Introduction: The Pomeranian Camino
When people talk about the Way of St. James, the more traditional walks in and around Galicia tend to spring to mind. But the fact is that Santiago de Compostela used to be one of the most popular pilgrimage sites and was visited by pilgrims from all Catholic kingdoms, princedoms, and bishopric states of the old world. This meant that travelers were journeying to Santiago de Compostela not only from, say, Le Puy (France), Salzburg (Austria), or Regensburg (Germany) but also from farther afield.
For example, Via Baltica is the northernmost Camino in Germany, starting across the border on the Usedom Island and running to Osnabrück through Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen. Other routes join it until it reaches Aachen or Trier, where it merges into the French routes in Liège and Namur (Belgium), Reims and Vèzelay (France), Cluny (on the Way of Assisi), Le Puy, Conques, Toulouse, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, the Ossau Valley, the Basque Country (Spain), and onward, through Galicia, to Santiago. Usedom is approximately 780 km from Aachen. Once in Aachen, you need to cross Belgium and France to finally commence the Camino Francés. Imagine walking that distance centuries ago!
If that wasn’t enough, other Caminos merge with the Baltic one in Usedom (or start further to the East). They start off in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and the Nordic countries, and cross what used to be known as Pomerania (a Slavic term meaning land at sea), a region traversing North Germany and Poland with a history dating back to at least eight thousand years BC. (The archaeological remains in Poland and the archives in Santiago suggest that St. James the Elder enjoyed a mass following in as early as the eleventh century AD.) The Pomeranian Camino of St. James was named after the region.
My Camino Baltica
After finishing a marathon of meetings in Hamburg Süd office district, I headed to the hotel, changed into comfortable walking attire, and headed out on a mission—a mission to walk a small part of the Camino Baltica, one of the Pomeranian Caminos.
The first landmark on my mini Camino was St. Jacobi Kirche (Church of St. James). From there I followed the waymarks to St. Petrikirche (Church of St. Peter). While St. James’s wasn’t open, most other churches along the way, including St. Peter’s, were and provided me with an opportunity to indulge in some silent reflection and prayer in the stillness characteristic of most Lutheran churches. From St. Peter’s, I continued to the Rathaus (town hall), across a bridge, and to the Catholic Church of St. Michael, my spiritual Mount Tabor during this short expedition. This spartan church is completely bare save for a crucifix on the high altar, the only focal point within the church’s walls. I then headed toward the magnificent Lutheran Churches of St. Michael and St. Catherine. Afterward I looped back to the town hall, St. Peter’s, and, finally, the hotel. I walked around 10 km in all. It was a decent exercise for me, especially after a day’s work.
Hamburg on the Via Baltica
The Church of St. James is Hamburg’s pride. It was originally a small chapel outside Hamburg’s city walls, but as the city grew, the church found itself within its confines.
Situated on the Baltica Route of the Camino, the church welcomed pilgrims coming from the port of Lübeck (an important point in the pilgrimage during the Hanseatic League period with pilgrims from Scandinavia, Jutland, and the Baltic regions) and heading toward Bremen. The church underwent not only architectural but also denominational changes. As the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther spread in northern Europe, St. James became a Lutheran church. It later fell into disrepair (during the French occupation of the city, it was used as a stable) and was almost completely destroyed during World War II. Luckily, it was restored some two decades later.
After the restoration of the lower part of the bell tower, the church’s pilgrimage chapel was inaugurated on November 16, 2013. It also houses the Pilgrims’ Office, where various activities for northern pilgrims and would-be pilgrims of the Jakobsweg and the Olafsweg (St. Olav’s Way) are organized.
St. Olav’s Way runs from Oslo’s old town, along the Mjøsa lake, through the Gudbrand Valley, the Dovrefjell mountain range, Oppdal and Gauldalen Valleys, to the tomb of St. Olav in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. This route suffered the same fate as the Jakobsweg when the number of pilgrims dwindled after the Reformation. Over the past few decades, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in these ancient treks.
The Pilgrims’ Office at the Church of St. James is manned by a team of volunteers who provide advice, the Spanish Credential, and pilgrim badges as well as pilgrim guides, maps, and souvenirs.
More photos from this walk can be seen on this video.