There was a definite air of excitement the night before – only one more day to destination, to Santiago de Compostella. There was the usual stir early in the morning. There were no facilities for breakfast, so we soon were ready to go. Without internet, we were not able to check the weather, but from looking out the window, and from earlier forecasts, we expected wet weather, so it was on with all the wet-weather gear as in previous days. Here’s the tres amigos (three friends) about ready to set out on the last leg.
Outside, it was still quite dark as we were in the shadow of the hill on our right. Here’s the scene as we set out.
It was only 16-18kms, so we hoped to be there mid- to late morning. As usual, they went on ahead as they are quicker walkers than I am. Others too were ahead, some behind, and as usual, I had the morning’s walk to myself.
There was some misty rain during the morning, but nothing to trouble me. I really only became aware of it from the soft “blat” of raindrops falling on the brim of my hat, or from seeing ripples spread from raindrops falling into still pools of water on the road from the rain overnight.
As the sun started to climb, here’s the view to the west of green fields and hills in the distance.
The high moisture climate certainly makes for green, lush, verdant bush.
At one stage, I saw a rainbow, which I thought was a sign of good luck. Fearing that it might disappear, I snapped it as quickly as I could, so ignore the rubbish bins in the foreground!
Even on the last day, the camino path was not going to let me off lightly. There were ups and downs as we crisscrossed the main road to Santiago a couple of times, and had to climb up and down the ridges and gullies along the way. Here’s a descent and ascent in front of me. As it turned out, I didn’t actually have to climb up the road in front of me, since the path turned left at the bottom and then climbed up an equally steep path a bit further along the shoulder of the hill.
Happily, I did have the last chance to walk through some of my favourite paths, the tree-shaded lanes.
Criss-crossing the main road and going along back alleys meant that the camino path avoided the main streets. This had the disadvantage that it also avoided the bars! Not having had breakfast, I was feeling hungry. There were some bars advertised as being just 200 metres off the path, but I have learned that some of these distances are very unreliable. They are deliberately shortened to tempt the walker to diverge, but are in fact much further away. Eventually I did find a bar that was only 20 meters off the path – and I could actually see it – so I diverged and had coffee and toast to keep me going.
I had thought that the final path into Santiago would be a sweep down onto a plain. But I knew from the guide book that the city, not surprisingly, was on a hill, so the last part would be climb.
Since the stage was only 16-18kms, and since I had set out around 6.30am and had been walking steadily since then, I knew around 10.00am that I must be near. Perhaps I had one more descent to complete before the final climb to Santiago? As I was thinking this and walking down a paved street, I looked up, and there in the near distance in front of me were the spires of the Santiago Cathedral, my first glimpse of the pilgrim destination.
Zooming in, they are more apparent.
I made my way down the hill with quickened steps, crossed the bridge over the Sar’s river, and yes, you guessed it, another climb up the hill to the cathedral in the old city centre. I simply followed the street upwards, lost sight of the spires due to the other buildings, and didn’t arrive at the traditional site in front of the Cathedral (which I remedied later for the sake of the traditional photo) but arrived at the side door at the back. It was getting on to 11.00am, and there is a Pilgrim’s Mass scheduled at 12.00 noon every day, in which we had intended to participate. There were quite a few pilgrims already crowding into the Cathedral. Others were arriving with shouts of jubilation, welcomes, photos, hugs. I contacted my friends by phone. They were having coffee in a nearby square. I advised them to get to the Cathedral soon. As for myself, I went in, found the sacristy, asked to concelebrate, was asked for proof of my identity – I was able to show a “celebret” -the official letter which a bishop provides to a priest who is travelling which assures that the priest is in good standing and requests that he be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist – from Cardinal George Pell. Apart from the main celebrant, there was another Spanish priest and also another diocesan priest from the USA with a group of pilgrims from his diocese doing a bus tour to places of Catholic significance in Spain. The vestments were all decorated with the Jacobean cross.
We processed in and Mass started. There was a special welcome to all the pilgrims present. The concelebrants were introduced. I was introduced as an Australian priest-pilgrim who had walked from Granada. The Cathedral was quite full. I could not see any spare seats, and people were standing in the aisles in the centre and on either side, in the nave as well as in the transepts. I took out my camera and photographed the congregation, but then a sacristan told me that photos were not allowed (it was only then I remembered that there had been a prohibition sign to that effect), but I already had taken the photo!
I offered the Mass for family, friends, relatives and colleagues, especially those who have been keeping me in their thoughts and prayers over the past weeks when I have been walking the Camino. So if you’re reading this blog, you have been included.
During the Mass I was asked to pray part of the Eucharistic Prayer in English. I also helped distribute Holy Communion. My two friends came to me to receive Holy Communion. It was a special experience for them to be able to participate in a Pilgrim’s Mass in which I, their fellow pilgrim, had a public role. So I was very glad to have provided that experience for them in return for their many kindnesses to me over the past ten days or so since we first met along the way.
