The Walking With Angels exhibition is an attempt to take your hand on our walk, the talk is my attempt to tell you the story of our journey
I am fortunate enough to be given the Rendezvous Cafe space in the Maidenhead Town Hall by Art on the Street to mount a photographic exhibition of a walk with my two sons, 12 and 16 years old, over the Pyrenees and across Spain to The Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.
We walked for 33 days, across nearly 800Km, on an extraordinary pilgrimage that has been taken since the 9th century.
In fact the path is older than that, it follows the Milky Way and, before Jesus was born, pagans were walking across northern Spain in a born-again ritual. They would finish at Fisterra (the end of the world), burn their clothes, and watch the sun fall into the infinite sea next to La Costa de Morta (the Coast of Death). This ritual symbolized a pilgrim’s death and rebirth.
Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried in Santiago de Compostela. The Way of St. James became one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, together with Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned.
It fell out of fashion for hundreds of years until 1987 when Paulo Cohelo wrote about it, then a German comedian brought out a book, then a Korea woman did the same, then Martin Sheen made a film, and now my son’s have walked it with me ..
The exhibition is an attempt to take your hand on our walk, the talk is my attempt to tell you the story of our journey. The exhibition contains some art photographs, snap shots, a few mini stories and portions of our map. It was a life-affirming, extraordinary experience, an unexpected pilgrimage that built us from the ground up and the inside out.
To have walked it with my sons was to walk with angels.
The Camino isn’t just a long stroll.
In some ways you get stronger (our calves are solid) but in many ways you get worn down, the food is inadequate, the water can make you sick, the heat, the blisters, the constant mental challenge to get up and walk again, each day.
The relentless stimulation of changing environments, the need to make a decision everyday for that day, for that moment. The unpredictability, the ease with which your journey can be stopped.
At the beginning when people ask are you going to Santiago the answer is “yes”. By day 10 the answer is “I hope”
Your walk every day is long, tiring, challenging, across vast landscapes (some staggeringly beautiful, some harsh and unforgiving), hours of sensory deprivation, a focus on the physical, grounding!
Then you walk into a town, and the church is the only thing to see so you go. The incredible capacity of the human spirit is celebrated in the stonework, the glass, the ornament, the sculpture, the gold. The music is extraordinarily sweet.
The very best of our creative and spiritual capability is concentrated in one overwhelming small step through a door.
Everyday ends in what really matters, a shower, a chance to wash your clothes, good company, food, a little wine and a bed.
Such is the journey: every day a toil of physical labour and personal challenge, slowly across great tracts of land, saturated in nature, that grows ever more intense towards Santiago.
With pockets along the way of immense human excellence, the redemptive power of art and culture working at full brightness. The kindness, compassion, honesty, courage, lightness, companionship and openness of people on the way.
Every cell in your body, every thought in your mind is engaged, concentrated, moved.
Every day begins again, on a journey towards an end that you can’t be sure you’ll make, you’re not sure why you are trying, and you have no idea how it will grow each day.
It is a pilgrimage towards you.
Our Camino was perfect, it was extraordinarily hard, mentally, physically and emotionally, but every day we experienced real joy, incredible coincidences, laughter, and miracles
33 days of life lessons. And, time together.
When we arrived in the square in front of the Cathedral one of the first things we noticed were the number of people on the street, homeless or just begging. Having spent a month living a frugal life out of choice, the lack of choice for others was highlighted.
I am extremely pleased to be allowed to give this night to Open Kitchen, a charity providing food and help for people in and around Maidenhead who can not afford to feed themselves properly.
At one point I had to go across town to pick up something and as I dropped down behind the pergola on Avenida de Xoán XXIII I found a different world, a quiet unassuming row of neat spaces, each square of cardboard marking where those who carry all they have on their back everyday have few options.
I had just spent 33 days carrying little more than a change of clothes, what I needed to keep clean and manage my blisters, and my camera. I have slept with no covers, eaten frugally, and lived communally.
I felt a poignancy at the ease with which I was able to give up my frugal life on the road, but a pilgrimage for one is an indigent stasis for others.
Open Kitchen provide non-perishable food to families who are unable to afford a proper meal every day for themselves or their children. We currently provide for up to around 40 families each week.
Your “entrance fee” will go to their bank
10% of any sales on the night will be donated to Open Kitchen.
A further 20% is dived between Age Concern for hosting the exhibition and Art on the Street CIC for creating the opportunity for this, and other artists to enjoy an exhibition space all year.
Visit the Exhibition at the Town Hall, St Ives Rd, Maidenhead SL6 1R
THE EXHIBITION IS ON ALL MONTH