Mary Victoria Wallis's Among the Pilgrims is the story of her two pilgrimages - one by bicycle in 1997 and one on foot in 1998 - in northern Spain along the thousand year old route to the shrine of St. James the Apostle at Santiago de Compostela. In ten chapters covering everything from medieval miracle tales to the modern perils of shin splints and flat tires, she gives her view, as a medievalist, outdoor enthusiast, and inquiring pilgrim with Buddhist leanings, of the five hundred mile trail to Santiago. Among the Pilgrims takes the reader through a landscape of both the past and the present, the real and the imagined, through a topography not only of village and field, but of mind and spirit as well. In the cultural remains of medieval pilgrimage, Mary searches for the spiritual seeds of modern pilgrimage. Using a personal and impressionistic style, Among the Pilgrims brings into relief the treasury of literature, art, architecture, music, philosophy and science that was born and transmitted along the Camino de Santiago. Early in her first trip, for instance, Mary climbs the pass over the Pyrenees into the Spanish town of Roncesvalles. Here, in 779 AD, Count Roland was slain, blowing a dying note upon his magical oliphant to summon help from King Charlemagne - thereby giving birth to Le Chanson de Roland - and French literature. On the dry plains of northern Castile, she discovers the cradle of many Western musical traditions. Further west, she comes upon a 12th-century Templars castle that Napoleon thought about blowing up only two hundred years ago. Far from being isolated cultural artifacts, these stories, places and treasures are part of a heritage reaching into our own time. They are also mirrors in which we can find ourselves.
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January 28, 2013
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