¡Buen Camino!

Dear Friends,
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My first pilgrimage experience from the French frontier with Spain to Santiago itself took place in 2003. You can read the details of this first walk along the famous Camino across Spain in my book, To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008). (You can order it from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or from your local bookseller).
In the summer and early fall of 2007, I walked from Belgium most of the way across France, with the hope of at least making it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near the Spanish border, where I began the first pilgrimage. I didn't quite make it. A bad case of plantar fasciitis took me down in the Bordeaux village of Sainte-Ferme. I continued on to Santiago by train and bus, but the "defeat of my feet" and those last 175 miles or so that were left undone, gnawed at me over the ensuing five years. Happily, I was finally able to wrap up this grand pilgrimage with a third walk from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this past summer (2012). It was a joy to have completed all 2,370 kilometers between Leuven and Santiago.
My adventures and misadventures, my thoughts and prayers of both the 2007 and 2012 pilgrimages have been shared in this blog. I will leave the blog and its archives open for some time to come; if you want to read bits and pieces of it, feel free, but remember that the beginning is at the bottom and the end is at the top.
My contact e-mail remains the same: kacodd@gmail.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
As the pilgrims in Spain greet one another, so I greet you, my reader: "Buen Camino!"
And as the people of France greet their pilgrims along the "Chemin", I also wish to you: "Courage!"

Grace and peace to you all!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Limoges, day 2

I enjoyed a long and deep sleep last night; it’s a wonder what sleeping between clean sheets can do after night after night sleeping in a bag!
I headed into a very quiet Limoges this morning in search of Mass at one or other of the three major churches in the old city. The Cathedral was locked, the Eglise St-Pierre was also locked. “What’s up with this town; don’t they know it’s Sunday?”, I whined to myself.
So I walked up to the third church, Eglise de Saint-Michel-de-Lion, and found the doors open and the sound of a full congregation singing pouring out into the street! I went in, the liturgy just having begun, to find the church very full, and not just with old people; there were plenty of young people and children too.
The liturgy featured the baptism of a little girl, Naomi, which was finely integrated into the wider celebration and accomplished with a beautiful mix of solemnity and the personal touch of the pastor. I was likewise touched by how well the French sing in church; unlike so many of our American Catholics, they are not afraid to join in and make together a joyful sound to the Lord that fills their great gothic church, and, as I said, even pours out into the street.
I introduced myself to the pastor at the back of the church after Mass, during the French version of “coffee and donuts”, bite-size quiches, juice and champagne (I presume it was an extra today because of the baptism, but who knows, maybe they do this every Sunday!).
The pastor welcomed me warmly, and encouraged me on my way to Compostelle; I, for my part, thanked him for the beautiful Mass he had blessed me with on the way.
Tomorrow will be a long day, 27 kms., but I’ll follow that with two short ones. These long hikes of 27 or 30 kms. take too much out of me over the long haul.
For today, my mission is to rest up!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


After an extraordinary day there must come an ordinary one: a lesson for the pilgrim!
Though today’s weather was near-perfect for a 20 km. walk through the French countryside, a steep rise that lasted for 4 kms. at the beginning of the day seemed to sap me of any “overdrive” power the rest of the day. On the “pay-off” side of those early kms. was the view once I got to the top of the hill: from my sun-drenched height I was looking down on Saint-Leonard in the middle distance, still nestled in its white valleyfog, just the steeple of its church piercing through. Lovely!
The last 5 kms. of the day were of the urban kind. Limoges is a big city and it took more than an hour to negotiate its suburbs and light industrial areas before I found my way to the front door of the formerly grand Grande Seminaire of Limoges, my home for the night. It’s no longer a real seminary, but diocesan offices and rooms for retired priests, visitors, and pilgrims like me.
While I waited for he receptionist to return from her lunch break, one of those retired priests sat down next to me on a bench in the front court, and we had a fine chat in a mix of French, Spanish, and English. I can only hope I’m as bright at 86!
This afternoon I did a quick tour of Limoges’great churches and also went about some necessary shopping since this will be my last big city for most of the rest of the pilgrimage, I suspect. Super light long-johns, gloves and cap for the cooler days of October, wax and waterproofer for my boots, a new phone card to pay for these text messages, and a few groceries for tomorrow.
The next two stages in the guide are both very long ones, and I had hoped to divide them over 3 days, but by late afternoon it was clear my plan wasn’t working out; I was having no luck arranging lodging for tomorrow along the route. So I’m going to stay in Limoges one more day and then do a long walk on Monday. A day of rest on a Sunday seems to have some biblical backing, I think!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Saint-Leonard-de Noblat

