“If You Stand Here is a tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela expressly for pilgrims. Unlike all the dusty guidebooks that list dates, names with no back story, and an endless number of dry unrelated facts, this book will ask you to stand on a spot in the building where something wonderful happened.”
Anne Born is an American Pilgrim who has been coming to the Camino every year since 2009.
She has just written a truly unique guidebook to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
**FYI This book has just won the 2021 Independent Press Award: Distinguished Favorite in Travel Writing!
We caught up with Anne to say congratulations on your achievement and to find out more about what we can expect from the book:
Q. Hi Anne, tell us a little about yourself and your background:
A. I am an American pilgrim. I started walking the way of Saint James in May 2009 and have tried to walk every year.
I am also a volunteer and have worked in two albergues and The Abbey, just outside Pamplona.
I love talking to pilgrims. I’ve been called the Pilgrim Whisperer for the way I can tease out the most wonderful personal stories I think a lot of people might not be able to reach. It’s my superpower, I guess – I can talk to strangers and come away with friends.
Q. What’s your connection to the Camino?
A. I first learned about the Camino when I was a student at the University of Michigan in the early 1970s.
I studied Romanesque sculpture, using a book from the 1920s that covered the Camino. The author believed that architects, stonemasons, and builders walked the Camino looking for work alongside pilgrims, poets, and troubadours.
I thought that was fascinating and I wanted to go to Spain immediately and see this for myself.
But immediately turned into 39 years before I was able to get there. Very few young girls from Michigan would have the ability to walk alone in Spain in the 1970s.
Q. Could you introduce the book in your own words?
A. If You Stand Here is a tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela expressly for pilgrims. Unlike all the dusty guidebooks that list dates, names with no back story, and an endless number of dry unrelated facts, this book will ask you to stand on a spot in the building where something wonderful happened.
Full of maps and stories of the people who have been in the Cathedral, you can stand where Edith Wharton stood at sunset to admire the Portico de la Gloria, where Federico Garcia Lorca paused before ascending the small staircase to embrace the sculpture of the Saint, or where the famous Galician poet, Rosalia de Castro, described a late afternoon visit in one of her most quoted poems.
The hope is this: that you will see the building through fresh eyes and enrich your visit by knowing what – and who – you are looking at. It’s just not like other guidebooks.
Q. How did you come to write the book? What was your inspiration?
A. This book started in 2014 when I was working in the Pilgrim’s Office as a volunteer, an “amigo.” We greeted pilgrims as they came in for their Compostela.
I had lots of free time too, which I spent exploring the food opportunities in Santiago and visiting the Cathedral. I started taking photos of the funerary sculpture, wondering who the people were who were fortunate enough to be buried so close to the Saint.
I wanted to know who they were and couldn’t find, in most cases, what their names were. Once I came back to this quest in earnest, in the spring of 2018, I had better resources for my research and fresh inspiration to write the book.
It turned out, I had purchased four guides to the Cathedral over my many visits and not read one of them.
Q. Who is this book for?
A. This book is for anyone who has ever visited a great building, walked in, looked around, wondered what all the fuss was about, and left to get lunch. I hate that! Let me tell you the stories.
It is really good for groups too. Imagine if everyone knew what they were looking at. The subsequent discussions would be so much better, so much more interesting.
You would come away knowing why this beautiful church is so important, not just taking someone’s word for it.
And it is for pilgrims. So that when you arrive, you can visit the chapels, see the Portico de la Gloria, and light a candle, knowing who was there before you.
You become a part of history. And that’s pretty extraordinary. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Q. When should we read this book?
A. Anyone planning a visit should read it, anyone in Santiago who would like to know more about this marvelous church, and any pilgrim who wants to know better what the object of this game really is – a visit to a historical site with so many stories to tell.
Q. Will, you be going back to the Camino yourself?
A. I have plane tickets and hotel reservations for July – as we say, God willing. I have so many friends in Spain that I have missed seeing, it will be lovely to go there again – hopefully as soon as July.
Q. AND Finally, what’s your favourite story from the book?
A. My favorite story?
It is really hard to pick one, but I do love the story of Bernardus the Treasurer. How a medieval office worker made such a lasting impact is quite wonderful actually. He is memorialized in the Codex Calixtinus. But to find out why, I guess you need my book!
If you plan to visit the Cathedral in Santiago, you can purchase Anne Born’s book “If You Stand Here: A Pilgrim’s Tour of the Cathedral” on Amazon here.
And for more information on the Camino de Santiago, the cathedral, or any of the routes, send us a message on the form below: