Father Martín Sarmiento: A Camino Role Model

Time to shed a little light on another fascinating and inspirational figure from Camino history. Our subject is the great Spanish Benedictine monk and scholar Father Martín Sarmiento, who undertook a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1745.

Pedro Xosé Balboa, known today as Father Martín Sarmiento, was born in 1695 and grew up in the Galician city of Pontevedra. In 1710, he entered the Benedictine Monastery of San Martín in Madrid, where he honed his deep intellectual curiosity alongside Friar Benito Feijóo, considered the most outstanding Spanish philosopher of the 18th century.

Father Sarmiento was an illustrious representative of the Enlightenment, the intellectual movement that promoted reason, individual liberty and religious tolerance. He fought superstition and ignorance throughout his life and encouraged the establishment of libraries in local towns. Father Sarmiento was an early champion of the necessity to understand, restore and preserve traditions and popular culture; as such, he made a strong contribution to the research and recovery of Galician culture. Improving his country’s economic status was also a major concern, which was typical of Enlightenment thinking at the time.

Father Sarmiento wrote on a wide range of disciplines including linguistics, theology, history, botany and medicine. His book, Viaje a Galicia (Journey to Galicia), documents the pilgrimage he undertook in his native Galicia in 1745  in order to earn the plenary jubilee year indulgence. His 190-kilometre journey began in Pontevedra and took him along the secluded coastline of the beautiful region of O Salnés. From there, he walked the shores of the Ría de Arousa estuary to the symbolic town of Padrón, where Saint James’ disciples landed ashore with the Apostle’s remains, before turning inland towards Santiago de Compostela.

It is important to remember Father Martín Sarmiento. His was a voice for reason, liberty and tolerance at a time when standing up for such things excited considerable opposition. Makes you wonder if times have changed all that much. All the more reason, then, to celebrate and look up to someone like Father Sarmiento.



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