Well, today was quite a day.
Though it began with gray skies above, and damp cold once again marking the morning, from my very first steps out the pilgrim refuge in Chatelus, my legs felt strong and my energy unflagging. In the first couple of hours I was clocking almost 6 kms./hour going both up and down plenty of Limousin’s hills and dales. Later, the pace dropped back to about 5 kms./hour, but still great for me; I was flying today, and even Gregory the Great on my back couldn’t slow me down. With only a couple brief rest stops and a 45 minute lunch break in a small bar in Le Chatenet, I covered the 30 kms. to Saint-Leonard in a little less than 6 hours. So as not to crow too much, Jacqueline, my 65+ roommate last night and tonight, did the same.
I was quite fatigued when I reached the great church at the heart of this town, but joyful too, at having had a great walk (the sun even came out in the afternoon as in celebration!).
With Gregory still riding my back I dipped into the church, a strange melange of styles and medieval rebuilds, but beautiful nevertheless. Almost immediately, my eye caught a wood crucifix in the early medieval style, next to the altar. I went over to it, and was deeply taken by the unpainted image of Christ in his moment of transition: life, death and new life all captured in his serene face. His extended arms seemed to embrace me and bless me, as if he were herein answering my oft-repeated question on the road (expressed none too piously):”Are you still walking with me, Jesus?” Then unexpectedly my eyes welled and I had my first pilgrim cry in a thousand kilometers. I kissed his feet in gratitude for everything.
In just a little while I’m going out for a “last supper” with Jacqueline; this perky little pilgrim heads home to Paris tomorrow morning.

P.S.We ended up having pizza and cheap Italian champagne in the refuge...not bad, and fun! I'm tired, so soon to bed!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


After a full night of rain, this morning broke like an opening scene from a Dickens novel: bleak. Cold winds chased the thick mists through the soaked streets of Bénévent as I departed my cozy B+B after breakfast. The damp cold was bracing, and seemed to cut through my clothes and chill my bones right from the start. This was the kind of morning designed to test the mettle of even the strongest of pilgrims. Fortunately, I had had my day off, and felt strong before the inclemencies. I took off at a brisk pace, and maintained it for much of the day, working up quickly a warm sweat to fight the cold.
The first several kms. were easy, either level, or running slightly downhill, but after that it was mostly a long, often steep climb, up to the highest point of the whole pilgrimage, the village of Saint-Goussaud at 668m. (about 2000 feet) above sea level. There the mists had turned into certifiable clouds, the white fog wrapping itself around and about everything, making the whole world seem moody and mysterious. The fir and cedar trees that grow up there were only dark silhouettes in the midst off this stuff. After checking to see if the XIIth century church was open (nope), I stopped for lunch at a bar/restaurant and ordered the plat du jour, a really nice bit of beef in a light sauce – not bad for a mountaintop village with almost no visible inhabitants.
Sitting in the restaurant in wet clothes for almost an hour gave me the chills, and so as I left I headed down the goat track of a path with as much speed as I could safely muster; get that furnace fired again, Kev!
I dropped out of the clouds as I descended towards Chatelus, and even had about 30 seconds of dim sunshine on the way to warm my spirits if not my body. THANK YOU, GOD!
Upon arriving in Chatelus I found the village pilgrim refuge with the kind help of a lone lady in the street. Already settling in was Jacqueline, a French lady who had walked the same route as I today though we never met. An experienced pilgrim, she started this pilgrimage in Vezelay, is going on tomorrow to Saint-Leonard, and there calling it quits. The cold and rain have her ready for the return home. She tells me I am the first other pilgrim she has met since Vezelay. I think she is also tired of being alone.
After our showers and laundry were done, we walked together up to the village church, but found it locked up, as are so many of these treasures.
A little bit of sunshine is breaking through at this late afternoon, but great black clouds still dominate the sky, and it is hardly warm. The forecast sees lightning coming our way, according to this morning’s local newspaper.
Tomorrow’s walk is a very long one, almost 30 kms., but there are places to stop along the way if it gets too rough. We’ll just have to wait to see what comes our way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Day Off

Bénévent-l'Abbaye, (Day Two):
Sometimes, a pilgrim just has to stop and take a breath. That is true while he is walking: a five minute pause (or maybe a half hour!) is wonderfully restorative and new energy is found for getting down a day's long road. The same is true on the bigger scale of the overall pilgrimage: every once in a while, the pilgrim just has to take a day off from walking and give his body and mind a bit of a rest.
I had been feeling increasingly weary over the last few days. Yesterday was my tenth day in a row to walk and I've covered over 200 kilometers in those days, most of it generally uphill, some of it steep. Not only are my legs feeling tired, but my mind, too, feels really too full of maps and directions and little yellow arrows pointing me this way or that. Last night, I asked my hosts here in the B&B, Clare and Chris, if it would be possible to stay an extra day with them; they said it wouldn't be a problem at all so I told them I'd make up my mind by morning. I awoke at about 4:30 am and my legs and feet felt so tired, even after so many hours of good sleep, that I decided then that this would be my well-deserved day of rest and recuperation. I'll need it since the upcoming days onto the big city of Limoges will require plenty of effort; a lot of it involves serious climbing uphill and one of the three days is a big 29 kilometer day.
So today, I catch up on my e-mail, read, visit this village and spend some time in its wonderful 11th century church (formerly part of an abbey, which is all gone now), and just let my muscles and mind be happily lazy for a while. I always feel a bit guilty taking these days, but never so afterwards when their benefit is so obvious. I will be more energetic and cheerier tomorrow, a better pilgrim all around.

