On the day of our arrival in Santiago de Compostela, we got a message from Tania that made us laugh. She said waiting for us to reach Santiago was “like waiting for a couple of babies to be born!” We are happy to announce that although the labour was long, the delivery went smoothly. The babies arrived at 10:30 this morning! They (make that “we”) will be spending two nights at the Hospiteria San Martin Pinario, a renovated monastery built in the 16th century and located as close to the Cathedral as you can get.
Our arrival in the city was a happy/sad time. The rainy weather we got while walking into Santiago was consistent with my feelings of sadness that this amazing experience of walking the Camino de Santiago was coming to an end. It was the journey of a lifetime. How often do we get to be in a crowd of people all walking in the same direction and along the same path. Even though we don’t all speak the same language, there is an unseen bond between us. How wonderful it would be if all the world got together like this with one goal, one path.
There were also feelings of excitement and happiness to see the big red letters “SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA” as we entered the city. I literally got goosebumps and became one big porcupine! What a powerful physical effect an emotion can have.
We followed the scallop shells along the sidewalks towards the Cathedral and eventually got our first glimpse down a narrow lane at one of the towers. What a disappointment it was to see that it was surrounded by scaffolding! Later we learned that during the last restoration seventy years ago, concrete was used as a filler. The concrete has since cracked and caused water damage, so it must now be painstakingly removed. There are 25 workers doing the job. It took ten months to restore one tower to its former glory and now work is taking place on the second tower as well as on the Portico of Glory above the main doors.
We couldn’t check in at the hotel until noon, but were able to leave our backpacks there before heading to the Cathedral. We could walk up the front steps, but access to the Cathedral via the front entrance is prohibited as a result of the restoration work taking place above.
We arrived in good time to get a seat for the Pilgrim Mass at noon. There is seating for 1,000 people, but there weren’t enough seats for everyone. Mass was in Spanish so the meaning of what was spoken was lost on us, but the beautiful voice of the nun who sang could be appreciated no matter what the language. Her angelic voice filled the Cathedral.
This is kind of funny! We were distracted during Mass by what looked like someone reaching around and cleaning St. James’ statue from the back. “Oh, too bad they couldn’t do the cleaning at some other time!” we thought. As it turned out, it wasn’t someone cleaning St. James, but people touring the Cathedral hugging him, even during Mass.
When Mass was over, eight men in burgundy robes filed in and lowered Botafumiero, getting ready to swing it. Botafumiero means “smoke expeller” in Galician. It is said that the use of a swinging censer like this in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral began in the 11th century to help cover the stench of arriving pilgrims who were unwashed. It was also believed that incense smoke had a prophylactic effect in the time of plagues and epidemics.
People seated in the transept of the Cathedral would have had the best view of Botafumiero swinging all the way from one doorway to the other at each end of the transept. As it swings, it dispenses thick clouds of incense. The swings reach heights of 21 meters, almost to the ceiling at a speed of 68 km/h. The maximum can be reached after about 17 cycles, and requires about 80 seconds of swinging. It costs about 250€ for each “performance.” The cost might explain why they don’t always swing Botafumiero.
Then out we went to find the Pilgrim Office, getting drenched in the process. We filled out a form and presented our credenciales, showing how far we had walked. What a proud moment it was when we were presented with our individual Compostela as well as a certificate that shows we walked 775 km. According to our calculations, we walked even further (818.1 km) because of the longer, alternate routes we took.
A big, huge “thank you” goes to Tania for handing the Camino baton over to us and to friends and family who came with us on this journey vicariously, giving us encouragement all along the way.
I am sad that this part of the journey is over but will try to think of our arrival in Santiago de Compostela as the first day of the rest of our life – a new beginning. It might take some concentrated effort, but hopefully we can learn to do in everyday life what the Camino teaches: “Let the heavy things go and let the lighter things fill in.”
P.S. Our favourite wine is red and we drank it between St Jean and Santiago. We have an agreement with wine. We drink it and it makes us smart, witty and great singers. Mind you, we have seen some videos and we think its time we had a chat as wine is not living up to its part of the contract!” (Just kidding!)