Sunday, 19 June 2016

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port: Citadel of Seashells on the Pilgrims’ Trail

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
November 2015
Like Lourdes, St-Jean is a town in western France sought out by religious pilgrims. While there were no visions of the Mother Mary here drawing people in, it was one of the various towns along the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James. This is not one single path, but a variety of paths that lead from more eastern parts of Europe to the shrine of Saint James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the north of Spain. 
Many pilgrims have made their way through St-Jean on their pilgrimage, often resting here for a time knowing that the next stage of their journey would lead them through the perilous mountains. On our own trip of the road, we felt fatigued as soon as we arrived and immediately napped in the car until late afternoon.

Finally mustering up some post-nap strength in our legs, we wended our way up the rue de la Citadelle, spotting some signs in French and Basque along the way. It was our first experience of Basque, and we thought it looked very strange - even similar to Maori in a way.

Many houses along the main road had plaques stating how old they were (some were from the 1600's!). This one didn't, but you could tell it was from a bygone era. Perhaps it would even lead to Narnia if you could wrestle it open.

This one was less mysterious. Instead of Narnia it may have led to Jean-Luc's overgrown shed.

Unfortunately we had napped too late in the day and the citadelle was closed. Instead, we gazed out over St-Jean, admiring the scenery. While there we snapped a photo upon request of a couple restraining a large dog and used cellular data to find an AirBNB for the night.

Strolling back through the town we enjoyed looking at the pink and grey stone buildings and playing 'Spot the Seashell'.

The scallop shell appeared everywhere and is a symbol of the Camino de Santiago. It's not clear why the scallop shell is directly related to Santiago, but it may be a metaphor: the segments of the shell leading to the base are like the many different paths one can take to reach the shrine of Saint James. Apparently ye olde pilgrims also carried scallop shells with them attached to their cloaks as a handy bowl. They would be offered food at churches and given enough to fill their scallop shell.

The main road crossed the river and carried on, remaining narrow and cobbled and historic. A tiny supermarket provided dinner which was mainly comprised of bananas and cider. 

Driving to our AirBNB we discovered that the radio was playing a talk show segment in Basque, which to our baffled ears sounded like a cross between Spanish and Japanese, or sometimes more like Arabic with a French accent. We learned exactly one word: "bai" which means "yes". It sounded like they were saying their farewells to each other all too frequently.

Today's post was almost called: Make No Idle Mockery of the Pilgrim’s Marine Crockery