I want to send greetings to Edmon Benzon, one of our Louvain seminarians from Sorsogon, the Philippines, who is presently walking the Spanish Camino, having finished his degree in theology in early September. Before returning to the Philippines, he decided to take a month to walk from the French border to Compostela. May his own pilgrimage be a time of growth, renewal and preparation for the next stage of his life! Keep Edmon in your prayers, too, dear readers. So to Edmon wherever you find yourself on the road: a hearty "Buen Camino!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Benevent-l'Abbaye, Creuse, Limousin

It was a very late start on my pilgrim way this morning; before heading out on the road I had to wait for the local sport shop to open at 9:30 so I could buy a new set of walking poles, one of my old faithfuls having lost its head some days back. With my new poles (not as nice as the old ones) in hand, off I went at 10:00 am. I didn’t like the feeling of being such a late starter but it did remind me that perhaps I should be a little more relaxed about my self-imposed “program” and go more with the flow. It also got me moving AFTER the morning downpour an hour earlier!

Heavy, dark clouds hung around all morning, ever threatening another deluge, but I actually got through the day quite dry, save for a few drops just as I arrived here in Bénévent. The earlier rain made all of creation simply brilliant in clarity and color: the various greens and browns of the fields, the blue of the sky (when visible between the clouds) and even the dark gray and brilliant white (“whiter than any fuller could make them”) of those same grand clouds were rich and gave me reason to be grateful I was walking this day, late start and all.

My fellow pilgrims from last night, Pierre and Thibault got almost just as late a start as I had; we kept meeting along the way through the morning and shared our humble lunches together on a stone bench in the churchyard of the Chamborand (my lunch consisted of a tin of tuna and some almonds; theirs was day-old bread sausage…all delicious!) I didn’t see them after that; I supposed they dawdled their way to Bénévent a bit more than I and are probably staying in the town refuge. I’m enjoying another B&B that also takes in pilgrims run by an English couple; though I’m paying pilgrim rates they are treating me to full B&B attention, even doing my laundry for just a couple more euros!

The weather is decidedly more cool; though it didn’t rain on me today the gray clouds brought with them the winds with a cold edge to them, harbinger of a deeper autumn on the way. I’ve noticed in recent days that the color of the cattle has changed; through Bourgogne they were all white, while down her they are all brown. It is a small sign that I am moving along: regions, geography, even stock is changing as I head south across France. I got my first blister today; it’s a small one on my second toe. I sewed it up with need and thread so hope it will be fine on the morrow.

Monday, September 24, 2007

La Souterraine

Once again, morning broke as a misty and damp one, though the dawn sky showed through with a hint of blue, promising a fair day for walking. Young Evert awoke with a very upset stomach, so the decision was made over breakfast for him and Sietse to take a taxi to La Souterraine, and then from there Evert would return home. So for a second time we made our farewells, and thereafter, down the path I went, alone again.
The route took me first into a deep river valley, all green and lush and dark. There the two French young men I met yesterday, Pierre and Thibault, caught up to me, and we walked and talked together for a while, until my legs just couldn’t keep up with their much younger models; we met again several times over the day, and they are staying in the same refuge as I tonight. It is a B+B/ pilgrim refuge, that I found quite by accident. I was looking for the Tourist Information Office, after arriving in town, but was going completely the wrong direction. I sensed something was not right; then I noticed an elderly woman in her living room with the window to the street wide open, so I called in and asked her directions. She fairly laughed at how lost I was, but told me that if I needed a room for the night, the big house just down the street surely would take me in. I found the house, and indeed was taken in by Duncan and Lisa, an English couple starting up a B+B here. In their spare rooms they also take in us pilgrims. They made us a lovely dinner tonight, and are treating us like family.
As over the past days, the way has been generally climbing, as it moves up and on top of France’s Massif Central. At day’s end now I can really feel the cumulative effects of that rise in altitude; my legs are quite fatigued. A good night’s sleep usually takes care of that; it’s quite restorative!
Duncan says tomorrow should be nice weather, but more rain is expected Wednesday and Thursday, just when I should be crossing the highest point on the French Chemin, Mont Ambazac. Limoges is only a few days away, so that gives me renewed courage, even with more rain imminent..

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Our first look out the window this morning revealed a heavy and damp mist covering the hills and dales of Gargilesse and environs, but no rain was falling. Praise God! A second piece of good news came thereafter: my boots were still damp after their night in the warmth of the furnace room, but good enough to walk in. Sietse, Evert and I headed down the road wrapped in mist. It was not long before we were generally climbing upward as we tackled the “skirts” of the Massif Central and entered the region of Limousin. The route was mostly dirt roads and grassy paths, except when they led us deep into creek gorges and out again, then they were more like slippery goat trails. The sun finally began to break through the morning fog about noon; how lovely its warmth as it dissipated the damp!
We finally pulled into Crozant about 4 pm. and found special pilgrim lodging at the local hotel/restaurant, the three of us sharing a room together. A beautiful river winds around the hilltop where the village is located, with the ruins of a once grand castle just across the way. The late afternoon sun illuminating the ruins made a stunning vista. I never suspected France was so completely beautiful, and now understand the exclamation:”La belle France!”.
We are meeting a few more pilgrims now that both the Northern (Bourges) and the Southern (Nevers) branches from Vezelay have come together. Yesterday a young Frenchman with his dog visited with us a while in Gargilesse, before continuing on his way. Today here in Crozant two other French young men met us as we climbed up the steep hill into the town center. I’ve noticed we pilgrims generally are becoming less exceptional and a more common part of the local social landscape.
So a new week has begun, my 8th on the road, I think. May it be a graced one!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


