Welcome Family & Friends

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting ~ a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last year as I was contemplating my 40th year on this big blue planet, that I have not seen nearly enough of, I thought that it was time to set some firm goals for myself rather than constantly saying “Wouldn’t it be nice to one day…”. Instead of having another blowout birthday bash, I have decided to opt for something a little more introspective. So, that’s it. 2011 is the year I’m doing my Pilgrimage on The Camino De Santiago De Compostela.

Why have I waited so long? Well to be truthful, I really had not heard about it until recently. I actually happened upon the idea watching an episode of "Burt Wolf's Travels & Traditions" on PBS one weekend. Then there's also the finances associated with such a long journey rife with logistics. This endeavor isn’t going to be cheap when you add up plane fare, hiking equipment, 50 euros a day, and time off from work. But my plans are slowly materializing. It’s going to happen - I can see it! I've even asked my friends and family to keep me to my word on this one. I plan on starting my trek in late September during the less congested season. If all goes well, I should end my journey close to the end of October 2011!

I created this blog to keep you all informed on my progress in the months leading up to my trip. This blog will give me a forum to educate everyone about the Pilgrimage and its history...and even comment on the French and Spanish cultures. I also plan on doing a lot of fundraising to help me pay for things I will need, so check back often as I announce events and opportunities for you to help me reach my goals. Speaking of goals, I will also be doing a lot of physical training to ready my body for the long walk. I will be sure to post all my trials and tribulations here as well. I know a lot of you will get a kick out of hearing how I "get back into shape" over the next few months. Please don't hold back if you have any tips that will aid in my fitness.

I will also utilize this blog to diary and chronicle my days while on the Pilgrimage. It will be my main mode of communication since I will be all the way in Spain. I will try and post daily musings of my travels, send out pretty pictures of the contryside, and tell you about all the wonderful people I encounter along the way. My path will take me across 350+ miles of beautiful landscapes starting near the Pyrenees and traversing all the way out to the Galician coast. I’m figuring on 4-5 weeks to reach the Cathedral where the remains of Saint James The Greater rest - I know, can you believe it?!!!

So thanks for visiting my blog! Please come by and poke around as I send out future updates and please spread the word - I want to share this story with everyone and anyone that is willing to listen and learn!

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

Love Always,
Richert Gordon

The Cathedral De Santiago De Compostela

The Cathedral De Santiago De Compostela
Click the above image to visit the Catedral de Santiago

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, which is the first day of the Lenten fast. The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead - or in case of clerics upon the place of the tonsure - of each the sign of the cross, saying the words: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. In the blessing of the ashes four prayers are used, all of them ancient. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water and fumigated with incense. The celebrant himself, be he bishop or cardinal, receives, either standing or seated, the ashes from some other priest, usually the highest in dignity of those present. In earlier ages a penitential procession often followed the rite of the distribution of the ashes, but this is not now prescribed.

There can be no doubt that the custom of distributing the ashes to all the faithful arose from a devotional imitation of the practice observed in the case of public penitents. But this devotional usage, the reception of a sacramental which is full of the symbolism of penance (cf. the cor contritum quasi cinis of the "Dies Irae") is of earlier date than was formerly supposed. It is mentioned as of general observance for both clerics and faithful in the Synod of Beneventum, 1091 (Mansi, XX, 739), but nearly a hundred years earlier than this the Anglo-Saxon homilist Ælfric assumes that it applies to all classes of men. "We read", he says, in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.

And then he enforces this recommendation by the terrible example of a man who refused to go to church for the ashes on Ash Wednesday and who a few days after was accidentally killed in a boar hunt (Ælfric, Lives of Saints, ed. Skeat, I, 262-266). It is possible that the notion of penance which was suggested by the rite of Ash Wednesday was was reinforced by the figurative exclusion from the sacred mysteries symbolized by the hanging of the Lenten veil before the sanctuary. But on this and the practice of beginning the fast on Ash Wednesday.

