A Journey of a Lifetime – Sail from Waterford to Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is described as one of the most beautiful of all Spanish cities in the Rough Guide to Spain. This remarkably evocative city is both a Spanish national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For over 1,000 years it has been the destination of the countless pilgrims who set off on the journey to visit the tomb of St. James the Apostle. During the middle ages it ranked with Jerusalem and Rome as one of the three great pilgrim sites in Christendom. This pilgrimage site was so popular that a medieval French monk wrote the world’s first guide book to assist pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James.

Pilgrims from all over Europe visited Santiago including St. Francis of Assisi, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Mayor James Rice of Waterford who undertook the journey in 1473 and again in 1483 and more recently in 1982 Pope John Paul II. Today people of all religious denominations and none go to Compostela to be part of one of Europe’s great cultural and religious experiences.

On the 13th May this year 29 lucky passengers will celebrate the 525th anniversary of Mayor James Rice’s famous pilgrimage by sailing on the Jeanie Johnson from Waterford to A Coruńa in north-western Spain, the traditional port of arrival for medieval Irish pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela.

James Rice is regarded as one of the most important mayors in medieval Waterford – holding the office on eleven occasions between 1467 and 1486. The 15th century wine vault of this merchant mayor can still be seen today underneath the Deanery building in Cathedral Square while the Great Parchment Book that he compiled is on view in Waterford Museum of Treasures, as is the sword presented to the city by King Edward IV in 1462. This ceremonial sword was carried before Mayor Rice in solemn procession prior to his election. The cloth of gold vestments worn by the clergy during the special High Mass celebrated to inspire the councillors prior to the election of the mayors are also on display in the museum.

A man of great wealth James Rice was one of the founders of an alms house for the poor of the city which he endowed with a number of important properties. A deeply religious man, Rice twice made the pilgrimage to Compostela. Prior to his second visit he had a magnificent tomb sculpted for himself in Christ Church Cathedral – regarded as one of the finest cadaver tombs in Ireland.

This will be a unique re-creation of the very popular medieval pilgrimage that saw people travel from all over Europe to the tomb of St. James. Waterford was one of the main staging posts for the pilgrimage, as was Dublin, where St. James’ Gate (of Guinness fame) was the gate from where the pilgrims exited the medieval city.

The journey will start at Rice’s tomb in Christchurch Cathedral. It is planned to process from the cathedral down to the quayside opposite Reginald’s Tower, known in the late Middle Ages as James Rice’s Quay. Here the pilgrims will embark on the majestic sailing ship the Jeanie Johnston to make this historic pilgrimage – and for the first time in 500 years pilgrims will set sail from the Quay in the heart of Waterford City to A Coruńa.

This once in a lifetime sea journey will take four days and the walk to Santiago de Compostela another three, walking about 20 km each day. It is not obligatory to walk the entire distance – as buses will also be available. Two days will be spent in Santiago prior to the return to Dublin by Aer Lingus.

All in the trip will cost no more than €2,000 – including the journey by sea, hotels and busses in Spain, flight home and return bus to Waterford. The number of places is limited to 29. It is imperative that if you are interested you contact Waterford Museum of Treasures, (051) 304500 by Tuesday 25th February.

There is a huge interest in this trip, and we will be taking people on a ‘first come first served’ basis. A deposit of €500 will be required to secure all places. Please mark envelopes ‘Santiago de Compostela’.

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