At the end of the Eucharist there was the ceremony with the incense burner, the “Botafumeiro” for which Santiago is famed. The guide book says, “It is made of silver and weights nearly 80kg, requiring a team of eight men and a system of pulleys to set it in motion …. swinging at ceiling level from one end of the transept to the other.” Here’s the men in action.
Each of the concelebrants was asked to add incense to the censer. Then the botafumiero was set in motion. Each time it swung past the vertical point, the men would pull on the ropes and hoist it higher, so that it dropped under the influence of gravity and swung even higher, until it was almost touching the ceiling at either end of the transept. You can find clips of it in action on Youtube e.g.
Apparently this incensing ceremony is not done every day. I hear it happens on Sundays, on Saturdays, and on major feast days. However, if someone makes a generous “donation”, it is done on other days of the week as well. So we were lucky to see it (I have spent the weekend here in Santiago, concelebrating the Pilgrim’s Mass every day, and have seen it three times!). It is quite impressive.
I believe the origins of the incensing were very practical, to overcome the smell emanating from a large crowd of dirty, unwashed pilgrims! Now, however, apart from the tourist value, the story is more sanctified, that it is incensing the tomb of the Apostle James and offering our prayers and intentions to God.
Here’s the botafumeiro being brought to a standstill at the end of the ceremony, so that you can get an idea of its size in comparison to the man who caught it and arrested the swinging.
Here’s the tres amigos after the Mass:
After the Mass I joined the queue to get my “Compostella“, the official recognition that I have completed the Camino. I had to present my passport and my credencials, the official document that had been stamped along the way, as evidence that I had been to the places through which I claimed to have walked. I don’t think the woman who processed mine had seen any from Granada before, as she had to go and ask how to process it, how far it was (their estimate is slightly less than mine, based on the guide books I have followed!). She also wrote it down as the Via de la Plata, but I insisted that it was the Mozarabe. The Via de la Plata was only a part of it, and even then, it was not the whole of the Via de la Plata. So now I have official documentary proof that I have completed the Camino and that I have walked 1,000kms.
It took a long time in the queue. My friends had meantime checked into a hotel. They came and informed me that my accommodation had also been arranged. They had treated themselves to a night in the Parador, a very plush hotel on the Plaza dal Obreidoiro, and had arranged a room with 3 beds so that I could be included in the treat!
It was wonderful! A long, hot shower with plenty of hot water and plenty of big, fluffy, soft towels that actually absorbed water rather than spread it around! And to sleep in a long, wide bed instead of a narrow bunk. Not to mention clean, crisp sheets instead of a paper protector or a sleeping bag.
Later I did a short walking tour of the building. It was originally a hospital for pilgrims, provided by the king, in gratitude for support by St James in defeating the Moors! The pilgrims arrived weary and wounded, having battled bandits and wild animals along the way, and the one that amused me the most, having bloody battles with other pilgrims!!! So they were in need of succour on arrival.
After some time it became a hospital, with a whole team of doctors, staff, gardeners for growing medicinal herbs for the apothecaries.
In another time, it was a foundling home or orphanage. Infants would be left at a revolving door, and when the right prayer formula was spoken, the door would revolve and the infant taken in , while the person who had made the delivery disappeared incognito. Apparently one person who grew up there and later became famous in the literary world for her melancholic poetry was the illegitimate child of a priest! Which explains the melancholy!!
Now it is a luxury hotel. It was a very kind gesture by my co-pilgrims to include me in this treat.
We had a stroll around the old city as they needed to do shopping for supplies for their continuing walk to Murxia and Finisterre. I am staying in Santiago for the weekend.
However, I did do one task. I had a haircut and a beard trim. The male Muslim pilgrim, on completion of Hajj, has his head shaved. It is a ritual sign of having completed the pilgrimage. I did not go that far! But having been on the road for 51 days, I was looking and feeling a bit wild and wooly! It didn’t matter along the way, especially as I spent most days on my own, and in the evenings I was in the company of fellow pilgrims who didn’t care about such tonsorial matters much either. But I was glad to have a trim as I rejoined civilisation!!!
We had a meal in the Parador and slept well. Next morning we had a sumptuous buffet breakfast, part of the accommodation package. It was strange to have so much food available, selection of fruits, fried eggs, bacon, sausages, selection of cold meats, salmon, range of breads, tea and coffee. They are ordinary fare in most hotels around the world, but for pilgrims at the end of the camino, it was unheralded luxury, specially considering that the day before we had no breakfast at all before setting out.
Later that morning, I said goodbye to my friends as they continued their walk and I set out to get simpler accommodation for my weekend for exploring Santiago.
I began the Camino in the name of the Holy Trinity. I conclude the Camino in the name of the Holy Trinity as well.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.