By Gigi Ragland
As a child, whenever I heard the word “pilgrim” it was usually followed by a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving. My young interpretation of the word didn’t take on much meaning beyondthe fact that pilgrims were the people that landed at Plymouth Rock. Now, the word pilgrim takes on a whole new meaning to me. Along the Camino aka “The Way” walking pilgrims are called peregrinos and biking pilgrims are called bicigrinos. As it was explained to us during our overview before our first dinner, wave after wave of pilgrims during a span of 1000 years walked the route we would begin in the morning. All three guides, Juan Carlos, Joan and Jago enlightened the group with tales and historical information about the Camino. They explained, like the pilgrims before us, it was necessary to document our journey to prove that we physically made the journey. Stamps with dates collected along Camino waypoints are required each day of each leg of the 500+ mile route. Nowadays, an official Pilgrim’s passport booklet is issued to each peregino, or in my case bicigrina.
In medieval times, pilgrims returning to their homelands brought back scallop shells as further proof that they completed the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. The shells are an official symbol of the Camino Route and can now be seen on signs indicating the route, embedded in the cobblestone paths of the ancient villages, and of course on every type of souvenir you can think of including a tee-shirt of a “Hello Kitty” peregrino. Most importantly though, the scallop shells are worn by official pilgrims as a sign to others indicating they are a pilgrim. Our guides surprised each of us with a beautiful white scallop shell displaying a red crusader cross. We were instructed to strap the shell on the bike bag, like a bumper sticker on the back of a car identifying us as pilgrims.