What a spoiled pilgrim I must seem to Saint Jacques: I love the bright and sunny days, but feel most put upon when a day is marked by buckets of rain! Today was such a day.
I didn’t expect anything but yet another day of sunshine as I stepped out the door this morning. What met me was at first sprinkles, then, soon, a full downpour, which did not let up even once during the day’s walk. My spirits were lifted when, quite providentially, (I don’t use the word lightly), in the town of Cluis I stopped for a warming coffee and found Siedse and Evert just walking out of their refuge and across the church square. They joined me for the coffee, and together we continued our journey onto Gargilesse.
They had received word that they should not proceed by the regular route in this rain, since it would be almost impossible to pass, and that they should take the highway instead. Without meeting them I might still be mired in the muck of that path.
At about 17 kms. my boots could not keep up with the rain, and the insides of my fine boots became a mush of wool, coolmax, and rainwater: slish-slosh the rest of the way; ugh!
Gargilesse is a very quaint village of artists, which draws plenty of tourists (though not on rainy September days); it was made famous by a certain George Sand, a woman author and artiste, who seems to have made love to just about everyone of renown of her times, including Franz List and Frédéric Chopin. Aside from that, the church has beautiful frescoes from the XIIth century, worth a side trip from almost anywhere in France you might find yourself.
Now it’s time for bed; the three of us are sharing a room for the night, and tomorrow we cross into the Limousin, and up towards the Massif Central. I have finished the “South Branch” of the chemin de Vezelay. Wow!


Neuvy- St- Sepulchre.
After walking with companions for the last two days, going at it by myself alone today made this day’s solitude on the road all the more deeply felt. As I walked out of La Chatre, a gaggle of schoolgirls stopped me on the sidewalk just to ask who I was, and what I was doing, and where I was from. They giggled and tittered as 11 year olds do worldwide, and seemed delighted to have begun their schoolday having met an old duffer on his way to Spain from Belgium by foot. I was all smiles too as I left them heading down the street waving back at me with great pleasure.
Today’s route had a lot of climbing in it, which made it a bit tougher day than I had expected. Just before entering this town I lost the all important titanium tip off one of my hiking poles, which makes it fairly useless; this is my first major technical malfunction of the pilgrimage so far; not a catastrophe, but an annoyance. I’ll have to wait until I get to Limoges about a week from now to look for a new set.
Neuvy’s center is dominated by an 11th C. round Romanesque basilica, the only such church in France. It was built to hold two relics brought back to the town from the Holy Land: a chip of stone of Jesus’ tomb, and a vial of Jesus’ blood, collected (somehow) from his crucifixion. They are both still on display in a side chapel.
I’m staying in a lovely refuge right in town but next to a lake and grassy park.
Tonight, back in Louvain, a new rector is being installed in the American college, as a new academic year begins. To Bishop David Ricken, Msgr. Ross Shecterle, and all the AC staff and students, who are even now in the midst of a great celebration, I send my pilgrim prayers and I offer this day’s pilgrim walk to you all! God bless you all and make fruitful the work of your hands!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

La Chatre

My two Dutch companions and I got the new day off to a less than speedy start, not getting on our way until nearly 9.30 am. That is their usual pattern, not mine, but in truth I didn’t mind very much for I was very happy to have their company for another day. We had quickly grown used to one another and made a good little pilgrim team together.
So off we went to walk another day, me just 18 kms, they almost 36 kms.
It was a bright and fresh morning, cool and sunny as we passed through fields of cut hay, black sunflowers ready for harvest, and occasionally a bit of oak forest. After about 2 hours we took a break in some tall grass shaded by leafy poplars. Sietse found some ripe grapes on a stray vine which he shared out to Evert and me. I said aloud, “I can’t think of a single reason to complain just now; the sun is shining, the sky is blue, my legs are strong, I’m eating ripe grapes from the wild and I’m with two fine pilgrim companions. What more in life could a man ever want?”
After a final meal together in a little restaurant in Lacs we walked the last 2 or 3 kms. into La Chatre and made our way up to the church in the town center. We took some time inside, then returned outdoors to make our goodbyes, for they were committed to going on. Evert asked (again) if I wouldn’t walk further with them but I declined; I’d had enough for one day, especially after 2 very long days before. So we dropped our packs, gave one another a fraternal embrace, then went off in opposite directions, they to continue walking and I back to the Youth Hostel where I planned to spend the night.
I found the hostel but was disappointed to discover that it would not open for two more hours; so I found a little park near a stream and sprawled out in the grass to make my traveling plans and reserve accommodations for the next two nights. I also wrote of the day in my journal, then at 5:00 pm walked back to the hostel and got my room. As it turns out, I’m the only one in the place tonight so I have it all to myself.
I wonder if Sietse and Evert made their additional 18 kms and if they found a decent place to spend the night wherever they finally landed? Santiago will take care of them, I’m sure…

