Interview with Marion Marples, Camino Expert in London
In our recent visit to London, we had the chance to meet with a remarkable British woman who has made the Camino her life´s passion and who is eager to help consult with us in making the Cathedral in Madrid a welcome center for pilgrims on their way as well as offer insights into the building of the Anglican Center. We had a chance to ask her a few questions and listen to her wisdom gathered over the years. We thought you'd be interested in what she had to say.
Why has the Camino been so important in your life? The camino and all the associated spirituality, history, music, language, landscape, traditions bring together many of my interests and have given me great opportunities to develop them for myself and to share with others. As I look back I see St James has been with me a long time. I was born in Poole, Dorset which was an early 15th Century pilgrim port, has a church of St. James and my school badge bore the town’s 3 scallop shells making the link with Santiago pilgrims. I learnt of the pilgrimage while at university at another pilgrim port, Bristol, and made my first pilgrimage through France in 1972, long before the revival of interest in the 1980s. But it was not until 1998 that I was able to set out on my own on the Camino and walk for 5 weeks to Santiago. Many years later, I wear my pilgrim scallop shell with pride!
That is amazing, how connected things can seem when we look back on our lives. Tell us a little about your journey? My passion for the Camino led to involvement with the Confraternity of Saint James. I can say I have walked, over time and in stages, all the way from my home in London through France to Santiago. I have walked with large and small groups and on my own. Being on pilgrimage gave me time to reassess my life and helped me to make important changes of direction. As Secretary of CSJ I have had the joy of being responsible for organizing many visits to pilgrimage sites in Spain and France as well as encouraging others to set out. I have also learnt a lot about Christian hospitality and the way we seek to offer it freely for pilgrims, as though they were Christ themselves.
So tell us a little more about how did you become involved in the Confraternity of Saint James & what could be its importance for the Anglican Center? The Confraternity was founded in 1983, at a time when I was at home with a small baby. I was fascinated to get involved with researching the history of the pilgrimage in England, planning visits all over the country and to Spain as well as lectures in London. As we gradually moved into an office, meeting people planning to go on pilgrimage was a great privilege and actually encouraged me to train for pastoral ministry within my church, Southwark cathedral. I was fascinated by the idea that in Spanish, Jesus is ‘the camino’-the Way. So I have tried to live life less encumbered with mental baggage, and being open to the way life opens up when you travel light and hopefully.
The CSJ is a non denominational organization with members of all faiths and none. We work with anyone planning a pilgrimage, with groups from RC and Anglican parishes as well as many individuals. We observe St James’s day (25 July) at St James’s Spanish Place in London and make visits to St James’s churches elsewhere. We have developed and run 2 pilgrim albergues in Spain. Many members have been volunteers at the Pilgrim Office at Santiago Cathedral, welcoming pilgrims, both Spanish and non Spanish at the end of their pilgrimages.
Anglican groups are able to use a chapel in the Cathedral for the Eucharist or worship but for the lone Anglican it is possible to feel confused and neglected at the daily Catholic Pilgrim Mass where it is clearly stated that only confirmed RCs should receive communion. An Anglican Centre could contribute to understanding about the Anglican communion in all its diversity and bring some ecumenical light to a pilgrimage which should be a way of transforming any life, whatever its starting point.
What do you think the gift could be of having the Cathedral in Madrid be a welcome center for English speaking pilgrims? After they have done one camino many pilgrims like to explore Spain or France with more recently developed or less well known routes. Madrid is the beginning of a feeder route to the main Camino Francés, crossing the Sierra de Guadarrama and the meseta plateau to join the more famous route at Sahagún. There is a Madrid Association of Amigos del Camino and their office is open a couple of evenings a week. It would be great for the non-Spanish speaking pilgrim to have a point of contact in Madrid to collect a credencial and a stamp, receive a pilgrim blessing and set out.
Well, we´re on it! I think our Cathedral embracing the pilgrims in the capital city is a great first step to building the Center in Santiago and the fact nothing existed for pilgrims in Madrid before seems to beckon us. We are juyst now organizing a new Taizé bilingual service at the Cathedral where we will offer a special blessing for pilgrims (one you gave us, I might add!). What are your thoughts about this Anglican Center supported by the entire Communion? Hopefully more Anglicans would be encouraged to set out on pilgrimage! In Santiago itself, an Anglican
Centre would need to be complementary to Rev. Scott Walters, the Cathedral - after all, they have been welcoming pilgrims for over 1000 years! The cathedral is gradually developing its own programme for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Centre could be a place for Anglican pilgrims to ‘give back’ something to the Camino. It would be helpful to have more support for the growing proportion of non-Spanish speaking pilgrims who arrive having had a transformative experience and who need time and space to explore what this might mean for the rest of their lives. But we need to be aware that many pilgrims have little or no church background and are baffled by the different churches. However, the RC Church is working out how to use the experience of pilgrimage in the ‘New Evangelisation’ and there is space for Anglican insights too as we explore what being a Christian means in an increasingly secular and multi faith world in the 21st century.