When British composer Joby Talbot was asked in 2005 to create an a cappella choral piece inspired by the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage across Northern Spain, he gathered a backpack and headed for the hills. “I’m not a religious person, but I love how it’s such an extraordinary cultural phenomenon,” he told Limelight Magazine in 2017. “When you get to the cathedral of Santiago itself, there’s a little statue of St. James at the bottom of the middle column, and people kiss the statue on the head. And to do that, one has to lean against a pillar. Where 900 years’ worth of people have been leaning against the pillar, there’s an inch-deep hand print in the solid granite. You put your hand there and feel the connection to all those people, it’s extraordinary.”
Of course, Talbot’s work that followed was also extraordinary (Limelight reviewed the work using such terms as “sublime,” “glorious,” “intoxicating,” and “otherworldly”)—and it’s coming to Spoleto Festival USA’s 2019 season. The illustrious Westminster Choir will sing Talbot’s Path of Miracles at the Charleston Gaillard Center on May 27 and 31. With text comprised of excerpts from historical and sacred documents, Path of Miracles is sung in several different languages, and the four sections of the work refer to four main staging posts of the Camino Francés. Acclaimed director John La Bouchardière will be setting the choral work in motion—adding in costumes, lighting, and staging all to reflect this ancient journey.
What is the Camino de Santiago? Translated to “The Way of Saint James,” this network of paths across Northern Spain (and some in France), now designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, were first traversed by Saint James. After his remains were discovered there around the year 813, the pilgrimage began. Today, some 100,000 people continue to make this trek, which culminates at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The path itself is 500 miles and takes about five weeks to complete—if you walk 15 miles a day with an occasional day of rest and reflection. The route is marked with scallop shells, and those on the pilgrimage also wear shells on their backpacks as a sign they’re on the path. Some on the pilgrimage will leave behind stones at various stopping points—symbols of unloading a personal burden.
The Camino de Santiago has inspired many works of art—not least including the 2011 film The Way, starring Martin Sheen, and The Pilgrimage, written by Paulo Coelho (author of the acclaimed The Alchemist). As for Path of Miracles, says Talbot: “The piece functions as a kind of healing experience. It’s about people, and people’s beliefs. It’s a deeply human piece of work, especially with the human voices. It really feels like something that brings people together and acts in a very cathartic kind of a way, those circumstances.”
Take a listen below, then make sure you have your tickets for May 27 and 31 to hear the Westminster Choir bring this spectacular work to theatrical life.