Friday, January 1, 2016

Santiago de Compostela

Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 1-2004:November 16,17, 2004
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:March 27,28, 2006
.....Camino 3-2007:March 27,28, 2007
.....Camino 4-2008:March 3,4, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:March 22, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:November 28, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:December 3,4, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:December 8,9, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:December 8,9, 2013
....Camino 10-2014:December 7,8,9, 2014



November 16,17, 2004

Up before dawn for this conclusive day I hoisted my pack and excitedly set off to cover the final 18 k. The Camino led through the woods and on country lanes. Villages appeared more frequently and grew larger. At Lavacolla the pilgrims’ world and the contemporary collided. Named for the act of washing one’s bottom, during the Middle Ages this riverside was the last cleansing place, before entry into the great city. The obligatory stop was a pilgrim rite, both physical and spiritual. Today the trail still passes the river, but both abut one runway of the international airport! Culture shock!

At Vilamaior two teenagers tended an information bureau. Noticing my bruised forehead and broken glasses they asked “how long have you been walking?” “Seven weeks exactly” I replied. Delighted, they smiled broadly, clapped hands and said “Oh, happy, happy day! You are almost there! Buen Camino!” I climbed the last hill, Monte del Gozo or Mount Joy. Across the centuries pilgrims arriving here with great happiness saw at last the cathedral towers on the horizon. Sadly what had been a verdant hillside is now a giant complex with 3000 beds for pilgrims. Quickly rushing past in search of my first view of the city I was chagrined to realize that today this eastern approach is filled with post war construction, hardly the legendary ‘city on the hill’.

The Camino followed the calle de los Concheiros (after conca or shell), rua de San Pedro and finally entered the medieval city through the Puerta del Camino. My heart beat faster as I hurried along the narrow pedestrian lanes, rua Casas Reales, rua das Animas and plaza Azabacheria (after jet jewelry craftsmen).

And there it was! The cathedral! Here I was at last! Oh happy, happy day!

Overcome with emotion I put my hand on the stone. Suddenly the giant bells began to ring; the sound was majestic. I did not enter then, but searched for the office of the Dean of the Cathedral. The assistant reviewed my Credencial with all its varied stamps representing each day’s stop on my journey, marked it with one final stamp, and issued the treasured Compostela which stated in Latin that I had devotedly completed the pilgrimage. Again I cried.

Hungry, tired and slightly overwhelmed I ate lunch and found a tiny hotel nearby. From my attic room I could see the rooftops. After a siesta I entered the cathedral through the great western portal. Slowly I walked down the dim barrel-vaulted nave towards the altar. In the central niche was the Romanesque stature of Santiago dressed as a pilgrim, gilded and inlaid with precious gems. Above this he is depicted as Matamoras, the Moor-slayer. Beneath the altar in the crypt his relics are enshrined in a splendid silver coffer.

Turning I saw the congregation assembling for evening mass. Other pilgrims whom I had met along the Camino were present; we nodded, silently smiled and gestured a euphoric thumbs up, not wanting to break the sacred silence. After mass I sat in the cathedral for a long time.

...I awoke hearing the ringing bells. Although the city is a bustling university town my morning’s sightseeing concentrated on the cathedral. The first church was begun in the 9th century; the present in the 11th. Seen from the plaza de Obradoiro, the main western facade is 18th century; it has two soaring towers and a double ramp staircase. Hidden behind this is the old Romanesque façade, known as the Portico de Gloria. Now inside the cathedral this has three arched openings and many sculpted figures. The center column is carved with a Tree of Jesse above which sits Santiago. Pilgrims traditionally touched this column in thanksgiving; now the stone is worn away.

On the opposite side of the cathedral, the eastern façade is viewed from the plaza de la Quintana. Here is the 17th century Puerta Santa or holy door. It is opened only during a Holy Year, when St James’ day, the 25th of July, occurs on a Sunday. 2004 was a Holy Year and the doorway was open.

The bells tolled for the main pilgrims’ mass at noon. The cathedral was densely crowded; the service most impressive. It concluded in a great cloud of fragrant smoke from the botafumeiro, a giant silver censer. Eight churchmen swung it in front of the altar; on a long rope sailing back and forth across the transept it nearly touched the ceiling!

.....Later after boarding the train that would carry me back across Spain to France and home, I slowly began to realize that my dream was fulfilled. The real world was returning. My Camino had become a memory, but a memory I shall treasure forever.