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Though it was completely unplanned, my two fellow pilgrims, with who I spent the night, and I ended walking together throughout the day. Sietse and Evert are father and (teenage)son, Dutch, from the island of Texel.
As we finished our breakfast with our hosts, Paul and Anne, we were all ready to go at the same time, so off we went down the gravel path together. Since beginning this pilgrimage, this is the first time I have walked with anyone else (except the first day out of Leuven). It was enjoyable to have their company and to witness the care and good humor they share with one another as they wander down the road, sometimes ahead of me, sometimes with me. I think they enjoyed having me along with them as well. When we finally arrived here in Chateaumeillant, we passed by the parish church, a XIIth C. Romanesque mountain of a church, and I had the pleasure of explaining a bit about the church’s architecture and its meaning, and they were very attentive to the little I was able to offer them.
We finally got to the municipal refuge, located in the basement of some sort of center next to a lake and campground. It is very simple but adequate, but we all mentioned that it lacks the personal touch of hosts like Paul and Anne.
Another Dutch pilgrim, Thomas, arrived on bicycle, at the same time we did, so there are four of us here tonight.
It was another long day on the "chemin", 25 kms. but the weather was great for ambling down the road all day.
Next issue for the day: ”What about dinner?”. Rumor has it that all the restaurants in town are closed. This seems hard to believe, but who knows, maybe tonight we starve…

We found a boucherie just as it was closing and bought some leftover pizza, a small saucisse, and from a bar a bottle of local wine (quite good), so we had a good if inelegant dinner after all!
Demain we’ll walk together to Chatre; then they will go on after I stop for the day (17 km.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I’m actually at a pilgrim hostal about 2 kms. beyond Loye, a farm called Foret-Vieille. Our hosts are a retired couple who made a bit of their place into this refuge. Accomodations are spartan but clean and most welcome after a very long day on the road. I’m here with 2 Dutchmen, a father and teen son team who started in Vezelay and have 3 weeks available to see how far they get. I’m the first other pilgrim they’ve met; there aren’t many of us out here, I guess.
I left Charenton at 7.30 under very heavy clouds, but no rain. The early morning breeze was cold. Almost the whole 10 kms. to Saint-Amand was along a grassy path next to a canal; my boots and eventually my socks got quite wet again, but not sloshy. I got lost enough in St. Amand to add another km. to my day’s walk, but eventually got to the church, (always the end-point and point of departure in my guide). I spent some quiet time within its dark and warm Romanesque interior (not much Gothic in these parts), said my prayers, then stopped in a bar across the street for a coffee (as ever, all the “regulars” stared at me like I was really strange). Then I headed out of town for another 18 kms.
Blessedly, the heavy clouds broke up into bundles of cumulousities (I think I just made up a word), letting the sun shine intermittently enough to warm me up after a cold and damp morning; the last hour of walking was actually quite warm. There are still lots of dark clouds about, so I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
I really pushed my limits today, walking just shy of 30 kms., too far really, but in the end I made it, and though tired, seem no worse for the wear. Tomorrow will be less: about 24 km.

Monday, September 17, 2007


My sojourn in the Auvergne was a brief one; today I passed into another region, “Centre”, and the department of “Cher”, landing in this little village after about 18 kms. of walking. Ordinarily, that would be a fairly easy walk, but not so today: just as I left the little hotel of Valigny at 8.00 am., rain began to fall and remained persistent most of the morning. Even with my gore-tex jacket I still got plenty wet, soaked, actually. I was happy to be welcomed into the private home of a kindly older couple, Mme et Mr. Mativon, who happily offer pilgrims a room and feed them for the night. The house has been in their family for 6 generations, and must once have been a great beauty though now its glory is somewhat faded. Not faded is the hospitality and generosity of my hosts, who are wonderful.
The weather will, I hope, be better tomorrow, at least not so wet; I’m planning a long walk for tomorrow, about 28 kms., so could use “cool” and “dry” from the weatherman. If it is too wet, I’ll stop earlier; damp socks inside damp boots are no fun after a certain point…and lead to blisters. Places to spend the night are more limited than I thought they would be this side of Vezelay, and their placement determines the length of a day’s journey as much as physical well-being. It is not at all like the Spanish “Camino” where every village has its cheap or free refuge. It’s a little frustrating in the afternoon to plan the next day or two, but once I start walking the next morning I don’t care so much and feel more trusting that things will work out.
So am I up for 28 kms. tomorrow? It will be my first walk that long since returning to the pilgrimage after my month of tendonitis recovery. We’ll see!
“Rain, rain, go away; come back some other day!” as we used to sing as kids!


Morning dawned with a great fog spread over the countryside. The damp coolness felt like a mid-September morning should with fall coming on. As I walked through the morning the fog burned off, and once again the feel of summer returned as the sun rose ever higher in the sky.
By 10.45 I had arrived in the village of Lurcy-Levis just as the church bells were announcing the 11.00 Mass. The priest was a very old fellow who had troubles moving about, but he moved about anyway; it was a simple but lovely liturgy, made especially so by the man who confidently led us in the hymns and acclamations. I am always surprised how well the French sing in church; the people in France’s pews really do their part. After Mass the pastor and congregation were very attentive to me, wishing me well and asking all the usual questions: Where are you from? How many kms. a day? Where will you end today? Where did you begin? Etc. I felt rather adopted by them all and felt a little sad to move on down the road, though I now know all relationships and encounters on the Way are necessarily fleeting. I also know that that doesn’t mean they are superficial; on the contrary, today’s promises to pray for me and requests that I pray in Compostelle for them when I get there were accompanied by smiles and handshakes that bespoke plenty of sincerity and even fondness among us. I felt like they were my people, and I think they felt like I was their pilgrim.
I didn’t get out of Lurcy till 12.30, so the remaining 12 kms to Valigny were very warm, even hot, and seemed very long. I’m back in a small hotel/restaurant for the night, the only lodging available within 10 kms.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Le Veurdre, day 2, morning

