SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELLA

I have spent the past two days in Santiago de Compostella, making a full weekend visit to mark the end of my 1,000km walk along the Camino Mozarabe. I have been a pilgrim doing pilgrim rituals and fulfilling intentions, a tourist visiting museums, and a bon viveur!

Need I mention again what a wonderful breakfast we had in the Parador? That had me off to a good start. I decided it was my lunch too, and did not eat again until that night.

Having farewelled my friends, I had booked accommodation in a hotel a few hundred metres from the Cathedral, very basic in contrast to the treat of the Parador but more than adequate for my needs. First I transferred my backpack there so I would be free to explore the city unencumbered.

On the way I passed the front entrance to the Cathedral. The centre of the Plaza Obreidero is the point where pilgrims traditionally arrive to be overwhelmed by the impressive facade of the Cathedral. Currently it is undergoing restoration which impairs the look. However, you can still get an idea of how grand it is.

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Even though I had arrived at another door of the Cathedral the day before, I also had my picture taken standing in the centre of the Plaza as if I had just arrived. Unfortunately, the overindulgent sumptuous breakfast is filling out my otherwise slightly more svelte pilgrim appearance!! Or is it the waist band of my backpack is clinched very tightly and distorting my proportions!? And my hair and beard have been trimmed, so I am not as venerable-looking a pilgrim as when I actually arrived!!

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During the day, I spent quite a bit of time in the Cathedral, concelebrating Mass, fulfilling pilgrim rituals and other intentions, and being a tourist. So here’s a bit of a pictorial overview.

There is a statue of a seated St James at the front entrance.

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There is another statue of a seated St James as the centrepiece behind the main altar and behind the Cathedral choir seats. He is surrounded by gilded carving. Here’s a long distance shot along the nave of the Cathedral. You can see St James presiding in the centre (bottom centre), with the roof of the nave and sanctuary soaring to the heights above.

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Here’s a closer up view of the statue. Part of the pilgrim ritual is that the pilgrim climbs some steps behind the main altar, behind the statue of St James, and reaches around to give the figure a hug. Apparently people along the way may also ask the pilgrim to give St James a hug for them too! As you are sitting in the nave of the church, you can sometimes see figures moving behind the screen, and hands and arms reaching around to give the statue a hug.

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Underneath the above-mentioned statue and below the level of the sanctuary with the main altar and choir is a crypt.

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The crypt contains a large, silver urn, which is said to contain the relics of St James the Apostle. So it is referred to as the tomb of the Apostle James.

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There are many chapels, some along the nave, but most around the left hand transept and around the back of the sanctuary. One of the chapels in the transept is dedicated to St James Matamoros (Moor Slayer!!).

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I noticed in a guide book reference to the consecration of the Cathedral, and the 12 points where the building was dedicated. Here’s one of them, the one above the inside of the Holy Door. It shows the sun and the moon in the top quadrants, for there will be no night/day in the eternal city, for The Lord will shine on God’s people; in the bottom quadrants are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, titles of Christ (used in the Easter ceremony in the blessing of the Paschal Candle).

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Here’s the outside of the Holy Door, opened in Jubilee Years for special indulgences. The carved figures around about are the saints, apostles and prophets of old. Again, St James presides over them all.

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As I have seen and followed since Granada, one of the traditional signs for St James as Pilgrim is the scallop shell. It is used for marking the camino path. It is used on statues of St James, Pilgrim. It is used to identify pilgrims. It is used to decorate churches which have Jacobean significance. So naturally, it is also found as decoration and motif in the Cathedral of Santiago, on the walls, carved into the furniture, on statues, in paintings. Here is one on the outside wall.

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I also found brass scallop shells on the roadway, which I think are the camino markers for the approach to the Cathedral for pilgrims who have been following the Camino Frances (French Camino).

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For more information on the Cathedral, here’s the Spanish website of the Cathedral: http://www.catedraldesantiago.es

Here’s the Wikipedia entry in English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela_Cathedral

PILGRIMAGE RITUALS

I had concelebrated the midday Pilgrim’s Mass on the Friday of my arrival. I concelebrated the midday Pilgrim’s Mass on the Saturday as well. On the Sunday, I concelebrated the 10.30 Pilgrim’s Mass for English speakers. The principal celebrant was an Irish diocesan priest from Cork. He had volunteered to offer English Masses and Confessions at the Cathedral for the month of May. Then, since the Cathedral was packed, as much to get a seat as out of piety, I concelebrated the midday Pilgrim’s Mass as well. Incidentally, at each of the midday Pilgrim’s Masses I saw the botafumeiro ritual.

