pil·grim | peregrinos | peregrina?

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I have noticed lately that my language has inadvertently changed when I talk about my impending adventure. “I am walking the Camino” has morphed into “I am going on pilgrimage in northern Spain.” The puzzled looks and polite smiles still follow – people don’t understand this terminology any better than the former, and the inevitable question still follow – what is that? What does that mean?

It’s good question – what does it mean to be a pilgrim?

People have been walking the Camino for over 1,000 years, so naturally I started with the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. A person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons.

2. A person who travels on long journeys.


1. to travel or wander like a pilgrim.



Middle English: One of the first words that came into English from French just after 1066 from Provençal pelegrin. It goes back to Latin peregrinus, ‘foreign, alien’, the source of peregrinate ‘to wander from place to place’.


Interestingly Journey starts in Geneva then Paris, France Allex vous pèlerin! The rhythm and sounds my feet make with walking sticks reminds me of my high school French class. I can myself back in school, conjugating the verb allez (to GO!) Mme. Belanger would bounce a basketball to drill irregular verbs. The sounds and rythm of the basketball bouncing up and down on the 1960’s era hard tile floors floors stays with me more than 20 years later:  

je vais (bounce)

tu vas (bounce)

il va (bounce)

elle va (bounce)

nous allon (bounce)

vous allez (bounce)

ils vont (bounce)

elles vont (bounce)

Even at the tender age of 15, I remember thinking it was interesting to know how to express the words “to be” in 15 different ways in two languages, but to inversely not to understand what it really meant to.be. Preparing for the Camino has taken a similar path. Becoming a pilgrim will take more than my ability to pronounce the Spanish words and finding the right equipment.
So what does it really mean? What does it mean to be a pilgrim?  A hopeless wanderer?
Let’s hope I find out.

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