After a simple dinner last night with my hosts, Monseur & Madame Foucaud, I returned to my own little pilgrim house and after doing some writing in my journal, I stepped out into the back garden to take a look at the night sky. At first I could see almost nothing above me; my eyes were still tuned to the bright lights of the indoors. Then, after a moment, it all became wonderfully clear: Oh my! The stars! They filled the dark sky in sweeps of luminescence! Above me almost directly was the Milky Way; Via Lactea, the outer edge of our galaxy; or best, as the French themselves sometimes call it, Le Chemin de Saint Jacques. It wraps itself around our little earth, girding it with light for the night. What a joy to behold it, or rather, feel it so near! I feel it is somehow mine out here...my via, my chemin, my Way of Stars. Not mine in a selfish way, as if I could possess such a thing, but mine in the sense of it dedicating itself to me and the other pilgrims walking to Compostela or Rome or Jerusalm. This Via, this Way is at our service; it is taking us along as much as we are walking along its path. Though it belongs to all, it is ours.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Le Veurdre

Just before entering this village I left behind Bourgogne, and entered the Auvergne, a small sign I’m making progress out here. From St. Parize I found a direct route to the next village on the way, St-Pierre-le-Moutier, which saved me at least 4 kms of backtracking. I was able to plan on getting further down the road than I thought yesterday, so called a B+B
10 kms beyond St-Pierre, in Le Veurdre.
On the way I stopped to see the church in St-Pierre, another XIIth C. beauty. I especially was happy to find a very old statue of St Jacques looking down on me from a niche on the outside corner of the church. What a lovable old fellow! His hat with shell, his staff topped with a gourd, but most of all, his kindly old eyes sizing up this latest of pilgrims to wander past his feet. How many centuries has he been doing this and how many of us, over these centuries, have whispered the same little prayer I did (or the medieval equivalent): “Big Jim, walk with me. Get me there. Thanks”.
I was just delighted to be welcomed warmly to this B+B, like an honoured guest, not another customer. The little house I’m in is like my own little home. This is not just a B+B, this is a place my hosts have prepared, at some expense, just to receive pilgrims! The Foucauds have walked part of the Chemin themselves, and are enthousiasts of St. Jacques; this is their expression of that enthusiasm. After settling in this afternoon I called the only lodging in the next destination village, Valigny. No room available tomorrow (Saturday), and nothing else nearby. Sunday is fine, so I’ll take tomorrow off and enjoy this place for another day before continuing. I’ve walked about 120 kms. with Gregory the Great on my back in the last week; I guess my legs deserve a “repose”.
Sunday will see me back on the road, a happy pilgrim again…

Thursday, September 13, 2007


This village is not where I expected to end my day, but here I am, in yet another low-grade “Hotel-Restaurant”. It’s better than sleeping outdoors, but not as good as most of the B+B’s I’ve stayed at and more expensive.Today’s minor problem is that I ended up about 5 kms off the prescribed Way. I thought this hotel was just a km and a half off the route, so made the reservation this am. I was not amused after 21 km on a warm afternoon to arrive in Moiry and learn my hotel was in Parize, 4 km down the road. A kind young girl sympathized with me and gave me a lift in her little red Renault, but tomorrow I’ll have to walk the extra kms on my own legs.
I left Nevers after some more time in the chapel with Bernadette; I felt like she was joining my pilgrimage as another sainted companion on the Way. I like her companionship. The candle I lit last night was still burning as I left.
I passed through the cathedral on the way out of town and spent a minute or two with the great peaceful Christ I mentioned yesterday. The pastor spotted me and came up to greet the pilgrim; he was very kind and offered to stamp my pilgrim “credencial’ for me, then walked me a block or so to show me the way forward. It took a while to walk out of the busy city but soon enough I was back among the grand farm fields that are now so much of my visual life out here. As I passed through the small town of Magny-Cours, a lady called out to me from her front door to wish me well and offer me a cold glass of water.
Maybe she be doubly blessed in the Kingdom of God for her charity towards a stranger! Wish that I were so kind!
The September sun is shining, the legs are holding up, the French people continue to inspire me: I don’t mind being in the wrong town tonight!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