In the Roman Catholic Church, ashes, being sacramentals, may be given to any Christian, as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity. Similarly, in most other Christian denominations ashes may be received by all who profess the Christian faith and are baptized.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance - a day of contemplating one's transgressions. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer also designates Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting. In other Christian denominations these practices are optional, with the main focus being on repentance. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal. Some Roman Catholics will go beyond the minimum obligations demanded by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (for those Catholics age 14 and over), as are all Fridays in Lent. Some Roman Catholics continue fasting during the whole of Lent, as was the Church's traditional requirement, concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spain...On The Road Again

All this month I have been watching Gwyneth Paltrow hit the road with Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols in the foodie adventure of a lifetime: a 13-part television series, "Spain...On The Road Again", premiering on PBS. "Spanish food is not famous in America like Italian food," says Paltrow. "We tried to show the ethos of how the Spanish eat and live. There's so much soul that goes into food there." Gwyneth has been a devotee of Spanish food and culture since she studied in Spain at 15. The following are a few recipies that have been featured on the program that I wanted to share with all of you. Perhaps you could dazzle your family with your culinary prowess and try one out this weekend! _____________________________________________________

Hake with Clams and Parsley

Claudia had never made hake before and now this recipe, which Mark says is the most useful one in the book, is in her repertoire.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
Four 6-ounce hake fillets (or substitute cod or haddock), skin on
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
10 Manila or other small clams, scrubbed

Combine the olive oil, half the parsley, and the garlic in a cazuela or sautŽ pan large enough to hold the fish and clams in a single layer. Sprinkle the hake on both sides with salt and add to the cazuela skin side down. Dust the fish with flour, then add the clams and 1/2 cup water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn the fish, lower the heat and simmer very gently until the clams open and fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Divide the fish and clams among four plates, stir the pan juices, and spoon over the fish and into the clams. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve.

Mixed Grill Catalan Style

You can grill just about anything. We were lucky to have some espardeñas (sea cucumbers) on our hands, so we mixed them with a few gambas (shrimp), peppers, and onions and had a wonderful lunch.

Serves 4

12 large shrimp in the shell
1 pound espardenyas (sea cucumber), cleaned and soaked in cold water for 5 minutes (or substitute 1 pound large sea scallops)
2 red bell peppers, cut into wide strips
2 large onions, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rings
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse sea salt

Rub the shrimp, espardenyas, peppers, and onions with olive oil. Grill over a hot fire, turning once, until the seafood is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes per side for the seafood and a few more minutes for the vegetables. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with salt, and serve.



The name of this traditional savory pastry comes from the verb empanar which means to coat or cover with pan (bread).

Serves 6 to 8

1/2 pound Spanish chorizo, casings removed, cut into 1/4inch dice
1/2 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 pounds pizza dough
Olive oil

Cook the chorizo and pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat until they begin to render their fat, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the onion and peppers and cook until the chorizo and pancetta are well browned and the vegetables are softened, 9 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Cut the dough in half. Roll one piece out into a thin (1/4”-1/8” thick) 1/4 round. Line a baking sheet with parchment, rub paper with olive oil. Place dough on parchment and spread it generously with olive oil. Spread the chorizo mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border all around. Roll out the second piece of dough. Moisten the exposed edges of the bottom round of dough with water, place the second round over the filling, and crimp the edges together with a fork to seal. Brush the dough liberally with olive oil and cut a few steam vents in the center. Bake in a 450°F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Where do we go from here?


During the Middle Ages, most pilgrims made the trip to Santiago hoping to improve their standing with God, which might then result in the miraculous cure of an illness or salvation in the afterlife. But a pilgrimage had to include some suffering. Suffering echoed the passion of Christ and improved your chances for a successful trip.

