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Professor highlights European pilgrimage in next Distinguished Speaker lecture

October 20, 2008

Dr. Carlos Mentley in Santiago de Compostela in Spain
Dr. Carlos Mentley, Lander University associate professor of Spanish is seen here on one of the many pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The origins and history of this site and the paths that lead to it are the subject of Mentley's upcoming lecture in Lander's Distinguished Speaker Series, Oct. 23, at 6:30 p.m., in the Cultural Center's Barksdale Recital Hall.
For some a pilgrimage might entail jumping in the car in search of the former home of the King of Rock and Roll. The word itself, pilgrimage, might conjure images of John "the Duke" Wayne as he leans over to Jimmy Stewart's character in the film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and famously refers to him as "pilgrim." But, beyond Wild West newcomers and Graceland seekers, the pilgrimage has its roots in spirituality and self-discovery.

In his upcoming entry in Lander University's Distinguished Speaker Series, Dr. Carlos Mentley, Lander associate professor of Spanish, will show the audience members that what one often walks away with after a pilgrimage, is a since of personal and cultural identity.

On Thursday, Oct. 23, at 6:30 p.m., Mentley will take his audience on a journey through the history and culture of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a centuries-old pilgrimage destination in the northwestern part of Spain.

Mentley became interested in Santiago de Compostela as he studied Spanish history when he was a student. Later he attended a lecture by a colleague on the routes leading to this destination and the history that made the location special.

"Compostela comes out of the Middle Ages when much of the Spanish peninsula was under Islamic control," said Mentley. "The small Christian population in the north was hungry for some kind of inspiration, some kind of rally cry. It was during that time that the remains of Saint James the apostle were supposedly discovered in the northwest. With that Compostela began to develop as a main pilgrimage site in Europe, It became the third most-visited site after Jerusalem and Rome."

After the Middle Ages, according to Mentley, pilgrims slowly stopped flocking to Compostela. However, in recent years interest in this journey has been renewed. "This resurgence is being led by area chambers of commerce, churches and, most importantly, by the European Union," he said.

In light of this renewed interest in the pilgrimage route, Mentley began to realize that taking this journey with students would be an excellent opportunity to introduce them to the culture and history of this part of Europe. The routes to Compostela, after all, spread through parts of France as well as Spain. In the spring of 2003, Mentley took students on a trip to Compostela. They began at the French boarder and hiked 33 days before arriving at their destination in Spain.

"When you talk about travel in the Middle Ages you are talking about something that is very difficult," said Mentley. "Now, if you walk any of these routes, you do get an appreciation of what a medieval pilgrim had to go through under more difficult conditions. Also, taking a pilgrimage removed you from your day-to-day existence. In doing so you take yourself away from those day-to-day worries and hurries and things that occupy your mind. On a pilgrimage, you radically simplify your life. What's important is movement toward your destination."

Since that first trip, Mentley has returned several times and walked several different routes that lead to Compostela. On these journeys he has been joined by students and colleagues. "Every person who made that walk with me came away changed personally in some good way, including me," he said.

This summer, Mentley will guide a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The trip, set for May 12 to June 3, will involve 16 days of long-distance hiking. The cost of the trip is $3200.

Mentley's upcoming lecture, titled "The Pilgrimage to Compostela and Creation of European Identity, " will provide an excellent glimpse of what the Compostela trip will be like.

Mentley holds bachelor's degrees in Spanish and psychology from Michigan State University, a master's degree in Spanish from Michigan State University and a doctorate in Spanish literature from Cornell University.

The Distinguished Speaker Series is free and open to the public. Mentley's lecture will be held in the Lander Cultural Center's Barksdale Recital Hall. For more information, please contact the College of Arts and Humanities at 864-388-8323.