On the Pilgrim Road

Hospitality on the ‘Camino'

It was the last day of September. My husband and I climbed into a taxi in Astorga, Spain, and traveled twenty kilometers west to the mountain village of Rabanal del Camino, (population less than fifty). Rabanal’s cobblestne main street, the Calle Real, climbs a steep hill past unpainted stone houses, three ancient churches, and two tiny seasonal food shops. The taxi dropped us at the door of Refugio Gaucelmo. Along with the small Benedictine Monastery of Monte Irago and a twelfth-century church built by the Knights Templar, it faces the town’s central plaza.

Since the days when King Alfonso VI (1030-1109) granted a charter for a hostel to a local hermit named Gaucelmo, the villagers of Rabanal have provided continuous hospitality on one of the world’s best-known pilgrimage routes, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. For centuries, pilgrims from all over the world have walked across northern Spain to reach the legendary relics of St. James in the city of Santiago. The pilgrims’ motives have run the gamut, from medieval efforts to maintain a Christian presence in Moorish-dominated Spain, to piety, to adventure and escape from other difficulties, even to preying on other pilgrims. Today, Rabanal remains a modest but essential link on that storied camino.

During the spring, summer, and fall months, travelers arriving in Rabanal can choose among three basic refugios, two other small hotels, and the...

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About the Author

Marjorie Kowalski Cole writes fiction, poetry, and essays at her home near Fairbanks, Alaska. Her novel Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins, 2006) received the 2004 Bellwether Prize.