After spending the weekend doing pilgrim rituals and exploring Santiago as described in the previous post, this morning I set off for Finisterre. Mindful that time is running out, I did not walk the 89kms, which would take 3-4 days, but caught the bus which took less than three hours! I arranged to leave my backpack at the hotel where I was staying in Santiago and took with me in a small day pack only the essentials I needed for an overnight stay, but including the wet weather gear in case it poured rain. I will return to Santiago tomorrow to stay overnight and then fly out the following morning. It was great not to be encumbered with the weight of the backpack!
It was grey and overcast, but I didn’t mind. I was sheltered from the weather on the bus! Let it pour! The route seemed to go more or less directly west to the coast, as the sea came into sight within an hour or so. Then we made our way north, wending our way in and out of various bays and inlets along the coast, until we arrived at Cape Finisterre. The name derives from the Latin “finis terrae” and literally means “the end of the earth”, beyond which is the Atlantic Ocean. It is considered to be the Western-most point of Spain. There is actually a more Westerly point on the coast of Portugal, making that the most Western point of the European continent.
Some pilgrims walk the way from Santiago to Finisterre, as Finisterre is considered symbolically the end of the Camino. The way is similarly marked by yellow arrows and involves quite a bit of up and down. The terrain looked quite demanding.
The Cape is basically two hills. The town of Finisterre nestles in the valley between the two hills on the sheltered eastern side of the Cape. As we neared the town, I could see pilgrims walking the last few kilometres beside the road. The camino path must have come more or less directly overland from Santiago, while the road had gone directly to the coast and then turned northwards. As a fellow pilgrim, I hoped for their sakes that the weather would remain clear.
After a couple of less than successful attempts, I found a hotel that suited my needs, centrally located, wifi, bed and bath. No more shared dormitories and shared bathrooms! And wifi is necessary for updating the blog.
Having settled in, I set out for the “faro” (lighthouse) at the end of the cape, a further three kilometres beyond the town. It was strange walking without backpack and walking poles!
About halfway from the town to the end of the cape there is a bronze statue alongside the road of a pilgrim leaning forwards towards the final destination. It is quite a dramatic figure, suggesting forward thrusting movement, perhaps leaning into a headwind, pushing his way to the final destination.
Here’s another view, this time showing part of the southern side of the Cape, with the tip of the Cape just beyond the horizon, towards which the pilgrim is leaning. The lighthouse can be seen poking up as if it is just over a third of the way up the hill, although it is actually near the very end of the cape a further kilometre away.
A striking resemblance, wouldn’t you say!?!?!
Continuing along the road, I came across the penultimate granite camino cairn. I have been following these markers for 1,000kms over the last 7 weeks, or rather, they have been guiding me. I will miss them and the direction and confidence that they give. I will also miss the verdant greenery, of Galicia especially, an example of which surrounds this particular marker.
Following the road as directed by the penultimate marker, a further kilometre along I came to the ultimate and final marker. It shows zero (0) kilometres! It is literally the end of the road, the end of the camino, the end of the earth! The following photo mimics a similar photo which features my brother, James, standing in the same pose on the same spot a couple of years ago. The lighthouse can be seen to the right in the background behind my left shoulder.
As at many points along the way, so also at the end of the way, there is a tall, granite cross. Again, what moved the people to sign their land with the sign of the cross? Was it great suffering? Was it Christian triumphalism? Or is it simply an expression of Christian faith, an inculturation of the faith which motivated peoples’ lives, by which the people of this land lived, breathed, worked, raised families, prayed, played, loved and died?
A short distance further along the road from the cross and the ultimate marker was the lighthouse. This section of the coast is known as the Costa da Morte, the “Death Coast”, because of many shipwrecks in times past. And even in recent times, people have lost their footing on the slippery rocks on the cape and plunged to their deaths. So the lighthouse performs a vital function. On clear days, its light can be seen 30kms out to sea.
Beyond the lighthouse is the rocky tip of the cape, a rounded point which then plunges down to sea level. Pilgrims and other visitors walk out and down as far as they dare.
On one of the rocks is a small bronze statue of a single boot, perhaps a further symbol of the end of the pilgrim path (though one guide book says there is a pair of broken boots “in memory of a pilgrim who drowned here in the late 1990s”).