Even today there is a fair amount of suffering on the road, nothing like the Middle Ages but still significant. And some people believed that the kind of physical pain you suffer during your pilgrimage is related to your mental state. Pain in your back or shoulder comes from emotional stress. Leg pains are the result of relationship problems. Lower back pain is thought to come from too much responsibility or too many commitments.

A pilgrimage might be based on the desire for a more spiritual life or it might be in atonement for previous sins. During the 12th century, a criminal might be required to make the pilgrimage to Santiago as part of his punishment. Murders were often required to make the pilgrimage to Santiago with the murder weapon hanging from their body so everyone could identify both the criminal and the crime. Today the head of a corporation that defrauded its shareholders might make the trip dragging his annual reports or the body of his accountant.


The Road to Santiago is actually a series of connecting roads that have been in use since Roman times. The Irish and the English came by boat and arrived at La Coruna just north of Santiago. The Portuguese walk straight up along the coast. The Silver Road brought pilgrims from central and southern Spain.

But the busiest route was the French Road. Perhaps the French had more sins that needed to be forgiven. Actually, that’s not a fair comment, the French Road also brought pilgrims from Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, even Italy. It was open to all sinners regardless of their race, creed or previous position of servitude.

Each of the four roads that went through France started in big cities like Paris or Arles - then crossed the country until they all came together at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains that form France’s border with Spain. At that point they merged into one road that passed through the mountains and crossed northern Spain until it arrived at Santiago de Compostela.

The routes in France and across Spain were highly developed. They offered pilgrims places to rest, and recover. And all along the roads monasteries and churches promoted the journey.

The pilgrimage to Santiago was a major commercial enterprise. Important churches along the route would travel their relics throughout Europe to advertise the trip and raise money for the maintenance and expansion of their buildings.

There were abuses but the majority of clerics involved respected the religious devotion of the pilgrims and spent enormous amounts or money feeding and housing the poorer travelers.

In addition, many townspeople along the roads helped the pilgrims in exchange for the pilgrims offering prayers on their behalf in Santiago.

Wealthy pilgrims were expected to pave the road with donations. During the Middle Ages a team of laborers worked through the day gathering up the gold and silver offerings that had been left by the altar along with the donations of cows, sheep, pigs and horses.


In the year 711, Islamic Moors from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula and occupied parts of it until the end of the 1400, a period that lasted over 700 years. Christians in other parts of Europe were determined to take Spain back and their first successful battle in the Reconquest took place in 844.

Just prior to the battle King Ramiro I had a dream in which Saint James appeared and announced that he would join the battle carrying a white flag, riding a white horse and brandishing a great shining sword and that he would help Ramiro win the battle.

Ramiro did win the battle and Saint James took on the roll of the slayer of Moors. The belief that Saint James was present at each of the important battles was an essential element in the Reconquest of Spain. Saint James ended up with three images:

St. James as the Apostle, St. James as a pilgrim heading to his own shrine, and St. James on horseback as the slayer of Moors.

And these days, he is returning in his role as an agent of reunification.

In Europe, World War II was a demonstration on a mass scale of man’s inhumanity to man and it left the continent broken and fractured. The late 1940s marked the beginning of a search for a politically united Europe through its shared past. The Road to Santiago, with its historic roots throughout Europe provided an ideal way to overcome political differences. It was also a time where middle-class Europeans began to travel. The pilgrimage was no longer solely for the religious traveler, it became a more general journey for people in search of personal and social goals.

The Spanish government saw the light and began promoting the road as an alternative to mass tourism and the apparent superficiality of sitting on a crowded beach. Once again Santiago became a symbol for enlightenment and reunification.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Donation Buttons are up...let the gifting commence!

Dearest Family & Friends,

I am very proud to announce the official launch of my new blog christened “The Staff & Shell”:


For those of you who don’t yet know this, I am planning on taking a Pilgrimage through France and Spain in the fall of 2009. I will be following the Camino de Santiago de Compostela…a Pilgrimage route that has been in existence since Medieval times. Once you arrive at the blog, everything will be spelled out for you so I won’t go into too much detail here in this email message.