At the end of the Mass for English-speaking pilgrims, there was a Santiago Pilgrims’ Blessing:

Father God we ask your blessing on these pilgrims
who have come to venerate the tomb of your Apostle Santiago.
As you kept them safe on their Camino way,
may you keep them safe on their journey home.
And, inspired by their experience here,
may they live out the values of the Gospel
as their pilgrimage of life continues.
We ask Saint James to intercede for us
as we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Redeemer.
Amen.

During all these Masses, I remembered family, relatives, friends and colleagues, especially those who had supported, encouraged and prayed for me during the camino walk. I have been very touched by the number of messages of congratulations I received on completing the walk, by e-mail, phone, WordPress and on Facebook (a combined total of over 80 likes and 30 comments on the photo and location). I have been very moved by the comments especially, such as “inspirational”, “amazing achievement”, “impressed”, “felicidades”, “congratulations”, “well done”, “unbelievable” and so on. They helped me to realise the enormity of the task I had completed, walking 1,000kms. I would have been skeptical myself about being able to complete it, given my unlikely provenance for such a task – never inclined much to sport, averse to physical exercise, desk-bound, overweight (the only consolation I had was that thousands had done it before me, older, younger, fatter, fitter, experienced walkers, novice walkers, and if they had done it, especially the older, fatter, novice walkers, then so could I, if only I paced myself, which I learned the hard way). But despite all these prior misgivings, I had done it! I had achieved what I had set out to do. Unlikely pilgrim though i was, I had completed the Camino Mozarabe, one of the longest and hardest of the camino paths. Again, I was caught up in deep emotion, of thanks, and shed more tears.

As well as the remote support and encouragement from family, friends, colleagues and others from abroad, I was also mindful of the more immediate support and encouragement received along the way, of the “angels” that God sent just at the right time, people to point out the right direction, to assist, to provide food and water, and of the kindnesses shown by fellow pilgrims. So for this too, I was very grateful, and offered prayers of thanks with tears.

Since the opportunity was present, I also availed of the sacrament of reconciliation. Not that one is able to do too many sins while walking for several hours every day, and too tired at the end of the day to do anything about it, except maybe in thought! However, reconciliation is an appropriate pilgrim ritual too, and I was happy to avail of the sacrament, to give thanks, to ask continued forgiveness and healing in my life and continued blessing for my life and ministry into the future.

PERSONAL PILGRIMAGE RITUAL

Finally, as a personal pilgrimage symbol, on the Camino I have been carrying in my wallet five small stones from Australia. I would like to share how I collected those stones and what they represented.

1. One stone was given to me by my brother John. When I visited home for Christmas and New Year I asked him to give me a small stone to carry with me. He and Deirdre gave me a pebble from the driveway of their home. The last words I said to him then were, “We are both going on different journeys. Let us journey together, and let us carry each other over the rough parts.”

A couple of Christmases ago, when I first mentioned that I was hoping to do the Camino in Spain in May 2014, there was some talk of John and Deirdre being in Spain around the same time. It was suggested that while Deirdre was doing a short course in Jesuit spirituality, John might join me for some days walking the camino path, after which they would have a holiday together. I looked forward to this possibility. However, his illness put an end to any such plan.

When I was walking the camino path, I remembered John often. The time and space of the walk were a providential part of my grieving. I remembered in particular his and Deirdre’s visit to Pakistan in 1999, memories of which I had revived during my visit earlier this year. I remembered also the trips we took together on a couple of occasions when I was home in Australia on holiday from Pakistan. One time he and I and Lucy and Peter went to Uluru and Alice Springs (and yes, we ran out of petrol on the road, because the gate to the camp site where the petrol station was located was closed for the evening, so we had to drive on, and ran out!). Another time John took me in the farm ute to the Head of the Bight on the South Australian/Western Australian border, to see the whales, visiting relatives on the way there and back. On those occasions, we sometimes chatted as we went along, about family, friends, events, but nothing too personal (we are, after all, McInerney men of our generation, shaped by our family history!). But at other times, we travelled in companionable silence, listening to the radio, or simply comfortable at being together without having to say anything.

When I was travelling on the bus from Salamanca, in May 2014, which, had things been otherwise, may have been about the time that John and I might have been walking together, I thought of him, especially in terms of him yet again taking me on a trip, giving me a lift, giving me a ride, as he had done on those previous occasions I imagined him sitting next to me in the bus. In my imagination, he was smiling. He did not say anything. As usual, we travelled in companionable silence.

I imagined that he was grateful for the support and prayers that I had offered for him during my recent travels, relayed in frequent e-mails, which was my attempt to fulfil my promise of “helping him over the rough parts” on his journey. I imagined that he was also grateful for the words of tribute that I paid to him and the way that I had conducted his funeral Mass, and that he was deeply touched by the great crowd of family, friends, relatives and others who came to his funeral to pay their respects and to offer sympathies to the family.

