Readers will know of my fascination with, and love for, pilgrimages. Admittedly, most of those that I have taken part in, and to varying degrees led, have travelled by plane. Santiago de Compostela, the shrine of St James in Spain - now there's a serious pilgrimage, if you're going to do it properly. I'm afraid the one time I went to Santiago - yes, you've guessed it - we flew there, direct to Santiago airport. The real pilgrimage is on foot, El Camino - The Way, and that is the title of an excellent film that came out last year, and that I watched on the newly out DVD last night.
I'm having a rather heavy canon law-filled week, interspered with meetings every evening so far. So last night I was in need of relaxation, and a kind parishioner shoved the DVD in my sweaty little palm, as we had been chatting about "The Way" a while before. The film is about the pilgrimage, which dates back to the Middle Ages. It was usually done on foot, starting from various points around Europe (such as the Rue St-Jacques or St James Street, in Paris). The routes came together at the Pyrenees between France and Spain, and then it wounds its way across to Santiago, which took about a month.
The movie stars Martin Sheen, a Catholic, as Tom, a father who goes out to bring back the body of his son who has died while making the pilgrimage. The son is played by Emilio Estevez, Sheen's real son, who also directs. Tom ends up making the pilgrimage himself, and the film, beautifully shot across some stunning landscapes in the real locations, follows his journey to the shrine. The soundtrack uses music of different sorts, including a Coldplay song and a David Gray track.
It turns out to be a journey in many senses of the word, as pilgrimage so often does, and Tom's story is interwoven with that of three principal other pilgrims, plus several lesser characters. It is a spiritual (or just human) rather than a Christian film, and I found it compelling, watching it until after midnight. At some points it is really intense and brought a tear to my eye, calling up all sorts of memories and reflections. It would have meaning for everyone, I think, and especially for those belonging to any group such as a church, where people journey together in life and faith.