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Day 16: La Cruz de Hierro (the Iron Cross)

(Originally posted on 7 September 2016)

El Ganso/Molinaseca

"Happiness is lighter than a feather, but no one knows how to carry it.

Trouble is heavier than earth, yet no one knows how to avoid it."

(Chuang Tzu)

Pilgrims who start the French Way from St. Jean Pies-de-Port (and also a good part of the other ones) have to carry in their backpack: a stone. The stone can come from anywhere. Some brings it from home, some from sacred places like Lourdes or Medjugorie, and others who didn’t know about this tradition would pick up a stone at the beginning of the path, after being pressured by other pilgrims to do so. Wherever the stone might come from, it will be left at the Cruz de Hierro (the Iron Cross), a 5-metre cross at the top of a mountain. At the foot of the cross is a pile of stones left behind by pilgrims for hundreds of years.

Leaving your stone is a quentissential ritual for pilgrims. In my experience, it is even more important than reaching Santiago de Compostela and hugging the statue of St. James. For this reason, I decided to dedicate a post to this day when I finally left my stone at the Cruz.

According to the various stories, there are at least two meanings behind this ritual:

The first one suggests the stone symbolizes the heaviness of life. It could be your regrets, the bad things said to you, the bad actions done to you, etc. Leaving the stone at the Cruz, you are ready to be born again. Your body, heart and soul will no longer be bound by the feeling of heaviness. You will make peace with your past and with yourself, and you will make a huge step towards the unconditional love, the unspoken goal of many pilgrims on the French Way.

The second one (not so well-known, to be honest) reminds me of the Egyptian mythology of weighing a person’s heart against a feather, as described in the 125th chapter of the Book of Death. According to the legend of the Iron Cross, when we are finally judged (and - I would add – in the case of final judgement), the stone will represent an added value in the bowl of positive actions, inclining the scale towards the good and allowing the pilgrims to save their soul.

For the 550 kms preceding that moment, the pilgrim has had plenty of time to reflect on his past, mostly physically in the first part of the Camino – and in the second half – more mentally. During this process, he would have reflected on the concept of heaviness, its consequences on his actions, and its damages to his wellbeing. On the other hand, all the pilgrims that have participated in the stone ritual can guarantee that the Camino experience becomes truly different, and more enjoyable after that moment.

When you are not trained and calculating meticolously the weight of your backpack, the last thing you want is 100 or 200 grams more. Especially when those weight also create psychological pressure. However, I have to admit that, every time after I left my stone at the Iron Cross, I would feel the significant lightness, and – even more important – the necessity of forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. Were the Santiago experience be reduced to only this quick moment, it would have been worthwhile anyway.

That said, I still have to see pilgrims levitating or walking on water..

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