Maddie Whipple, an honors history major/Spanish minor, imagines an encounter between pilgrims, both corporeal and spectral, at St. Sernin, a major pilgrimage church that she researched and presented to the Honors Passport: Pilgrimage class.
May 21, 1240. Toulouse, the Church of St. Sernin. 50 days into Camino.
My feet were weary. The straps of my sandals had frayed; I worried about
them as I always do when something else starts to fall apart. Music reverberated through the streets of the city, sending humming melodies into orbit around me. Pilgrims were all around; sitting, singing, drinking. Their eyes were not weighed down by exhaustion
but sparkling with the hope of St. James. The cobblestones beneath my feet eventually turned to a narrow dirt path, and when I looked up, my eyes were met with those of Christ in the glimmering twilight. He was hoisted on either side by angels, and I imagined
myself in his place, angels bolstering me across the threshold. The door itself was humble and wooden, and as I passed through it I felt the force of something that could only be God hit me. The encounter gave me chills and as I reached for holy water, the
faintest whisper reached my ear:
I spun to see if another pilgrim had come up behind me, assuming that someone must have said something. When I turned, there was no one behind me, or even close to me. I glanced around the church and as I scanned the pews I saw the footprints of generations of pilgrims before me. They did not sit there in their physical form, but their shadows filled the rows upon rows of benches. They were in fervent prayer or singing the hymns of the church loudly. The shadows of pilgrims rose with the same expressions as the present pilgrims. They were filled with hope. They rose from small scratches in the pew, or in a seashell left behind near the altar.
In particular, one woman looked over at me, and mouthed a word I could not understand. I walked further from the pews, thinking my imagination and exhaustion must have gotten the best of me, as there was no way I had seen specters in any form. I approached the apse of the church and felt a particularly cold force hit me again. To my right, a raised arch stood lined with men and angels. Every relief looked at me as I walked by, each mumbled a word, a word that sounded like
I approached the man who held his hand to me in blessing from his throne. Christ himself whispered to my soul:
As Christ sat before me, the presence of God washed over me, and I was forced to my knees. I prayed a prayer of carrying, of burden. With every step I took before that prayer, I had felt as though stones were strapped to my back. With every thought of loneliness, another stone. With the thought of doubt, another stone. With anger, another stone. I was weighed down by the sins of my past, and was hit with them when I walked into the restful presence of my Savior.
When I rose, I rose lighter. I returned to the pews, and to my surprise,
the pilgrims of past remained. They welcomed me, as Saint James welcomes us all. I rested, as Christ gives us rest.