March 27,28, 2006

Rob, Tony, Cath and I continued. Several times the Camino crossed the highway; the traffic steadily increased. At Lavacolla we passed the riverbank where medieval pilgrims bathed before entering the city. Today this is the site of the international airport; a jet roared overhead! At Monte del Gozo, the last hill from which earlier pilgrims glimpsed the cathedral, today there is a giant camping complex. Tempora mutatur! …After 20 k in soaking rain finally the historic city with its magnificent cathedral was reached! Santiago de Compostela at last! My emotions were spinning. At the office of the Dean we presented our paper Credentials; after reviewing all the varied stamps representing each day’s stop during our journeys we were issued the treasured Compostela. Overcome I cried…. Late in the afternoon when revisiting the cathedral I sat alone in the dim light for a long time lost in thought.

It is not easy to find inexpensive accommodation in center-city Santiago. At one pension the owner said that he had an available apartment nearby. We could use it for 15 euros per head per night. Upon arrival it was clean and spacious. We four chose our beds; surprisingly during the evening others turned up to further share the space! Next morning after a delicious breakfast in a chic but inexpensive cafe I returned to the cathedral. Following the tradition of countless pilgrims I hugged the central statue of St James, which is gilded and inlaid with precious gems. After descending into the crypt to stop at the splendid silver coffer, which enshrines his relics, it was time for the pilgrim mass. Since it was Lent this would be a simple ceremony. Perhaps 15 pilgrims attended; we all sat close to the new altar. In the nave were a few other worshipers. A solitary nun sang the service; her voice rose pure and clear. All was timeless and perfect.

March 27,28, 2007

Santiago de Compostela after 7 weeks walking!! Visited the pilgrims' office and cried as I received my third precious certificate. Staying in the Libredon Barbantes hostal in a tiny attic room. It is so close to the cathedral that I can see the towers from my ceiling window as well as hear the great bells chime. Perfect! Nearby is the wonderful Cafe Casino where I always eat. After a shower I went to the cathedral to give thanks and sat silently in the dim interior for a long time...Today at noon I attended the Pilgrim Mass. It was beautifully sung by the same nun as last year. Since this is Lent it was an 'austere' service without any choir or swinging of the famous Botafumeiro censier. Again at twilight I returned to sit alone in the nave at peace.

March 3,4, 2008

As the Americans said in 1917, "Lafayette, we are here"! Polo, Peter, Rita and I walked into Santiago yesterday morning. We were all tired and deeply moved. At the Pilgrim's office in the Archbishop's palace I received my 4th Certificate with great emotion.

Then we found rooms near the cathedral. I stayed in the same little single room next to the church for 27 euros. with the luxury of a PRIVATE BATH, it is a great find. In the night the bells toll the time. I showed everyone the good little pastry shop- restaurant where I always go. We had a delicious meal for about 11 euros each.

After a fast evening visit to the cathedral to give my thanks and hug the stature of Santiago I fell into bed exhausted. This morning we all attended the noon Pilgrim mass. About 20 or so pilgrims were there. As usual the service was sung by a nun. The places from which we had begun our walks were read.

It is hard to imagine that the Camino is ending and soon we will go our separate ways. Whatever one believes, however one sees this world, it is impossible not to be touched and moved in this city and at this place. As the priests said this morning for centuries and centuries the pilgrims have been coming and shall continue to come.

March 22, 2009

Ouf! Wow! Eureka! In glorious sunshine after morning fog I arrived in Santiago yesterday! Weeping with mixed emotions I received my fifth Compostella. While checking the records the polyglot clerk smiled and whispered "See you again next year". ...May it be.

Re-entry seems difficult already! It was a jolt to suddenly hear a jet landing at Lavacolla airport while walking the last kilometers through the eucalyptus. Named for the nearby place where during the Middle Ages pilgrims washed before entering the cathedral city today time zones collide here; the hidden ghosts and weight of history within the forest versus contemporary reality on the landing strip!

I will be in Santiago for another night before continuing on to the sea at Finistera. Over the years I have always enjoyed staying at the hostal Libredon Barbantes in the shadow of the cathedral. My tiny private room in the attic with shower and toilet is a bargain at 23 euros a night. From the velux window in the roof you can see the cathedral towers. More importantly you can hear the giant bells strike the hours. I love it and feel like Quasimodo at Notre Dame. Now this is MY cathedral!

Another spot which is always a pleasure is the Cafe Casino on the rua Vilar. It has existed since 1873. They do breakfast, drinks and a very good, almost elegant, daily lunch for 10 euros. The old-fashioned decor (but with WiFi) reminds me of the Algonquin in NYC. ...Now for a siesta with bells.

November 28, 2010

Yesterday, Saturday, I walked into Santiago de Compostela finishing my 6th Camino! As always it was a day of mixed emotions, of euphoria and exhaustion. Finally arriving at the northeast corner of the great cathedral I paused weeping, placed one hand on the ancient stones and silently offered my heartfelt thanks. All was good....

