On this day, we remember our first time reaching Santiago de Compostela. It was a special day. I remember it fondly. Here's a letter home to my mom from that day in 2013.
Today is May 22, 2013 and Kim and I reached the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela around 1:00 pm. 19 km on the day and we walked into town with a brisk pace under gloriously blue skies. We parted company with Bernard this morning, but not until we'd shared breakfast and 5 km of walking together. It almost seemed that he didn't want us to go. ...
We crested the hill just before SDC around noon. It took a good hour to traverse the city streets, pass the modern buildings, and dodge gnarled traffic.
You know when you've made it to the old town. The streets narrow. Pavement exchanges itself for centuries old cobbles. Buildings no longer present with steel and glass, rather stone and brick, mostly stone ... Very old stone.
After rounding a few blind corners, the weary pilgrim limps down a steep cobbled path, through the Porta de Perigrino's and finds himself, after the bagpipes and beggars, starring up at the most magnificent facade, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
What started as a humble tomb, has morphed and grown into one of Europe's most amazing cathedrals. It is ... well ... just stunning. I can't even begin to put it into words. We strolled, limping, gazing, mouth-breathing into the center of the main Plaza. We dropped packs, hugged, and sat and stared. A young Aussie gal, who walked the last five km with us, sat beside and started to cry, which apparently is contagious.
Once we settled in and steadied the flow of tears, Paul (a guy from Gibraltar, with whom we've shared many a night, drink, meal, and song) walked up, arms wide ... Hugs, tears, love all around. Then the couple from Arizona. The guy from Italy. The girl from Korea. Mike. Mat. Karry. Sarah. All these people we'd met, passed, been passed by, and walked with ... Hugs, tears, love all around.
Bernard should get here day after tomorrow, which works for us because we need another day of rest before attempting the three more days it takes to reach the sea at Finisterre. We plan to attend the pilgrims mass tomorrow, maybe buy some jeans, a clean shirt (?).
We're still unsure about Finisterre, we'll get there, it's just a question of how. We've just walked 800km, so the distance doesn't frighten us. Our next couple of weeks include a little bit of travel around Spain and Europe, so the bus may convey us to the sea. Who knows?
It's now Thursday evening, 9:30 our time. We've spent the entire day in Santiago de Compostela. We ran into Karry and Sarah, our Aussie walking companions at breakfast. They struck out for Finesterre directly after breakfast. I asked Kim if she'd be willing to get to the cathedral early to make sure we had seats for mass. We got there so early that we were privileged to celebrate the Eucharist with a small cadre of locals. We then waited two hours for the daily pilgrims mass to start.
The entire church was packed. Wall to wall pilgrims, tourists, believers, skeptics, people who started the pilgrimage a mere 100km back, just enough to be issued the Compostela, people who walked from Rome, Russia, etc. etc... Bus loads of Japanese, Americans, Spanish... Guided tours, all wearing headsets...
It was packed, the pilgrims all have a look of ... Tired, worn, exhausted, elated. They also stand apart because most of them (us) smell like the ass end of a locker-bound sweat suit. The cathedral was abuzz with chatter, muted conversation, hushed whispers, and outright shouting matches until ...
Her voice did not match her look. Frumpy old nun, worn habit, furrowed brow. But that voice, the voice of an angel, soared upward, silencing the crowd. Dead, still, silence.
The service was amazing. Every pilgrim's home country is announced, the homily is given specifically for pilgrims who have walked. The crowd is invited, cordially, to participate, but the pilgrims are celebrated.
There's a tradition in Santiago de Compostela of swinging a huge botafumeiro filled with burning incense. This near 200 lb censer is usually on display in the library of the cathedral. However, on special occasions it is brought to the cathedral floor and swung across the transept of the sanctuary. We heard several people tell about the swinging incense last weekend during the ordination of a new bishop.
So, we were completely surprised and thrilled when, at the end of our pilgrims mass, a small group of priests unleashed the ropes and filled the botafumeiro with incense and began to hoist it higher and higher. The pendulous arc of the swinging censer dispenses smoke and the sweet smell of incense (and not a small amount of burning embers) throughout the hall. We sat in the transept (stage right) and watched in awe as it swung directly overhead, almost close enough to touch.
I will likely never have words to aptly describe the feeling.
Tomorrow we strike out towards the sea.
We love you and miss you.
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