This morning’s walk was an easy and pleasant 16 kms to the big city of the area, Nevers.
Upon entering the city my almost ever faithful Compostelle arrows disappeared, and left me trying to figure my way with only my map at hand, and I’m not much of a Boy Scout!
I was misdirected once by a lady on the street which sent me off wandering into a suburb of Nevers…about a 1 km. mistake, so not so tragic.
My first stop was the wonderful Romanesque church of St. Etienne, dark and heavy and cool. Some French tourists were inside and seemed delighted to have a real pilgrim show up on the scene. They ended our little visit in the nave with the now so familiar “Courage”.
I made my way then through the streets of Nevers to the “Espace Bernadette”, where the sisters welcomed me and gave me a room for the night (well, they didn’t really “give” me the room, I’m a paying guest, though it’s a bargain!). The convent chapel is just across from me, where Bernadette’s uncorrupt body is kept. It’s open to the public, and there are always a good number of people there, all very prayerful and quiet.
The Cathedral is an easy walk from here. A 13th C. crucifix in the nave really attracted me; there is little emphasis on the gory details, Christ is completely peaceful in his death and life seems still to be emanating from his body. I find this kind of image invites me into the mystery of Christ more than others.
No need to stay here another day, but I’m a little concerned about tomorrow’s trek: it’s 29 kms to the next town with very little in between; I’m trying to contact a family that takes in pilgrims at 21 kms, but no answer so far. I’ll keep trying.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Last evening as I came down for dinner in the restaurant half of my humble hotel I was presented to two other pilgrims already seated, both French-speaking Belgians, Daniel and Jean-Pierre. They welcomed me to their table & together we enjoyed our “plats du jour”. I was amazed that they were putting in 30+ km days, double my average since re-beginning, and Daniel was almost my own age. I was jealous of their fitness for just a moment; then considered I have nothing to complain about especially after my August hiatus. At least I’m walking…that’s something!

During the dessert course, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to take my little mountain of pills in the morning, two of which do a great job of keeping my ticker in proper time (atrial fibrillation inherited from Mom). Then it hit: Thump, thimp, thump-thump… and lasted the whole night and into this morning. After some hasty messages back to my doctor in Leuven, the word was that I could walk today when the ticker got back into sync. I waited quietly on my bed, but with some concern that it was never going to get back to normal, sent a quick word to St Jacques for coronary assistance, then at 9:30 it just clicked back into fine working order.

I said my thank yous, quickly packed up and was on my way to Guérigny, 18 km down the Chemin. I practically flew down the path, hiking more than 5 km/ hr, including a couple of long climbs: that’s great for me! So just when I felt less than adequate next to a couple of super-walkers, AND then got stopped in my tracks by my own fliberty heart, I somehow still put in a great day of walking (I was a machine out there today!) Thanks Big Jim. Tomorrow I’ll hit the big city of Nevers about noon. Bernadette of Lourdes is buried there; she has become a focus of modern pilgrims. So I will be sure to pay my respects and offer a prayer for friends and family. Whenever one of us Codd kids was seriously sick, out came the Lourdes water; it must have worked - we’re still all pretty healthy.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Continuing from yesterday: I safely negotiated the dark parking lot and lightless and paperless public toilet at 6.15 this morning and thus began a new day…
After getting my stuff all back together and settled into Gregory the Great’s interior I sat down for my breakfast before taking off: coffee, yoghurt, and cold pork sandwich. Not so different from last night’s dinner: cold pork sandwich (first half), or yesterday’s lunch: cold saucisse sandwich. Tonight I’ll have a proper dinner for a change! Anyway, it was enough to get me a fair ways down the road in good time: I did the first 10 kms. in just 2 hours (after that I slowed down a bit). The morning was cold enough to see my breath and stayed cool until about 11.00, just as I came into Premery. September’s mists curled over the countryside like diffuse streams of white angel hair on a Christmas tree, then lifted and disappeared. Lovely, but a reminder that summer is quickly being overtaken by autumn.
My first look at Prémery does not leave me so impressed; it has the aspect of a once busy town that is on the wrong side of progress: lots of closed shops and storefronts. I’m spending the night at a low end hotel/restaurant. Toilet: almost like yesterday: downstairs and outside (and shared with the restaurant guests).
A final word for today about Gregory the Great, not my pack, but the real one. I was listening to Thomas Cahill’s “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” last night, and was pleased by his comment that Gregory was the most pastoral pope until John XXIII, because of his openness to adapting Christianity to the barbarian cultures of Europe. Much of popular Christian culture as it has come down to us is a direct result of his wisdom, everything from Easter eggs to Christmas trees. I like this Gregory and I’m glad to have him along as yet another patron saint of this pilgrimage!
A demain…

Sunday, September 9, 2007

St. Reverien

One thing I have learned as a pilgrim is that a good sleep makes all the difference in how a day on the Way goes; last night I fell asleep quickly but woke up many times to the strange noises my Trappist roommate made in his sleep: not snoring, but loud exclamations incomprehensible to me, and enough to keep me restless and tossing and turning till dawn. So today’s 19 km. walk was a fatigued one where every step was work and almost nothing was fun. Just one of those days…..
My destination, St. Révérien, is a little Vezelay without tourists or religious in its quiet streets (also no store, café, or restaurant); it too is set on a hill and its 12th century church is mostly Romanesque and very beautiful, having once been a priory of the Cluny Benedictines. The patron, St. Révérien, was a 3d century missionary to this region in the time before the Romans liked Christians, so he had his head removed by the Romans, who had a garrison near here.
I’m holed up in the city’s refuge for pilgrims, and alone so far; it’s a nice place but it took some work to discover that the toilets are the public ones across the “Place de la Eglise”. That will be fun at 6 am! In the mean time, I rest my feet, do my wash and hope for a good night’s sleep!

