Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

On the road to Santiago, 1986

Author: Paulo Coelho

“This cloud has to come to an end”, I thought while struggling to discover the yellow marks on the stones and trees along the Road. For nearly half an hour the visibility had been close to zero, and I went on singing to chase away the fear while waiting for something extraordinary to happen. Shrouded in the fog, all alone in that unreal atmosphere, once again I began to see the Road to Santiago as if it were a film, right at the moment when you see the hero doing what nobody would do, while in the audience you think that these things only happen in the cinema. But there I was, living this situation in real life. The forest was growing quieter and quieter and the fog was beginning to clear up. Maybe it was coming to an end, but that light confused my eyes and painted everything around me in mysterious and terrifying colors.

All of a sudden, like in a magic trick, the fog lifted completely. And there in front of me, driven into the top of the mountain, was the Cross.

I looked around, saw the sea of clouds from which I had emerged, and another sea of clouds way above my head. Between these two oceans, the peaks of the highest mountains and Cebreiro peak with the Cross. I felt a great urge to pray.

Despite the desire, I did not manage to say anything. A hundred meters beneath me, a village with fifteen houses and a small church began to turn on its lights. At least I had somewhere to spend the night. A stray lamb climbed the hill and placed itself between me and the cross. It looked at me, somewhat afraid. For a long time I stared at the nearly black sky, the cross and the white lamb at the foot of the cross.

“Lord”, I finally said. “I am not nailed to that cross, nor do I see You there. This cross is empty and so it shall remain for ever, because the time of Death has passed. This cross was the symbol of the infinite power that we all have, nailed and killed by man. Now this Power is born again to life, because I have walked the path of common people and in them I have found Your own secret. You too walked the path of common people. You came to teach all that we were capable of, and we did not want to accept this. You showed us that Power and Glory were in everyone’s reach, and this sudden vision of our capacity was too much for us. We crucified You not because we are ungrateful to the son of God but because we were very afraid to accept our own capacity. With time and tradition, You again became just a distant divinity, and we returned to our destiny as men.

“There is no sin in being happy. Half a dozen exercises and an attentive ear are enough to make a man realize his most impossible dreams”.

The lamb rose and I followed it. I already knew where it was leading me, and despite the clouds the world had grown transparent for me. Even though I was not seeing the Milky Way in the sky, I was certain that it existed and showed everyone the Road to Santiago.I followed the lamb, which was heading in the direction of the small village – also called Cebreiro, like the mountain. A miracle had taken place there once – the miracle of changing what you do into what you believe. The secret of my sword and the strange Road to Santiago.

As I climbed down the mountain I recalled the story. A peasant from a nearby village came up to hear Mass in Cebreiro one day amid a heavy storm. That Mass was celebrated by a monk of little faith who within himself disdained the peasant’s sacrifice. But at the moment of the Consecration, the host transformed into the body of Christ and the wine became his blood. The relics are still there, kept in that small chapel, a greater treasure than all the wealth of the Vatican.

I went to the small chapel built by the peasant and the monk who had begun to believe in what he did. No-one knew who they were. Two nameless headstones in the cemetery nearby mark the place where their bones are buried. But it is impossible to know which is the monk’s grave and which is the peasant’s. Because, in order to for there to be a miracle, the two forces had to fight the Good Fight.

Since then, whenever I am faced with an important challenge, I remember the story of the miracle of Cebreiro. Faith sometimes has to be provoked before it can manifest itself.

And this year I am celebrating the twentieth anniversary of my pilgrimage – which changed my life. Next week, on the 25th of July, we commemorate Santiago de Compostela Day. If you can, offer up a prayer in homage to the saint.

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