by David Sheffler


eligious devotion took intensely tactile form in medieval sermons and hagiographies. Bernard of Clairvaux likened Christ’s love for his Church to passionate physical love, “You will touch me with the hand of faith, the finger of desire, the embrace of love.” (Bernard of Clairvaux) St. Thomas famously demanded tangible verification of the resurrected Christ. I will not believe he said, except that I “thrust my hand into his side.” (John 20:25) In a miracle ascribed to St. James, the apostle appeared to Christian soldiers languishing in a Saracen prison. “With his potent right hand joined to the hands of the captives, the saint, with divine approbation, released them from this perilous prison.” (Melczer, 61) Modern pilgrims express similarly intense experiences of touch. “Underfoot, I felt a different combination of pebbles and rocks each time my foot hit the ground … The variations of hardness, softness, and sharpness are never the same.” (Frey, 75) Wet blistered feet, bedbugs, hands clasped in the triumph of arrival, the crush of pilgrims through the narrow passageway leading to the Praza do Obradoiro, and St. James embraced behind the altar, shape and texture pilgrims’ memories. And although officials no longer allow visitors to touch the pillar of St. James in the Puerta de Gloria, their finger holes, worn in the marble by centuries of devotion, still proclaim their absent presence.


Continue reading  about the five senses …

SIGHT    |    HEARING    |    SMELL    |    TASTE    |    TOUCH