It’s 11 years since I was last here. This is a charming little French town with narrow streets and houses festooned with colourful window boxes. Nowadays there are many more “Pilgrim” and “Camino” signs and being the holiday month of August the streets are jammed with visitors. 

We arrived last night after what turned out to be a 10.5 hour train journey direct from Santiago to Pamplona then a shared taxi to Saint Jean. The health measures were evident from the first moment – on arrival at the train station in Santiago although everyone was wearing masks I saw people being asked to put them on properly. Every second seat in the waiting area is closed off and before boarding as tickets were checked through a screen we were passed sachets of hand gel. 

Here in France things are perhaps a little more relaxed but face masks everywhere and hand gel when entering and leaving places remain the order of the day. 
We had been looking forward to meeting our friend Kate from the USA again. Alas that could not be. However on the same day Kate told me her flight was cancelled I got an email from another pilgrim pen friend to say she was going to begin from Saint Jean Pied de Port at almost the same time. So, last night we had dinner with Gemma. She is a health policy consultant with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. It also turns out this is her first Camino! Gemma is walking ahead of us at times but will send regular notes of her experiences and impressions which I’ll relay to you.  

Gemma and John

Gemma was excited to be setting out. We made her promise to leave early and take her time crossing to Roncesvalles. I’ll hear from her later today. We make the same journey tomorrow. But first I wanted to visit the Pilgrim Office in Saint Jean. 11 years ago a small crowd of us queued before being assembled and given a talk about the route then credenciales were issued and stamped. This year there was no queue and no assembly. Hand gel and masks and the ever helpful volunteers are working behind screens. 
“Usually by this point in the year we welcome 300 or 400 pilgrims daily and up to 600 on the busiest day, ” said Henri as he stamped my Credencial. “Now if we see 100 pilgrims it’s busy. Tomorrow maybe 30 or 40 pilgrims will walk the route you are walking.” 

There maybe few pilgrims but there are certainly lots of visitors and we made our way down the busy street to the Church which stands just at the city gate, the “Port” through which we’ll pass to start our Camino early tomorrow morning. The 14th century church is beautiful in its simplicity and although Saint Jean was never a main starting point for the Camino Santiago until more modern times the stones of this old building have heard many prayers over the centuries.  

Église Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont – The 14th Century Church in Saint Jean

It was here in the silence we laid the petitions and messages we’ve received before the altar with the Pilgrim Bible which now has the first stamp of the journey. Candles were lit and prayers offered for everyone… and for ourselves that we may walk safely (and blister free!) on the Way to Santiago. 

The Electronic Stone
The Pilgrim Bible


  1. It was seven years ago yesterday that Jeanette and I stepped through the western gate of St Jean Pied de Port and began our journey to Santiago. We knew not what lay ahead, only that the Holy Spirit would be with us, guiding us and gently nudging us to follow the right path whenever a decision was to be made. We started each day with Joyce Rupp’s Pilgrims’ Prayer, plus a prayer for a name on a tiny pebble that we randomly chose from a small cloth sack in the belt of my backpack–a friend or relative who had asked us to pray for him or her as we walked this pilgrimage. In the next thirty-eight days of walking across a foreign land, we experienced graces and doubts, joys and sufferings, visits from angels and demons, but always we relied on the protection of the Holy Spirit, who even came to our rescue at the very end of the Camino through the intercession of a couple of angels. We know he will be protecting those angels in whatever they do today and wherever they are. Buen Camino, my friends.


  2. Remembering you all in prayer. Keep safe and take care. Wonderful that you have afforded us this virtual experience of The Camino Way.
    God bless you, Johnnie and Fr Stephen.
    Blessings for Jemma as she begins her maiden pilgrimage.

    God bless Margie English


  3. 2012 I walked through this gate early afternoon in what was one of the hottest September days. 8 kms later, I barely was able to catch my breath… I truly thought I was done. Arrived at Orrison where Everyone Knew My Name, because I was the last person in and they had been looking for me. At the door, she says what would you like Ingrid: Bed/Shower of Beer. Guess what I chose, beer of course which revived my body and spirit and I made it to Santiago eventually. Buen Camino Ultreia Light and Love from this Canuck.


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