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  • In MemoriamLinda Kay Davidson (1946–2017)
  • George Greenia

The death of Linda Kay Davidson on October 24, 2017 marked the end of a vigorous first phase for pilgrimage studies in the United States.1 With her early research mentor—and later husband and stellar co-author, David Gitlitz—they pioneered a nascent field as much on the ground as dogged travelers as in the archives. Davidson and Gitlitz went on to produce or help incubate a generation of critical studies on the Camino de Santiago and then on world pilgrimage. The growing cadre of North American scholars in this field is still building on the shrewd and generous start this team inaugurated. [End Page 7]

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Fig. 1.

Gitlitz, David. Photograph of Linda Davidson in Azalea Garden. Personal Collection.

David Gitlitz, a fresh PhD from Harvard in 1968, began his career as an intrepid young professor of Spanish Golden Age literature. He boldly, almost rashly by today's protective standards, invited some of his American college students, including Linda Davidson, on a 1974 summer exploratory trek in Spain. Their goal was to retrace the ancient French Route of St. James starting in the Pyrenees and ending in Santiago de Compostela. They were an unlikely band of innocents.

Tall and bearded, David was flanked by graduate student Linda and six more undergraduate women with varying degrees of fluency in Spanish. Members of the troupe took turns driving ahead, a modest van with camping gear and their mobile reference library, to each night's target village to cast about for accommodations and make provisions to feed the hungry hikers. When a village had no restaurant, supplies were purchased for a local housewife who agreed to set a dinner table for eight on a less than a day's notice. Backpacks as student accessories were newly in fashion, ill designed for long cross-country hauls. Footwear was idiosyncratic. [End Page 8] Canteens were army surplus. In a period before yellow arrows or established shelters, the walkers sometimes slept on wooden church pews or in hay barns.

Gitlitz had written ahead to the priests and school principals, and deftly obtained provincial topographic maps prepared by the Spanish armed forces. He plotted his group's daily march by coordinating them with the waystations and shrine sites named in the "Pilgrim's Guide" of the Latin Codex Calixtinus and later vernacular works of medieval Castilian literature. When these first-generation modern pilgrims arrived in Santiago and presented themselves at the cathedral, they overcame the canons' understandable skepticism by displaying 500 miles worth of random travel souvenirs and still fresh blisters. The era of Padre Elías Valiña, reliable Camino signage, groomed trails and the Plan Xacobeo still lay far in the future.2

Four more walking study trips on the Camino de Santiago, in 1979, 1987, 1993 and 1996, followed over the ensuing years. David and Linda always supplied the intellectual leadership and tireless high spirits. Although she earned her PhD with a dissertation on the Libro de buen amor, Linda veered into pilgrimage studies and together with David created a critical template for "travel for transformation" that eventually spanned shrine sites around the globe.

Linda was a natural collaborator, drawing energy and supplying insight and droll detachment that she contributed to the work of close friend (and 1979 fellow pilgrim) Maryjane Dunn. While David Gitlitz enjoyed prestigious academic and administrative appointments—as professor, dean of arts [End Page 9] and sciences, and provost—in a series of American universities, Linda and Maryjane sustained their creative studies despite heavy schedules largely limited to teaching Spanish language.

For fifteen years, Maryjane Dunn and Linda Davidson curated a popular bulletin for Friends of the Road to Santiago (July 25, 1989-Fall, 2004), the first such newsletter in this country. They included samples of their own and others' original research until the emergence of a robust national association, American Pilgrims on the Camino.3 Davidson opted from that point to focus on fresh explorations of modern avatars of pilgrimage, especially the Camino de Santiago and sacred journeys played out on a planetary stage. With husband David, her sights were set on...


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