A little bit further one was another small cross. Here and there in the crevasses of the rocks there are places where fires have been lit. It was a tradition that at the end of the pilgrimage, the pilgrim would burn his boots, clothes and staff as a symbol of the end of the old way of life and the beginning of a new life. Apparently, there was even a designated fire place for this purpose. However, it seems the practice has been discouraged. That fireplace has been dismantled. But some pilgrims persist in burning something. They avail of natural crevasses in the rocks to burn an item of clothing, a wooden walking staff, or something more symbolic, a piece of paper perhaps, with memories, or resolutions, or sins repented. Scattered around the cape I found such fireplaces, with charred remnants of clothing, or pack, or stick, or shoes. Here’s one such place beside the cross.
Going a little bit further out towards the edge, the cape drops off to the sea. Pilgrims and visitors walk and sit on the rocks along the shoulder, looking out to sea, looking down to the waves crashing on the rocks.
Today I had the forethought of picking up something to eat before I left the town of Finisterre, so now I sat down to enjoy a picnic lunch (a very rare occurrence over the past 7 weeks) at the tip of Cape Finisterre, looking out West over the Atlantic Ocean. I had a bread roll with ham and cheese and some peach juice. The pilgrim is looking very contented, both with the picnic lunch, and with having arrived at this point, at having completed the Camino.
After finishing my picnic lunch I spent quite some time just sitting there on a rock on the tip of the cape, looking out to the sea, looking around me at fellow pilgrims (some familiar faces among them), thinking, reflecting, remembering people and moments along the way, being grateful, remembering and being grateful for the support and prayers of family, friends, colleagues and others, being grateful for having arrived at this point, remembering the events and people of this day 36 years ago (but more on that later).
And sometimes my mind just drifted while I simply enjoyed being there, watching the fishing boats ploughing through the water, the sea gulls gliding on the breeze, the play of the sun on the water.
Many pilgrims posed for photos with one another, or if alone, asked someone to take their photo. I obliged whenever asked, and sometimes even offered before being asked, as I understood what it was like when you wanted to be in a photograph but there was no one to take the shot! And I did the same too. I asked people to take my photo, so I have photographic evidence of my standing “at the end of the earth”!!! Here’s one such photo:
I think of this photo as my “Toyota moment”! You know the ad on TV for the Toyota vehicle, at the end of which the driver leaps in the air to the sound and text of “Oh, What a Feeling!!”. Well, that’s me in this photo, my feeling a “Toyota moment”!!!
But I should perhaps explain that at the end of the earth there is a very strong pull of gravity so that my “leap” did not reach the heights that you see on the TV ad, but kept my feet firmly on the solid rock. Besides, I did not want to risk leaping high and being caught up in a gust of wind and swept off the cape and into the sea!!!
Having spent well over an hour on the tip of the cape it was time to return to the town. So I made yet another ascent, the last and final one, this time back up the shoulder of the tip of the cape to the level of the lighthouse. So my camino had me climbing right up to the very end of the final day at Finisterre, at the end of the earth.
As I was heading down the road, I realised I was not wearing my hat. It was not in my hand or in my pack. I realised I must have left it where I put it down to be photographed on my way past the zero kilometre cairn. I hastened back to the spot, but it was not in sight. I feared that someone might have considered it an item discarded by a pilgrim and therefore fair game. They might have tossed it further over the side of the hill. I peered down the slope but could not see my hat sitting on top of the grass and bushes further down. They might have considered it for burning. I hoped not! I hoped they would at least use it and get as much benefit from it as I had.
I was very sad to have lost my hat. I had good use from it int the past seven weeks. And I had anticipated that it would be very useful to me in the hot sunny clime in Jerusalem in the coming weeks. So I was doubly sad to lost it. Was it my unintentional symbolic “offering” at the end of my Camino?
However, in some ways, it was only just. I have been forgetful in regard to my hat. Once I left it on a rural bus from which I alighted, and only realised it when a fellow passenger called out to me saying “sombrero!!!” Another time I left it in a restaurant after lunch and didn’t realise it till the waitress came out and caught me just as I was crossing the road and returned my hat to me. I lost it a third time when construction workers gave me a lift and I transferred from one vehicle to another. I left it on the back seat of their dual cab ute and it was the driver who noticed it and returned it to me just before we took off in the other vehicle. So maybe the hat did deserve a more careful owner!
Still, since it was only moments earlier that I had left/lost it, I decided to have a good try at finding it. I asked a couple of people standing by but no one had seen it. Then I decided to head back down the tip of the cape, hoping perhaps to see it in someone’s hand and claim it, hoping that it was not on a pyre. I did not see it, neither in anyone’s hand nor on anyone’s head. Neither did I find any charred remains!!
