4/21 The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

A medieval ritual for you to add to your bucket list — and the architecture and church furnishings that accommodated and inspired it.

Here are the images we’ll be looking at.


  • Be prepared to discuss the parts of Pillars of the Earth that involve the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (in Spain), and also the parts involving the Weeping Madonna (up to pg. 738, at least in my edition, which is 993 pages long).
  • The Way (2013 film with Martin Sheen & Emilio Estevez; available Amazon Prime).
  • Pilgrimage routes and the cult of the relic,” on Smarthistory.

Model exam answer: The episode with Meg Widow and the Weeping Madonna reveals the healing power or at least the symbolic healing power of these relics. After his journey across the Santiago de Compostela, he comes across the Weeping Madonna and is mesmerized by her and her ability to actually cry. Jack quickly realizes that the Weeping Madonna has no actual powers and that her weeping is the result of changes in temperature. However, he continues to recognize the fact that her perceived powers have a huge impact on people. He uses this fact to his advantage when he gets back to Kingsbridge. Meg encounters the Weeping Madonna and is brought to tears. She feels connected to the Weeping Madonna and feels deeply moved simply by being in her presence. These relics are more that just objects. They are symbols of different things for different people. For Meg, the widow is a symbol of suffering and suffering in the same way that Meg has. For those walking hundreds of miles to pay homage to holy relics at the end of the Santiago de Compostela, these relics similarly have a variety of meanings. Those meanings may be similar to Megs in that it represents the suffering they have felt on the road or they may be different in that they represent their triumphant finishing of the road. This relates to the movie The Way in that each of the people that accompany Tom on the journey has their own reason for taking that journey. Therefore, when they reach the church at the end, touching that handprint and seeing the relics in that church has a different meaning for all of them. The relics represent honoring his son for Tom while for the others the church and the relics have an entirely different meaning. However, all of these different meanings are deeply moving for these people and worthy of their hundred-mile trek. 

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