All was also crowded! Down in the Praza de la Quintana crowds waited to enter the Puerta Santa, open only in Holy Years. Many, many people milled about. Surprisingly at the nearby Pilgrims' Office there was no line so the treasured Compostela or pilgrimage certificate was quickly issued. Almost staggering with fatigue I went to my favorite small hotel in the shadow of the cathedral on the Paza de Fonseca and fell asleep listening to the beloved bells.

After sleeping for over 12 hours within the delicious comfort of clean sheets, today I re-met 'old' Camino friends and we all attended the special mid-day Pilgrim Mass. It was packed so we stood shoulder to shoulder. In conclusion the great botafumero or giant censer was lit, impressively lifted and spun high above the congregation producing whirls of incense!

...Thus,today's pageantry has already become a timeless memory.

December 3,4, 2011

Saturday began by my sitting in a rural workers' cafe filled with Guardia Civil police;we were all eating breakfast. I was waiting for dawn in order to do the last 24 km to Santiago de Compostela since you can't walk through a forest in the dark no matter how determined you might be. As light arrived the police wished me Buen Camino and I started. So did the cold rain and thick fog unfortunately.

I plodded along through huge puddles, heavy mud, giant fern and groves of eucalyptus. Five hours later and very wet, but crying with joy I climbed the last hill. There was the cathedral! Santiago de Compostela at last!

As always what a shock it was to see in the narrow historic streets of the historic district all the impedimentia of mass tourism as well as so many ordinary people without backpacks! While obtaining the treasured Compostela, proof that I walked with good intentions, I met again a few other pilgrims from these last days. Common final pilgrim greetings include a hug, a high five, or both thumbs up.

Later in the evening I went to the cathedral to sit in peace and offer sincere thanks for all that has been these past eight weeks; another incredible journey of strong mixed emotions. Of course like most pilgrims I too hugged the statue of Santiago before leaving the church.

December 8, 2012

Earlier today I walked into the city and up the hill to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela thus completing my 8th Camino Frances! After hiking at least 5 hours daily for 53 days while always carrying my fully loaded backpack, I am sincerely thankful that I made it!!

Weary but thrilled, I feel as if I have been rehewn during this pilgrimage. My bones may be the same but much else seems configured differently from how I set out eight weeks ago at Saint Jean Pied de Port. As always I have relearned which qualities are most important - caritas, sincerity, tenacity, endurance and, of course, enjoying serendipity.

All of us who walk here whatever our reasons or beliefs must share similar quickened emotions upon arrival. The weight of history is so great with the accumulated layers of centuries, both visible and invisible. One can see much and also feel or imagine even more such as hoards of past pilgrims following the same timeless route towards the cathedral.

When at last I arrived it was at a simple northeast corner and not one of major entrances to the cathedral. I put my hand on the ancient stone wall, offered silent thanks for all that has been which enabled this and wept.

December 8, 2013

Dawn was frigid this morning; frozen vegetation lining the camino path sparkled like crystal as the sun rose. It was a perfect winter morning for walking the last 20k into Santiago de Compostela and up the hill to the cathedral.

Thus, my 9th Camino Frances is now complete after walking for two months! Ouf! Weary but thrilled I am sincerely thankful that I made it!! My bones may be the same but much else seems configured differently from how I set out from Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Tonight my emotions are a complex mix of euphoria and sadness. When at last I arrived this afternoon it was at the simple northeast corner. As always I put my hand on the ancient stone wall and weeping offered silent thanks for all that has been which enabled my camino. I then entered and sat quietly pondering within the great silent nave.

December 7, 2014

My 10th camino came to its end as I walked the last 20 k through the wood and up the timeless hill to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Ouf! Happily the light lasted and after 56 days of walking always carrying my full pack I arrived weary yet thrilled and sincerely thankful to be here at last!!

For me as always this has actually been three concurrent journeys - looking back into historic time at the cultural heritage along this beloved pilgrimage route, traversing on foot contemporary northern Spain east to west, and a deeper discovery of myself. Walking alone required constant adaptation to changing weather and varied terrain while at times overcoming irrational (?) fears of crossing high bridges or descending slippery scree as I have relearned the importance of personal tenacity and endurance. Those long slogs up the Ibaneta pass or into the cities of Burgos and Leon seemed endless. However I did arrive pooped, but walking upright and always carrying my full pack.

On a happier note serendipity has brought much daily joy such as the magic of sunlight within a silent wood or the joy of meeting old friends and making new along the way. Most importantly I have relearned the necessity for sincerity in all our interactions and been privileged to experience the overwhelming power of true caritas, that special spirit of unconditional selfless love towards others as offered by some to many along the camino.

I loved it all! As time goes by and takes its toll may I always remember these precious days. Wherever I might be I shall forever 'wear' a pilgrim shell and 'search for arrows' marking the path ahead....


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