Today’s post is going to revisit two posts from several months ago (here and here). In them, I opined that the characters in the PBS series Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis (detective series, set in Oxford, England) were contemporary re-imaginings of the three orders of the medieval period: 1) those who fought (knights, of whom Inspector Morse was the contemporary incarnation); 2) those who worked (squires, peasants, of whom Inspector Lewis is a modern-day version); and 3) those who prayed (Inspector Lewis’s sidekick, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway, who has religious leanings and a background as a seminary scholar).
Well, I’m quite excited to report that a new season finished recently on PBS and gives further evidence that I was right to notice the echoes of the medieval period in the characters! Because Hathaway has taken, for his vacation, a “walk” which we learn half-way through the first episode is a trip to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The reference is somewhat elided: Lewis says that his neighbor has gone to that cathedral, but its significance is not fully fleshed out for the viewers.
Well, let me do that here. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain was a major pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. People throughout Europe walked to the cathedral from their homes as an act of religious faith. It was the third most popular site, after Jerusalem and Rome. (The Cathedral is traditionally thought to be the resting place of St. James, one of the 12 apostles.) To give you a sense of how many routes there are, I’m posting this handy map from the Wikipedia entry.
So in making this walk, James Hathaway is acting as a contemporary religious pilgrim, even if he disavows the action by saying that he “wasn’t on pilgrimage” and “didn’t go in.” He is a religious seeker, if a conflicted one. The action and destination is enough to mark him as a kind of contemporary monk.
This makes me very happy not only because my initial musings on Inspector Lewis have been proved right, but because the pilgrimage phenomenon is very interesting, whether you have religious leanings or not. Because the pilgrims exist not only in days of yore (as Hathaway’s trip indicates): the pilgrimage site is incredibly popular now.
Indeed, the church office keeps statistics on how many people make the trek as pilgrims, and in 2013, nearly 216,000 did. That’s a steep rise from 5 years earlier, when the number was 125,000. It’s a whole cultural event, with special passports, clearly marked routes, dedicated hostels, and (I am not making this up) vacation packages.
I find this incredibly touching. It’s as if Europe, rather than losing the traditions of the Age of Faith, simply…brought (at least some of) them back. Many people, according to the church’s site, go for religious reasons, but many more go as a nonreligious retreat, as a break from contemporary life (the walking can take months; you have to walk the last 100 kilometers to be certified as a pilgrim). It is also a cultural locus where one can see how pan-European—indeed, how worldwide—some of these customs are, as evidenced by the map and the fact that the cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The pilgrimage has figured not only in Inspector Lewis, but in a number of books and films. I plan to talk about some of the latter here shortly.