All the Good Pilgrims: Tales of the Camino de Santiago.


314 pages
ISBN 978-0-88762-252-6
DDC 914.6'11





Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.


In the old days pilgrimages were usually religious events to honour saints, prophets, and other holy persons and places, e.g., Mecca, the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima, and the like. One of the oldest and most significant pilgrimages in Christendom is the 1,000-year-old, 800-kilometre journey (el camino) to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, in honour of St. James, who helped to save Christianity from the “Muslim hordes,” as Spanish history books are wont to describe it.


It is an interesting sociological phenomenon that, since around the 1980s, this religious experience has become something of a rite of passage for those seeking a new kind of spirituality, which often has nothing to do with religion or Christianity, if we are to believe some of the most recent narratives about the Camino de Santiago, such as the adventures of Shirley MacLaine or Paolo Coelho. Toronto-based writer Robert Ward is typical of these new age pilgrims, as his previous work indicates—Virgin Trails: A Secular Pilgrimage, an agnostic’s guide to the Catholic worship of the Madonna, Our Lady the Virgin Mary. With this research and travel experience behind him, Ward is well qualified to write his own “tales of the Camino de Santiago,” as the subtitle calls them.


However, All the Good Pilgrims is more than just a record of the pilgrim’s travels, events, and people met. In fact, it is his fifth journey to Santiago that provides the peg on which to hang the information gained and lessons learned from his experiences on the previous pilgrimages. The adventures of this trip are fleshed out and illuminated by his descriptions of the other trips and additional nuggets of information about the geography and history of northern Spain, which link the past experiences to the present journey in a way that only a seasoned traveller and published writer can do.


Faced with his own physical pains and problems, the author is sympathetic to the needs of the many other first-time travellers he met on the way, employing in a kind of Chaucerian Canterbury Tales-style technique of introducing weird and wonderful characters from all over the world whose motives or conduct are certainly not always religious or Christian. As Ward himself found out, like other published pilgrims, the Camino has a way of entering the spiritual bloodstream and becomes addictive. Well written, and evenly balanced with five uniform sections that narrate his adventures and meetings, All the Good Pilgrims captures the new, modern spirit of the pilgrimage mentality, and reveals much about human nature, not least the author. We can be sure that this is not his final pilgrimage nor his last word on the Road to Santiago.


Ward, Robert., “All the Good Pilgrims: Tales of the Camino de Santiago.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,