The End of the Camino de Santiago

Tuesday, July 25 –

This morning we walked to San Cristóbal Station and took the train to Santiago de Compostela. The train covered the 45 miles in about 40 minutes.

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Santiago is the capital of Galicia, which is an autonomous region of Spain. Santiago means Saint James in the Gallego language. Since the 9th century, the city’s cathedral has been of the top Catholic pilgrimage routes. The spectacular and historic cathedral on the main plaza of the old town is said to contain the remains of the apostle James, which were brought to Galicia for burial. In the early Middle Ages, Galicia was one of the few Christian strongholds in northern Spain during the Christian crusades against the Moors. Over time, the pilgrimages boosted visitors and the economies of the small kingdoms. Starting at the Romanesque structure with its later Gothic and Baroque additions, it was not to hard to transport yourself back in time to the Middle Ages.

My brother had written a research paper for a special studies course on the Camino de Santiago, pilgrimage trail that extends to France and well into northern Europe. We saw a lot of peregrinos (pilgrims) and toured the famous and majestic cathedral. My brother went to the central pillar inside that is known as the Tree of Jesse, and is topped with a seated figure of a benign St James, carrying a pilgrim’s staff and a scroll which reads “The Lord Sent Me”. For almost 1,000 years, peregrinos have placed the fingers of their right hand into five indentations worn in the marble of this pillar, and said a silent prayer of thanks, or five Hail Marys for their safe arrival. My brother did the ritual!

Then we went down to the crypt, below the main altar, where we could see remains of the 9th-century church. This was the final destination of the pilgrims and the crypt houses the relics of Saint James and two of his disciples, Saint Theodorus and Saint Athanasius.

Lastly, we gazed at the amazing dome that contains a pulley that swings the Botafumeiro, a famous censer of gold that weight 80 kg and is almost 5 feet tall. During religious holidays, it is filled with more than 80 pounds of charcoal and incense. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour. Apparently the incense hid the stench of the hundreds of pilgrims who hadn’t showered during the pilgrimages back in the day!

Afterwards we explored around the town, whose streets shined following a rain shower. We bough some some traditional conchas, or shells, that pilgrims traditionally wore. After pilgrims attended the Pilgrims’ Mass, they received their compostela certificates which certified their completion of the pilgrimage. Then they would buy a metal badge shaped like a scallop shell from dealers in the square. On presenting their compostela, they would be receive three nights free board and lodging. Santiago is nice, but people aren’t quite as charitable today!

We ate some Galician seafood for dinner and had some McDonalds ice cream cones (great bargain for 5 cents and wildly popular) before going back to the hotel. We planned to get up in the morning and attend the mass for Saint James, but when we saw the replay of services on Galician television, we realized it had been earlier today!

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