the Sufi mystics to describe 'the Way to God'. Christ and his Apostles walked the hills and valleys of Palestine. The quest for Zen is also referred to as angya, or 'going on foot'. Early Buddhists were 'wandering alms-seekers'; and their master's last words to his followers were, appropriately enough, 'Walk on!' The potential pilgrim is unlikely to find two better words of advice . . .
. . . Had either the Buddha or Christ chosen a secluded, stationary life, there would be no footsteps to follow. As it was, they both exalted the peripatetic condition, and they both showed us a Path; that one leads to Nirvana, and the other to salvation and eternal life, are two very different spiritual prospects, but in both cases it is the pilgrim, the soul seeking enlightenment, who must set off on the journey. As the Buddha lay on his deathbed, he offered his followers a simple, if telling, imperative: 'Walk on!'
NICHOLAS SHRADY Sacred Roads: Adventures from the Pilgrimage Trail
Ultreia! or Ultreya! is a word deriving from the ancient Galician language (and originally from the Latin word ultra) which is difficult to translate exactly, but means something like 'Walk further!', 'Walk higher!', 'Onward!' or 'Walk on!'. Camino pilgrims often come across this word scrawled graffiti-like in underpasses, on walls and alongside the ubiquitous yellow arrows which point the Way.
Ultra means 'further', 'extreme', 'radical', 'beyond the norm'. The true end of the Spanish Camino is Fistera, Finisterre, Finis Terra, The End of the Earth, the Furthest Point West in Spain, indeed the Furthest Point West in Europe. The romance and promise of the West pervades much folklore, mythology and many spiritual and quasi-spiritual beliefs (eg there's the story of the lost kingdom of Atlantis).
As I approached Toulouse by the Canal du Midi this September, a cyclist on the opposite bank called out to me 'Ultreia!', in recognition, greeting, encouragement and blessing, with one arm held high in the air, the fingers of her hand pointing skywards.