I have been slaving away struggling through HTML code trying to tweak and snap all the loose pieces of content together. Please bear with me as I do my best to create a blog that is both interesting and compelling. I appreciate any feedback you may have - even corrections to my spelling or syntax…I really mean it! Please take a moment and become a “Fellow Pilgrim” by following my blog – you can do so in the left hand margin right below the “Blog Archive” section. Also, be sure to click on any pictures to see full size images or be instantly transported to links related to the Camino. You can also leave direct comments to any of my posts.

I really appreciate everyone taking precious time to read a little about my trip and learn how I will achieve this goal I have set before myself. I will need to raise a lot of money to get there, so I am coming up with a lot of creative ways to solicit your help. This journey really means a lot to me and my hope is that some or all of you can share in this awesome experience. So please visit my blog often and keep in touch with me in the following months!

In lieu of birthday and christmas presents this year, I am asking that you please donate to my trip. Watch out...if you attempt to buy me a beer at a bar this year, I may just pass and ask for a contribution instead! Today I successfully posted donation buttons, so now I am totally in business! I have created a variety of donation levels or “cliques” that one can join. Each one has different benefits, so please check them out! I am proud to announce that my Grandmother Eugenia Ompad was the first to donate to my cause to the tune of $1000.00!!! Thanks Grandma, I am already 1/10 of the way to meeting my goal! Additionally, I give you the option of purchasing individual items I will need for my trek like hiking boots, guide books, and a pedometer. You can find these in the left hand margin of my blog. There will be lots of other “brick–and–mortar” fundraising events that I will announce in the near future. These will give me the chance to meet with you in person so I can share all the finite details, and spread the word.

I am so full of HOPE and excitement for the coming months. Thanks again for all of your Support and Love as I welcome a new chapter in my life. I am so fortunate to have all of you around to share such a wonderful endeavour!

Love Always,
Richert Gordon

Saturday, February 7, 2009

So why a Pilgrimage, you ask?

A pilgrimage is a trip to a sacred place - a place that was made holy by a special event or because it held a magical object or both. People have been making pilgrimages for tens of thousands of years - in fact men and women were going off on pilgrimage long before the idea became popular in Christian, Judaic and Islamic cultures.

In the Christian tradition, the earliest pilgrims went to places associated with the life and death of Christ. After a while, the graves of early Christian martyrs were added. People believed that if they saw or touched a sacred relic some of the divine energy in that relic would be transferred to them.

Sacred relics and objects that were promoted as sacred relics were spread out over Europe. A relic was usually some part or all of the body of a holy person or something that was in contact with the holy person. It might be the jaw of Saint Coloman which is a sacred object in the Austrian monastery at Melk, or a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Almost every community suffered from ‘relic envy”. Relics brought pilgrims and pilgrims brought money and money brought power and power brought more relics.

Of course, not everyone was convinced. Saint Augustine believed that what was holy could not be localized to a specific place, which meant that a pilgrimage was a waste of time and money, but that was a minority view.

The word was out that when the world came to an end the holy person would return to earth and collect all of his or her body parts and at the same time decide whose spirit would return with them to heaven.

If you were a believer and rich you tried to get buried near an important relic. You wanted to be in a convenient spot when the saint came back to earth and was deciding who would return with him to heaven.

Rome was the epicenter of the relic trade. You could purchase one of the loaves of bread or a fish from the miracle of the loaves and fishes, a table setting from the Last Supper or a thorn from the crown of thorns.

It’s easy to laugh at these things and see many of them as the fakes they were, but their effect on people was real. If your belief in an object’s power results in your cure, then by definition, it is a miraculous object.


Throughout most of history there were only two reasons for traveling - you were going to war or making a pilgrimage. In either case you gave up the life you were living and went off on a new and usually dangerous journey - a journey that often went on for years.

