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How well I remember yelling “..to be a pilgrim!” at morning assembly in Syston parochial junior school in Leicestershire. At the end of every verse of the stirring hymn, with my lungs fit to burst. Never mind I didn’t really know what the words meant. Throughout early childhood most hymns went so over my head they might as well have been in a foreign language. Choruses were about the only bits I could remember by heart. My lips moved slightly out of synch for the rest, as I pretended to sing them.
I never thought I’d ever end up actually being a pilgrim, as didn’t know what one was. Apart from the fact it was something very religious people did in the olden days. A pilgrim, going on pilgrimages and that sort of stuff. But you don’t know important things like that, when you’re little, do you?
But now, after moving to Conil in Andalucia, I seem to go a pilgrimming most years.
La romería de San Sebastian could fairly be described as one of the most challenging pilgrimages in the world, in my book. My book of only one pilgrimage.
Even veteran pilgrims say it’s gruelling. Many never complete the journey. Tired and emotional, dozens fall by the wayside. Others wind up wandering from the track in a dazed, almost trance-like state. A journey of barely five miles, it can take an equal number of hours to complete. Sometimes many more.
Not quite eight o’clock on a misty Sunday morning towards the end of January, a burro draws a cart adorned with flowers up outside the church next to the old police station in Plaza Santa Catalina. A lifelike painted effigy of San Sebastian, pierced with arrows, is borne out of the church and loaded onto the cart while a local brass band tunes up. Men and women riders sporting boleros and fedoras wait by on horses. The band and riders will escort donkey and cart to the town limits. After all, it’s San Sebastian’s one day out in the year. This January, his annual outing was postponed twice due to rain. read more
Copyright © 2011 Bryan Hemming
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