In Search of Francis
I am well into my third year of researching the past and present of the Camino de Santiago.
Such is the life of a writer caught in the spell of an obsession.
As a novelist, I learned long ago that it's better to surrender to a story that grips me. Resistance, as one of my favorite television programs says, is futile. So, in my readings about The Way of Saint James, I've come across a belief, held by many Camino devotees, that Saint Francis of Assisi completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In the year 1214, to be precise.
At once, this notion intrigued me.
I already had an idea for a novel set in our times about a pilgrimage along The Camino. But I wanted a second thread that could carry the story back into The Way's vast and rich past.
Francis's supposed pilgrimage provides that second avenue of storytelling--and perfectly.
This discovery, of course, led me onto another path of research. And it has been a path full of unanswered questions. The truth is, even the most noted Franciscan biographers and scholars acknowledge that the world knows very little about the person. What's more, with regard to this highly revered saint, myth and legend has overcome history.
Because of this, I've spent a lot of time reading about Francis with the aim of understanding his spirit, his essence.
This has not been an easy task.
But the great thing about being a novelist, as opposed to a historian, is that what is not known about Francis gives me a wide berth to invent his pilgrimage to Compostela.
And, talk about ideal circumstances for storytelling: although there is no concrete evidence that Francis undertook this pilgrimage, his biographers all agree that a voyage the saint was making to Morocco, with the intent of converting Muslims to Christianity, was derailed for health reasons. Instead, Francis ended up stranded in Spain. Nothing is known about the eleven months he spent far away from Italy.
A novelist could not ask for better fodder for fiction.