Every church was required to have a relic even if it was only a local saint. But certain relics were understood to be much more powerful than others and those were the ones you wanted to get to.

Power was based on hierarchy - Christ of course was at the top so visiting Jerusalem would be most effective. But in terms of time and expense Jerusalem was unreachable for most people. It was also under the control of the Turks which made the journey extremely dangerous. Next came the Apostles Peter and Paul who were buried in Rome, which made Rome first runner up. Rome was easier to get to but often in political turmoil. You could never be sure of what would be going on in Rome when you finally got there.

Peter and Paul were followed by the other Apostles with James the Greater being of particular importance because he had actually been with Christ. Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain, where the great cathedral was said to contain the complete remains of Saint James was your best shot. It was near enough to the great cities of Europe to be reachable, yet far enough away to be exotic and exciting.

Santiago was at the very edge of the known world, yet in the middle of the Middle Ages over half a million people made the trip every year. It offered Christians living in Europe the opportunity to make contact with someone who had actually known Jesus.

Another reason to go on a long pilgrimage was all the powerful relics that you would encounter along the way. Since every church needed to have relics, it would be to a pilgrim’s benefit to stop at every church on the road and offer a prayer.


The legend of Santiago de Compostela deals with James the Greater who was the brother of John the Evangelist. Both were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. One day Jesus passed by and invited the brothers to join him and they did.

After the death of Jesus, James left Jerusalem with instructions to spread Christianity in Spain. Having very little success with this mission he returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded by the Roman governor.

His disciples recovered his head and his body and placed them in a stone boat that had neither a rudder nor sails yet somehow ended up on the northwest coast of Spain.

As the boat came ashore the first miracle associated with Saint James took place. A bridegroom riding along the beach lost control of his horse and was thrown into the surf. Instead of drowning he emerged from the waves covered with scallop shells. The rider’s safe return from the deep is credited to the intervention of the Saint. And ever since, the image of the scallop shell has been associated with James.

The followers of Saint James then buried his body in an ancient Roman cemetery where it rested unnoticed for 800 years. At some point during this period the cemetery was abandoned and slipped back to a grass covered field.

Then in the year 812, a star appeared above the field accompanied by the sounds of heavenly music. A hermit saw the star, heard the music and followed them to the body of St. James. He reported his discovery to the local bishop who built a chapel over the grave. The site became known as Santiago de Compostela which means “St James of the Field of Stars”.

What is important about this story is not what historians have been able to prove or not prove, but how it has affected the hearts of the pilgrims who have made the journey.

The Power Of Myth :: An elaboration on the significance of the scallop shell and the pilgrim's staff.

The scallop shell, typically found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meaning.

There are different accounts of the mythical origin of the symbol. Which account is taken depends on who is telling the story. Two versions of the most common myth are:
James the Greater, the brother of John, was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula.

(version 1) After James' death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

(version 2) After James' death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

Besides being the mythical symbol, the scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. The scallop shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God's hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago.

The scallop shell served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago as well. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. Also, because the scallop shell is native to the shores of Galicia, the shell functioned as proof of completion. By having a scallop shell, a pilgrim could almost certainly prove that he or she had finished the pilgrimage and had actually seen the "end of the world" which at that point in history was the Western coast of Spain.

The reference to St. James rescuing a "knight covered in scallops" is therefore a reference to St. James healing, or resurrecting, a dying (setting sun) knight. Note also that the knight obviously would have had to be "under the waters of death" for quite some time for shellfish to have grown over him. Similarly, the notion of the "Sea of Darkness" (Atlantic Ocean) disgorging St. James' body, so that his relics are (allegedly) buried at Santiago de Compostella on the coast, is itself a metaphor for "rising up out of Death", that is, resurrection.

The pilgrim's staff is a walking stick used by pilgrims to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Generally, the stick has a hook on it so that something may be hung from it. The walking stick sometimes has a cross piece on it.

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