I imagined that he was also glad to be doing his part in “helping me over the rough parts”, by giving me this ride on the bus, by taking some days off from my walking (on what was reputed to be a rather tough part of the path, walking across a plain along the shoulder of a highway with traffic whizzing by at great speed buffeting the pilgrim walkers), by reducing the time I would have to spend on the path so that I could get on with other commitments.

I was glad and grateful to him for his goodness, exemplified in so many ways in his life, as son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, friend and neighbour. I shed tears of grief and gladness, then, and again in Santiago.

2. Another small stone is from the garden of the farm homestead in which I grew up. It represents my immediate family, my parents, my siblings and their spouses/partner, my childhood, the years of growing up on the farm, my education at Manoora and in Adelaide. It was given to me by my nephew, Peter, so in that sense it also represents his generation, all my nephews and nieces and their spouses/partners and children.

3. On the morning I left my hometown on January 10th this year I visited my parents’ grave in the local Catholic cemetery. There was one pebble on top of the slab on the grave, so I added that to my collection, to represent them in a particular, personal way.

4. The day before I left Sydney in late January, I took a pebble from the driveway of the Columban house where I live. It represents my Columban life, my years of formation in North Turramurra in the 70’s, the more than twenty years that I was assigned to Pakistan from the late 70’s till the year 2000, and the 14 years since then that I have been assigned to the Columban Region of Australia and New Zealand, in particular, my work and colleagues in the Columban Mission Institute.

5. The fifth and final stone I collected on the day I again left my home town on 29th of March, a week after my brother’s funeral. I visited the Catholic cemetery and picked a pebble from the mound of earth that was his grave. Like the first stone above, it represents him in a special way. But it is also different. His journey on this earth, his pilgrimage, has been completed. We trust he is with God. So the fifth and final stone represents my hope for his eternal rest. And of course, besides John, it also represents Deirdre and their children and grandchildren, those who grieve his loss most intensely. May our shared faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope for a future re-union in heaven be a source of consolation and peace.

Here in the palm of my hand are the five small stones from Australia I carried with me on the Camino:

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During my stay in Santiago, I was able to fulfil my personal pilgrimage intentions in their regard. I had wanted to place them in some significant place. Having surveyed the Cathedral, I made a second visit to hug the statue of the Apostle James seated in the centre of the sanctuary, where I touched the stones to the cape on the shoulders of the statue. Then I continued on down to the crypt, where I scattered the stones in front of the urn said to contain the relics of the Apostle James. There were already some other small offerings there, a ribbon, a rosary, some stones, a photo, some pieces of paper with prayer petitions – and now these five pebbles from Australia.

I am sure the pebbles will soon be swept up and thrown out. But that does not matter. The stones do not matter. I carried them in my pocket. What matters is what the stones represent, my family, my parents, my siblings, my brother, my relatives, friends and colleagues, whom I have carried in my mind and heart and prayers. The stones I have presented before what is considered the tomb of the Apostle James, so symbolically, the many and various people they represent have been entrusted to God, and in Him, through Him, and with Him, will continue to be a part of my life, carried still in my mind and heart and prayers.

Fulfilling this personal pilgrim intention was a special moment for me, and brought more tears.

TOURIST

Although I did spend a lot of time in the Cathedral doing all the above rituals, over the weekend I also had time to explore a little bit of the old city.

I visited the Pilgrim’s Museum, which explained the history of the development of the city and of the cathedral in conjunction with local and national ecclesiastical and political interests.

I also visited the Museum of Santiago and the Pilgrimages. This showed different pilgrim routes throughout Europe, as well as pilgrimage in other nations and religions.

It had rooms devoted to the Camino of Santiago de Compostella, its origins, development and purposes, the legends which underpin it (based very loosely on fragments of historical record from centuries after the apostolic age had ended), and on which the whole superstructure has been created with great imagination to local and national ecclesial and political benefit.

Iconic Photo of St James and St John

Iconic Photo of St James and St John

It also had a room on the various roles attributed to the Apostle James, as Evangeliser of Spain, as Pilgrim, and as Matamoros (Moor Slayer).

Santiago, Pilgrim

Santiago, Pilgrim

On Saturday evening, I had dinner at the O Bispo Tapas Bar, recommended by James (very tasty, but several tapas to quell a day long fast became expensive!).

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On Sunday, having spent the morning in the Cathedral completing the above pilgrim rituals, and having had a late brunch in a pilgrim restaurant (menu of the day – 9 Euro), in the afternoon – it was raining again – I visited a former Benedictine monastery which was dedicated to St Martin, now a museum.

Throughout the day, I occasionally met pilgrims with whom I had travelled earlier in the Camino. We met as long lost friends! With mutual congratulations for having completed the Camino.

A final view late in the afternoon after the rain had cleared of the Cathedral presiding over the old (and new) city of Santiago.

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A quick bite in the evening and I went to bed. The next day I will travel by bus to Finisterre.

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