tirsdag 29. april 2008

Hospitality in East and West

Hospitality towards pilgrims was the main theme during the conference 'Hospitalité de’Orient et d’Occident', arranged in Arles by the Union Jacquaire Francaise 29 February - 2 March 2008. More than 100 participants, primarily from the 24 pilgrim organisations of France, but also from Spain, Belgium and Norway, were invited to focus on Hospitality in East and West.

Pilgrim routes in France have long traditions. The pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain originated here. Spaniards often call this road "El Camino Francés" (the French road), as most pilgrims travelling to Santiago came from France.

Codex Calixtinus
The first European guide for pilgrims – the five-volume Codex Calixtinus (compiled from 1130 to 1140 under the guidance and leadership of the French monk Aymeric Picaud) – was required reading for most medieval pilgrims before embarking on the road to Galicia. The illuminated manuscripts of the Codex Calixtinus did not only furnish pilgrims with religious guidance, but also with tips on the itinerary, sights to see, relics and shrines to visit.

(Illustration by Celedonio Perelon)

Volume IV tells the legend of why the destination for the pilgrimage is called Santiago de Compostela:

When Charles the Great was trying to conquer Spain in the 700s, St. James revealed himself to the King in a dream. St. James urged the King to liberate his grave from the Moors, telling him that the stars would show him the way to Santiago, hence: Santo Iago (Spanish for St. James) de campus stellae (Latin: from the field of stars: i.e. Saint James from the Field of Stars). The name might also originate from the term Composita Tella, which means burial site.

Hospitality before and now
During the conference, hospitality was looked at from different angles: as a virtue in the Old and the New Testaments, as a historical and contemporary foundation for Europe’s culture, and as a universal value across national borders and civilizations.

Speakers included Pater Joachim Tsopanoglou, a vicar in the Greek-Orthodox church in Marseilles, Michel Thomas-Penette, director at the European Institute of Cultural Routes, Maria Guerra, President of the French Pilgrim Association, as well as representatives of Spanish and Belgian pilgrim organisations. Hospitality was presented as a moral imperative with roots and traditions stemming from the ancient Middle East, Greek-Roman antiquity and the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages.

Three of the featured speakers were pilgrims themselves: Mahdi (a Muslim), Patrick (a Christian) and Yoann (a Jew) embarked in 2007 on a joint pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage that probably had more symbolic overtones than merely reaching the destination.

Pilgrims for peace: Patrick, Mahdi and Stein (the author of this article).
Photo: Catherine VINCENT
"We’re walking for peace, to show to the world that togetherness and friendship is possible across religions and life philosophies," they said. This made a lasting impression, not only on the conference participants, but also the mayor of Arles, who invited the pilgrims and the conference participants to a reception at the town hall of Arles.

Pilgrim routes in France

These four are the most well-known in the network of French pilgrim routes:
  • The Tours route, from Tours or Paris (Via Turonensis)
  • The Vézelay route (Via Lemovicensis)
  • The Le Puy route from Le Puy-en-Velay (Via Podensis)
  • The Arles route, the Provencal pilgrim route (Via Tolosane)
A pilgrimage in France offers scenic landscapes, cultural history, monasteries, churches and other interesting sights. The fact that the food and the wine are also outstanding is another temptation that leads many to embark on the long trek. Indeed, you might stretch your walk to Santiago over several years. One fact is certain: As a pilgrim in France the natives will receive you with generous hospitality, obviously born from long experience of serving as hosts.
1 The UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage aims to protect oral traditions, social customs and expressions that are important for a general sense of togetherness and identity. It was approved by the Norwegian authorities in December 2006

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