Robert Ward

Keep our love for her in front of us (pg 186) The Pilgrim Statue of León (pg 205)

At 7:30 a.m., laughing, singing crowds are spilling out of the discos and into the lamplit streets. A pilgrim’s Sunday starts where a partier’s Saturday ends. I might as well have been partying with them for all the sleep I got last night. I walk listlessly down the Avenida Suero de Quiñones to the Plaza de San Marcos, where I see, at the foot of a stone cross, the very image of exhaustion: León’s pilgrim statue. There are many statues of pilgrims along the Camino, realistic and abstract, humorous and heroic, moving and maudlin. A few depict pilgrims of today, with nylon packs and running shoes, but most are like this one, a figure of long ago decked out in the classic pilgrim ensemble. León’s pilgrim is a weary figure. He has taken off his sandals and leans back against the cross as if to sleep. Before him is the Parador of San Marcos, a luxury hotel where he could never dream of staying. I sit down to keep him company for a while.

It’s funny that in the old days, when pilgrims actually looked like this, there weren’t any statues of pilgrims. The statues then were of Jesus Christ, Mary, James and the other saints. They were the heroes of the Camino. But the old heroes have retreated to the churches and the heavens. The hero of the Camino today – or so these statues suggest – is the pilgrim himself, the pilgrim of old, pictured always as humble, stoic, pure of heart, trusting, possessed of an unclouded belief that today’s pilgrim can never hope to equal. “A pilgrim is someone who is looking for something,” the sister told us last night, and the pilgrim of old knew just what he was looking for and just where to find it: at the tomb of Saint James in Santiago.

And what are you looking for, peregrino? the statue asks me.

I cast him a grouchy, early-morning glance. “I don’t know, but a coffee would be a good start.”

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