by David Sheffler


mell occupied an important place in the medieval inventory of sanctity. The bodies of saints frequently emitted a honeyed fragrance years after their interment. Incense, most spectacularly displayed by the Botofumeiro of Santiago, marked the mass with its sweet scents. When medieval preachers imagined the Annunciation, they described Mary’s sacred room filled with the pleasant odors of herbs and flowers. According to medieval medical theories, smell could also harm. Miasmic airs emanating from sewers and swamps, bodily effluvium, and agricultural waste, threatened real physical and psychic damage. Modern pilgrims, too, find themselves keenly aware of smells. In a culture increasingly deodorized, memories of the Camino are invariably suffused with the odor of pilgrims’ bodies and sweat-stained packs. West of Sarria, behind every copse and tree, human waste and tufts of toilet paper bear witness to the daily crush of passing pilgrims. In trail-side cafés, the smells of café con leche and orange juice mix with manure, wet straw, and silage. In the Pyrenees, wild oregano crushed under walking feet perfumes the air. Along the Arga, dill weed vies with Spanish cane for sun and soil on the riverbank. Farther west, in the cool dampness of Galicia, mint and nettles grow together in the ditches, before giving way to vast stands of fragrant eucalyptus, whose dense shade and camphoraceous litter turn verdant soil sterile.


Continue reading  about the five senses …

SIGHT    |    HEARING    |    SMELL    |    TASTE    |    TOUCH