On the Way

I’m currently testing my dilapidated body and derelict mind on a 500-mile walk across northern Spain. It’s a cross-country route called the Camino de Santiago or, en Ingles, the Way of Saint James. This is the first of several columns about my walk.

This route began as a religious pilgrimage a thousand years ago. Now it’s a long-distance trek or, depending on one’s faith and mood at any given moment, sometimes it’s still a pilgrimage. Sometimes it starts as one but becomes the other.

Before leaving, I did a little looking into this James fellow whose way I will follow. He was one of the apostles. The apostles were the disciples of Christ (with the exception of Paul, who never met the corporeal Christ) plus Mary Magdalene and minus Judas. They were a ragtag band of fishermen, a tax collector, a prostitute and others of varying disrepute.

Insofar as I know, none was as low as a newspaper columnist, but several did publish stuff that became quite popular over the next 2,000 years.

All but one were martyred for their faith. James was said to have been beheaded, and his head is said to reside in Jerusalem. James, while alive, .had preached in what became Spain. So his colleagues, the legend goes, transported his headless remains back there. They interred the remains near a place in the northwest part that the Romans called “the end of the earth.”

The remains were discovered in about 900 A.D. The faithful soon began making pilgrimage to them. Eventually a magnificent cathedral was built to house them. When the Pope a few hundred years later declared that one could be forgiven for his sins by making this pilgrimage, the place became a regular medieval tourist attraction.

The pilgrimages petered out as the Middle Ages did. They resumed with the recent resumption of the Middle Ages, but in numbers that are still far less than in the original Middle Ages. The movie “The Way,” released a couple of years ago starring Martin Sheen on such a pilgrimage, might generate additional pilgrimages for a while.

The names of James and these other Apostles always have confused me. There was Paul, who was really Saul. There was Mark, who sometimes went by John. There was John, who always went by John even though Mark sometimes did, too. There was Simon whom Jesus called Peter even though that wasn’t his name and there was another Simon whom Jesus called Simon even though that was his name.

Jesus must have had the patience of Job, considering how many times he had to say “No, the other one.”

There was Mary Magdalene, whose skull was gilded and has been on display in a church in France since the 1200s but who is not to be confused with the Virgin Mary. There was Matthew, who also went by Levi, even though there was no other Levi and no other Matthew. There was Thomas, whose first name was Doubting but who ultimately became so doubtless that he founded the church in India.

It’s a miracle that Jesus could keep their names straight.

Which brings us to James, of whom there naturally was more than one. Of the apostles there were two Jameses, and altogether in the New Testament there were as many as seven, including the James who was Jesus’ brother (or perhaps half-brother depending on your flavor of faith) and wrote the Book of James but is not ordinarily considered an Apostle.

As mentioned, this particular James whose way I’m walking and about whom I’m talking went to the place we now call Spain. He became known as James the Greater. The other of the two apostolic Jameses became known — or rather, unknown — as James the Lesser, about whom we know much less.

James the Lesser is sometimes called Jim. (OK, I made that part up.)

In any event, I’m glad that I won’t be known for eternity as “The Lesser.” It’s bad enough to be known as a lawyer-turned-newspaper-columnist. On the other hand, “lesser” is relative. It’s probably no shame to be deemed less than the Apostle James the Greater, who 2000 years ago was beheaded for bringing good news to souls at the end of the earth.

Me? I’m just hoping to squeeze a few more miles out of this body that’s already a testament to modern medicine.


For a place of gastronomical renown, Spain serves a lousy breakfast. It’s typically coffee and pastry.


It’s easy to find a fantastic bottle of inexpensive wine. I’m changing my breakfast menu. There is hope.

Published in The Aspen Times on Sept 15, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/8090648-113/james-became-char-jesus

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