The path of the pilgrim as a star trail: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Apr 2, 2018

The star trail from Santiago de Campostela to Cape Finsterre.

As the giant constellation Orion sets in this season, the Earth tips perpendicular to the galactic plane, which means that for awhile, the Milky Way disappears from view. Historically, then, this is the season when sacred pilgrimages begin.


If you were an English literature major like me, or if you’re familiar with the movie “A Knight’s Tale” then you know about one of the most famous pilgrimage verses ever, “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. It’s a collection of 24 tales from the 14th century that are presented as part of a storytelling contest undertaken by a group of pilgrims as they make their way from London to Canterbury, to worship at the shrine of the Christian martyr Thomas Becket. 


The Prologue begins in the month of April, when Zephyrus, the warm west wind has with his “sweet breath quickened again,” and the “young Sun into the Ram one half his course has run.” 


The path that a pilgrim would take to a sacred site was known in those medieval times as a “star trail”, and while “The Canterbury Tales” is one of the most famous stories of a pilgrimage, the most renowned medieval pilgrimage itself was the Camino de Santiago, known as “the way of Saint James”. The pilgrimage culminates in the Spanish capital of Santiago de Campostela, which is alleged to be the burial site of the Biblical Apostle St. James. Pilgrims started on this path as early as the 9th century, following an old Roman trade route that ended at Cape Finisterre, which means, literally, the end of the world, or land’s end. From this cape, in the season of the feast of St James, the Milky Way arcs directly overhead, so that you can imagine that the star trail being followed by the pilgrim to the end of the Earth continues directly on into the stars.


To know when to embark on the pilgrimage meant being informed by the stars in their season, and here in the Spring, when the Moon has achieved its Full Phase and the festivals of renewal have transpired, then it’s time to make your plans to set forth!