Happy Easter! I wish you and your families a blessed day! Today, thousands of pilgrims are gathered in Rome to celebrate one of Christianity’s holiest days together–the resurrection of Christ! People have been making pilgrimages for centuries in search of faith and truth. In addition to Rome, historically speaking, there are two other major Christian pilgrimage destinations–Jerusalem/the Holy Lands and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where Saint James is said to be buried. Starting this year and continuing over the next three years, the French Post is commemorating the Way of Saint James (in French: Les Chemins de Saint Jacques de Compostelle).
The Way of Saint James’ holds a unique place not only in European history but in world history as well–the route is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as the first officially recognized European Cultural Route. Today, the Way of Saint James takes pilgrims as well as tourists and hikers alike through France into Spain and across to Galicia. According to legend, Saint James’ body was brought here and buried and the Cathedral marks the end point of all the routes. Today thousands of people set out every year on foot to reach the Cathedral and his tomb. The scallop shell you see on the postcard and on each of the stamps is the traditional route marker. There are two main legends concerning the scallop and Saint James. The first has the Saint’s body, lost at sea, being washed ashore covered in scallops, while the second has a horse and rider miraculously escaping drowning and emerging from the sea covered in scallops as the ship carrying Saint James’ body was approaching the nearby land.
The first stamp block, released on 30 March 2012 contains four stamps, one for each of the four possible starting points in France. All of the stamps are 0.77€, the current price to send an envelope/postcard weighing up to 20 g anywhere in Europe (as defined by La Poste).
The first stamp features the Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris. The tower is all that remains of the 16th century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie which was destroyed following the French Revolution. The Via Turonensis, the Tours Route (1,448 km), starts here. The via Podiensis (1,530 km), the oldest and most popular route to Compostelle, is the subject of the second stamp. The Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, featured on the third stamp, is a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right. The Basilica is the starting point for the longest of the four main routes the via Lemovicensis or the Limoges Route–pilgrims starting here will have to walk 1,691 km to reach Saint James’ tomb! The last stamp shows the starting point for the via Tolosana in Arles. This last route starts at the Church of St. Trophime, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and becomes the Camino Aragonès once it reaches Spain. Good luck and Godspeed to all the pilgrims out there!