I even climbed down to where I had been sitting, sure that I had not left it there, but just on the off chance, and again no luck. Then I climbed back up the hill again – this time definitely my last and final ascent!! – tracing my path as best I could remember. My hat was nowhere to be seen.
After reaching the lighthouse, rather than simply walking back up along the same road, I had walked around the other side of the hill, looking out to the different view on northern side of the cape, and following a path behind a restaurant, ending up in the terrace overlooking the lighthouse. Might I have dropped it along that way. I don’t think so. I was sure I must have left it by the zero kilometre cairn when I was being photographed. But I retraced those steps forlornly anyway without much hope. To my surprise, my hat was near the wall of the terrace, where I had stopped to take a photograph of the lighthouse which I posted above. I was very glad to have found it. My guardian angels continue to be busy on my behalf. To give them some respite, I put the hat inside my pack to make sure that I would not lose it again that day!!!! Then I made my way happily back to the town of Finisterre.
When I reached the town, I fulfilled another small intention. I had thought I might take a symbolic dip in the Atlantic Ocean, a sort of baptismal/washing symbol at the conclusion of the Camino, representing the old self being washed away and a new birth, a new beginning, but the weather was too cold!! And besides, I had nothing else to wear but the clothes I was wearing, and I wasn’t going skinny dipping! I didn’t even want to take my boots and socks off and paddle barefoot in the water, because I would then get sand in them which would be most uncomfortable and I did not have any other socks with me. So I went and stood at the very edge of the water and allowed the wave to wash around me. So here I am standing in the Atlantic Ocean at Finisterre, at the end of the earth!!
I mentioned above events on this day 36 years ago. Thirty-six years ago on this day I was ordained a priest in St Aloysius Church, Sevenhill. As a Columban, I was not ordained for the diocese, but I was ordained to the title of “mission“, which is the specific charism or grace or concern of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban of which I am a member.
In the New Testament there are some great missionary texts, such as the following:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47)
So being sent on mission is to carry out the task of bringing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ “to the ends of the earth”. And here I am in Finisterre, the “end of the earth”, on the anniversary of my ordination to mission. Very appropriate!! I confess that I had weeks before seen and anticipated this confluence of events which resulted from my travel commitments, so I had planned to be in Finisterre on this anniversary.
Having been ordained on mission “to the ends of the earth”, and today having arrived at Finisterre, “the end the of the earth”, I think I can claim that I have fulfilled my mandate so can now retire!!!!
Actually, while today I stand at the Spanish/European continent western “end of the earth” many years ago, I was also at the New Testament eastern “end of the earth”. In both 1984 and 1985 I spent two summer months in the Yemen Arabic Republic doing what priests call a “supply”, what doctors call a “locum”, i.e. filling in for another priest, providing Masses for the expatriate Catholic community who lived in that country. Here’s what the New Testament says about the Yemen.
“The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!” (Luke 11:31, parallel in Matthew 12:42).
So since I was ordained to mission “to the ends of the earth”, and since I have been to both the New Testament eastern (i.e. Yemen) and the western (i.e Finisterre) “ends of the earth”, surely there is double reason for me to retire!!!
It was appropriate to celebrate this significant event in a meaningful way, personal, liturgical and gustatorial. During the time in the afternoon that I had spent on the tip of Cape Finisterre I had remembered the many people who had attended my ordination 36 years ago, quite a few of whom have since died. I remembered the people who have prayed for me daily over the years. I remembered the many people who have called forth my ministry. I remembered the priests who have ministered to me. I remembered my years of priestly-missionary service in Pakistan, Rome, Australia and other countries. I remembered with gratitude the extraordinary privilege it is to be called to ministerial priesthood.
That evening in Finisterre, as I had done on a couple of other occasions on my pilgrim journey over the past weeks, in the absence of the formal liturgical items, I went to a restaurant, asked for some bread and a glass of red wine, a plate and a glass of water. Then I found a quiet table in the corner and celebrated a Eucharist of Thanksgiving for the gift of ministerial priesthood which was conferred on me 36 years ago, conforming me to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, offering it for all the many people remembered above, who have helped call and form me into priesthood in Christ Jesus. Although I was alone and physically without a congregation (I had not found anyone among the pilgrims to Finisterre whom I knew), my heart and mind were filled with a vast throng of the living and the dead who joined me in that Eucharistic celebration. It was a special moment of grace, a fitting end to my Camino, and celebrated most fittingly in Finisterre, the end of the earth.
Then I had a celebratory meal – grilled prawns in garlic sauce, grilled hake, whisky tart, washed down with Alvariño wine and ending with cafe con leche (milk coffee).
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.