Saturday, September 8, 2007


I had my longest and most challenging day of walking since returning to the Way a week ago. The 21 kilometers between Bazoches and Corbigny are marked by long and steep ascents and descents, such is the topography of this corner of Bourgogne. The positive side of this is that the scenery is stunningly beautiful, all green and glorious, especially in the morning sunshine! After one long climb that left me breathless, I was met at the top by a Dutch couple who have a small summer home in the village of Chemin. They welcomed me to sit and enjoy a tea with them in their lovely vegetable garden, and we shared a most pleasant hour chatting about things American and religion in our times. As I got ready to get back on the road, Louise and Adrianus pulled a couple of apples from their tree and gave them to me for the road. Such simple but gracious kindness! I am staying tonight in a pilgrim refuge with a very kind and helpful lady caring for us. I am here with a Belgian Trappist who has walked to Compostella already, it seems, and is returning home now, also on foot. He speaks no Anglais, and my Francais is not good enough to learn more of his story. Tomorrow will be much of the same terrain, I presume. Even more of a concern is that the village I will spend the night in has no stores or cafes, so I will have to bring food enough for two days….more weight in my pack!

Friday, September 7, 2007


Only fifteen kilometers from Vezelay, this hamlet is another world: all farms and fully rural except for two grand chateaus in the vicinity. The route out of Vezelay was very well marked with Compostelle arrows, something new. Much of it was an old Roman road. The hills of Burgundy are not insignificant, and it seemed I was climbing more than descending: today’s fifteen kilometers were work! Last night I was invited to concelebrate Vespers and Mass with the Fraternity of Jerusalem in Vezelay’s Basilica of Mary Magdalene; the liturgy was the very image of “solemn simplicity.” I was honored to be there and pray with them. Gene and Caroline Foley, my guardian angels who have stayed close during these last few days of trying out my tendons and walking again, left for Leuven after breakfast this morning. How grateful I am for their unstinting support and encouragement in getting me out on the Way again! Tomorrow will bring me to Corbigny, I hope!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Kingdom-of-God Kind of Place

Vezelay. To understand the spiritual and even mystical significance of this town that I have today entered, you just need to see it from 5 kilometers out. Like the scriptural Jerusalem, this Holy City is set on a great hill, its basilica rising above its crown, drawing us poor small mortals forward and up, up, ever up! It is a Kingdom-of-God kind of place. Once here, the sense of peace and tranquillity that fills its streets and pervades its stones confirms that sense of the divine already here on this earth, at least partly. I suppose this is why pilgrims have for so long streamed here: they need to see, feel, and touch this holiness and have affirmed that this God and his promises are real. I’m so happy today to be here, to have walked here, to have spent the afternoon praying here. I will spend another day in Vezelay, then continue my pilgrim way south on Friday, God willing.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Packing Up Gregory the Great

Waterloo (hopefully for the last time!). With an 8:00 am departure planned for tomorrow, Sunday, today is a "laundry and pack" day in which all the little odds and ends of getting ready for a trip are filled with a quiet excitement and a pleasant feeling of expectation. There is anxiousness in these activities, too. Will the tendon stay well? Will my knee hold up? Will the September weather remain warm enough for my summer-weight clothes, and if so, what about October? How much French have I forgotten in the past month? How lazy and out-of-shape have I become? Do I still have the gumption to get up and go and do this thing? Ah well, as with my last June days in Leuven before commencing this pilgrimage (for the first time), my interior response to the fretting is: "Your job is to just BEGIN; let the Lord and Big Jim take care of the rest!" So I'll just begin...again.

The laundry is now washed and pretty much dry and the sorting of things has begun. It is time to start feeding my socks and shirts and various gizmos back into the wide open mouth of Gregory the Great, my ever-faithful backpack (its brand name is "Gregory"; I added "the Great" in honor of the 6th Century pope who's feastday, by the way, is Monday, September 3rd). Keeping the weight down is, as always, the great challenge as I deal with Gregory, that and actually carrying him, of course.

The plan is to take it easy the first few days; it is about 60 kms from Tonnerre to Vezelay, the great pilgrim town built on a hill, but I'll do those kms in easy to digest "etapes": 10 tomorrow (Sunday afternoon), 15 on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, 15 into Vezelay on Wednesday. I will rest and visit this beautiful town and its basilica dedicated to Mary Magdalene on Thursday before continuing south on Friday. That's the project for this week.

So I am about to take up again the cloak and staff of the walking pilgrim again. I am happy but also hope that I am up to it, not just physically, but interiorly. This is a special kind of work, a sort of "ministry of presence" in the church and world. This is something I discovered in July and have had some time now to think about and relish. How often people along the way came to chat with me and share in a way in my Way. Sometimes, it was almost like they were saying, "Look! A pilgrim passes! Let us go and get a touch of his pilgrim graces!" I felt sometimes like a spiritual talisman or religious charm for them, as if they believed that by greeting me or feeding me or shaking my hand, they were being blessed by Saint Jacques and the Lord, too. There is responsibility in that: to be gracious to them as they are gracious to me, to be a blessing for them as they are a blessing for me, to sow a bit of hope or faith or love in my passing through their lives even as they sow the same in me. Few have ever asked why I am doing this; they seem to know, or it doesn't matter: "Once a pilgrim, for whatever reason, the pilgrim grace is there." I don't think I was imagining this. I look forward to going back to that pilgrim ministry now.

I'll post updates here as often as I am able in the days and, dare I hope, weeks to come. Thanks for following along!