Catholic Devotions

A Wayside Shrine: How a Wannabe Pilgrim Found Strength on the Camino

A few years ago, during a college semester abroad, a few friends and I had the crazy idea to walk a good portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain during a 10-day break we were about to experience. I appointed myself the expedition leader. Of course, not knowing more than three words of Spanish and being in possession of only your average Target brand of sneakers, I was the obvious choice to lead this small group of wanna-be pilgrims in the footsteps of many centuries-worth of real pilgrims. So I buckled down, did whatever planning I deemed necessary, and we set off for the interior of Spain. I was confident it was going to be an exciting, enjoyable, and easily penitential journey.

I was right about the penitential part.

From the very beginning, it was overwhelmingly difficult. Our friend that we were meeting up with for the Camino had to sprint to catch our plane. The Google map that we had printed out to get us to our starting point took us through *manya bewildered cottage-dweller’s back yard. Our first hostel had 40 beds in one room, a shower that flooded into said room, and no blankets. And after all that, once we actually placed our already tired feet upon the Camino itself, the November Rain in Spain stayed mainly on The Way.

One of the few pictures I managed to snap on the Camino

It rained constantly, steadily, and very, very coldly.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Camino itself was beautiful. We passed under stone arches covered in moss and the season’s last greenery, through fields piled full of winter stores, across bridges overlooking fog-covered towns long nestled away from the world. The peaceful richness of the history I was passing through was not lost on the rain-soaked traveler I was. However, all I could think of was how I just wanted a little bit of respite and warmth.

Eventually, we came upon something quite unexpected. It was a tiny stone hut, just wide enough to fit a tiny band of travelers, and it contained an icon – of sorts – of some saint or other I had never heard of. A single red candle, sheltered away from the wind and rain, burned faintly in its snug home. My companions and I inched our ways inside, broke into our stash of granola bars, and spent a glorious five minutes laughing about the ridiculousness of our situation, and “my goodness, did you see how fluffy that dog was back there??” We each breathed a sigh of renewed vigor, able to continue on.

Every once in a while, until we reached Santiago de Compostella, we would find more of these little shrines along the way, each with a different image. Sometimes Our Lady would greet us, sometimes, St. Therese. These stone shelters, I would come to find out later, are present all throughout Europe as places of prayer and hope for weary travelers such as we were. Visible signs of an invisible reality: the journey of life is difficult and we can become spiritually weary, but there are those who can give respite, warmth and hope to our souls – the very saints whose images accompanied us on our Camino.

Now stateside, I have continued to see these shrines appear in many places of prayer, in many forms. A way of reflection on the grounds of a church, a grotto in a grandparent’s garden, or a simple image of devotion tacked to a pine tree on a summer camp trail. Small or large, simple or ornate, these shrines have always provided comfort to a weary soul such as mine, a gentle reminder that I am not alone in my journey towards my Heavenly destination.

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A graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Theresa took time for missionary work before returning to Steubenville to join in Customer Service and Shipping. She enjoys hiking, being on the water, writing in coffeeshops, and going on long road trips.

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