A walk of faith: Woman travels El Camino de Santiago, plans to return

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Denise Giannotti recently traveled a portion of the El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, a Catholic pilgrimage through Spain. Giannotti traveled for five days, walking approximately 14 miles a day, and she already has plans to return. The pilgrimage also jump-started a business idea for the former Geist resident.

Giannotti describes herself as not the most athletic person, and she originally thought the pilgrimage was for Catholic faithful such as priests or nuns. However, after watching several movies and reading several books on people who traveled the El Camino de Santiago, she realized anybody and can make the pilgrimage. She decided to travel to Spain alone and walk the path.

“All I can tell you is this is the lobby of heaven,” said Giannotti, who attends Holy Spirit Parish at Geist. “I have no way to describe the ecstasy you experience while on this. Everyone on there wants to get closer to God. People are praying out loud, singing prayers out loud. Kids are walking in youth groups holding huge crosses and singing and praying. People are walking with rosaries.”

The entire pilgrimage path is roughly 600 miles. Many people spend approximately a month walking it. The Way of St. James is a route that leads to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, which is the resting place of the Apostle St. James the Great.

Giannotti began her route in Soria, Spain. She didn’t realize much of the pilgrimage was on an incline. She carried a 20-pound backpack and hired a company to transport her other luggage from hotel to hotel throughout her journey.

“The physically most demanding part was 75 percent of the time, you’re walking straight up stairs,” she said.

Giannotti said another difficult part was finding solitude during her journey.

“I walked during the most popular time,” she said. “There are people everywhere. My challenge was to have silence. I would have to hang back (from the group).”

Giannotti carried a prayer list with 80 names and prayed during the pilgrimage.

“You now understand the grace of God and it affects you forever,” she said. “You feel him and see him in a way you have never seen before.”

When Giannotti returns in September 2019, she plans to walk the entire path.

Upon returning to her Indianapolis home, Giannotti decided to start a new business called “Keep Calm and Buen Camino.” She shipped 10 boxes of Portuguese and Spanish merchandise during her trip. She sold it during a Nov. 10 event at her apartment, where Coady Owens, associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish at Geist, gave talks on El Camino de Santiago. She plans to develop the business plan further and wants to travel in the meantime. 

Owens also traveled El Camino de Santiago. He blessed Giannotti’s equipment prior to her pilgrimage. He used the Roman Ritual, which is a book of blessings.

“There’s a special blessing for pilgrims before they embark on a pilgrimage, so I used that and sprinkled holy water on her things and asked God’s blessing to be upon it,” he said.

Owens said not everyone who walks the El Camino are particularly strong in their faith, but they’re on a journey to find something.

“That’s the idea of a pilgrimage,” he said. “Someone on a journey, someone on their way.”

Giannotti also owns the businesses Keep Calm and Dress Smart and Keep Calm and Stay Fabulous, which she launched after her husband died in 2008 and she had to sell their Geist home.

 Keep Calm and Dress Smart

Denise Giannotti previously worked as a professional buyer for major department stores. She started her stylist business, “Keep Calm and Dress Smart” for men and “Keep Calm and Dress Fabulous” for women after her husband Albert died from cancer in 2008.

During her pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago, Giannotti walked next to an Irish couple who own a clothing store in Dublin. After speaking with the couple, they invited her to visit Dublin during St. Patrick’s Day next year.

“They liked my attitude,” she said. “The first night they asked what I do and said, ‘We own a dress store.’”

Giannotti plans to travel to Dublin to help the couple redesign their store.

For more on her businesses, visit denisegiannotti.com.

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