Disclaimer – these words are my personal thoughts, point of view and outlook.
Almost every day since my arrival in Santiago to complete my volunteer work, I spend time in the great cathedral of Santiago. Yesterday, I sat in the first pew, surrounded by less than a dozen people, and marveled at the beauty of this majestic cathedral. However, this is not the only reason I visited so many churches during my time on the Camino.
Reality is, I feel at home in churches, and often, the smaller the church, the more intimate my visit seems to be. From my earliest recollection, our family attended church on a regular basis. I believe this was more my Dad´s wish than my Mom´s, and from an early age my involvement in the church was extensive. I sang in the choir (although today I wouldn´t qualify so perhaps voices change over time?) and I was one of the first altar girls to serve mass in our church in Hull, Quebec.
When my father passed away, my mother´s grief was deep and she lost faith. Until her last day, I don´t believe she ever came to terms with his passing. We saw our time in church dimish quickly and I found myself spending less time in the actual churches themselves. This is not to say that I forgot about my religion, not at all. I always had the belief that one can be religious without actually attending mass, and that our actions is truly what makes us a good person. I did go through a stage, mostly in my twenties, looking into various religions to explore what other belief systems and rituals were available to me.
I seemed to always drift back to my roots and my upbringing in the Catholic faith. I´ve not been blind to the issues that have plagued the churches. Corruption, abuse, scandals of all sorts are common to all religions, however it seems the Catholic churches have had more publicity than others. My experiences have never been negative, in fact, as I get older it seems I find more solace during my church visits.
The Camino has so much to offer from the smallest of praying houses to massive cathedrals. Burgos, Leon and Santiago are cities whose churches are visited by millions of tourists. Their majestic size, inpressive architecture and amazing works of art (be they statues, paintings and sculptures) draw people from all over the world. On the other end of the spectrum, even the smallest of villages typically have a church of some type.
I feel the same way be it a large scale cathedral of gigantic proportions or a small quaint church; I feel… at home.
In Spain, most masses are conducted either in Spanish or in Latin. I had my formative religious learnings in French therefore, my praying is done in French. As I attend services regularly during my stay in Spain, I´m slowly learning the Soanish versions of songs and prayers, but my immediate recollection is always in french.
From the feel of the worn down pews, the sound of organ music, the smell of the incense and the melodic tones of the prayers, all these sensations reel me back to my childhood and comfort my soul. The availability of so many churches is one the wonders of the Camino.