My primary motivation in writing the 53-part reflection on walking the Camino in 2013 was to assemble the “chapters” into a book to gift to our 9 grandchildren. This is the sixth such volume I have created to share our life experiences with then.
The book, “The Way, Our Way”, has now been electronically assembled, lacking only an “Introduction” before sending it off to the printer. 280 pages in all and measuring 12”x12”, it is a project that I am proud to give them. We hope that in time the grandchildren (or great-grandchildren!) may find the words and images inspiring.
Since I have shared the 53 “chapters” with you readers, I thought it appropriate that I also share my “Introduction”:
“The Butterfly Effect”
Conventional wisdom holds that the keys to a life well lived are focus and dedicated effort toward a goal. I believe that to be true, but only in part. Life is also a lottery where chance often comes into play. Seemingly insignificant opportunities and events occur throughout life which later loom large as having been life changing. It is only when we gaze into the rear-view mirror of our experiences that we can fully appreciate how small decisions set into motion events with monumental consequences. Here is just one example from my life with direct consequences for your parents and each of you:
In June of 1974 I accepted a job with the State of Missouri as a Probation and Parole Officer. I was given the option of an assignment in either St. Louis or Kansas City. I chose Kansas City solely on the basis that I had never been there before.
On July 7th I arrived in Kansas City with my small dog, “Samson Socrates”. Everything that I owned fit in my 1965 Dodge. My only furniture was a small 1920’s oak typing table that was salvaged from the remodeling of an old Chicago suburban high school. It served as my dinner table, and an orange Coleman ice chest was my chair. I secured a very small studio apartment ($119.00 per month rent, including utilities) which had a “Murphy Bed” that pulled out of the wall, each night transforming my living room into my bedroom. The apartment was little more than a place to stay dry and warm. I knew no one in Kansas City. It was an emotionally bleak time spent mostly focused on work and my dog.
Samson provided me with some companionship. Taking him on long walks allowed for exploration of the neighborhoods and nearby shopping district. Occasionally, a stranger would stop to pet “Sam” and offer me some non-work related human contact. On one such evening’s walk a long-haired man who appeared to be in his 20’s called to me from the front porch of an older home that faced the busy Southwest Trafficway. Over the noise of the traffic he yelled out, “Hey, what’s up?” I responded that I was just out walking my dog. “Want a beer?” I was surprised by the offer, and gratefully accepted.
We spoke, I finished the beer, and then as I prepared to leave, I offered my thanks. “You don’t have to thank me, this isn’t my party. The hostess is inside or out back.” I decided to extend my stay and human contact by seeking out “the hostess”. Other folks inside directed me to the back yard where I introduced myself to an attractive young woman. At her urging I became the beneficiary of a second beer, and we began to talk. I spoke of my arrival in Kansas City, my work, my travels, and more. She reciprocated, but mostly with questions that encouraged me to share more of my “story”. We sat beneath a huge oak tree as time stood still. The encounter lasted nearly 3 hours. It was with regret that I finally said that I had to be going. My spirits lifted as she asked if I might come by and visit again.
If you haven’t already guessed, that young woman was your Grandmother. We began to date, but not without a few “speedbumps” of my own creation. We married in June of 1977 and were blessed with the birth of our children, your parents.
What if I had chosen St. Louis over Kansas City? What if I had walked Samson in a different direction? What prompted that man to call out to me with the offer of a beer? What if I had not accepted? Think of how life changed for me, Christine, your parents, and each of you by my decision to seek out “the hostess” merely to say thank you. What if Christine had not invited me back for another visit? I came to know why she did. Years later she shared that she had found me handsome, fascinating, an adventurous soul, almost exotic.
The events from that day in 1974 were the flutter of a butterfly’s wing that grew into the adventure of our lives. You might ask what this has to do with walking the Camino in 2013? As you will read in these pages, a friend’s innocent suggestion that I see a movie, “The Way”, is another time that the butterfly’s wings fluttered.
In retrospect, my life appears an endless series of seemingly insignificant moments that grew into experiences of consequence. I hope that someday you may reflect on your own lives and have the good fortune to say it was the journey and not the destination that brings you to smile and embrace someone you love.
Love to each of you and those who you bring into the World.
Peace, and Buen Camino. Grandfather
Written at Kansas City, Missouri. February 2, 2022. (2-2-22!)
On May 23rd, while enjoying wine and tapas in a small Santiago bar, I shared some of my thoughts about the Camino with Irish Peregrina, Una Barrett. I likened the pilgrimage to Peter Pan’s “Never Land”, a place where an adult may return to the spirit of youth and childlike wonder. “Tir na nÓg”, she replied, “It’s Irish for “The Land of Eternal Youth.’”
On May 31st, with cabin lights dimmed, Christine and I were relaxing aboard our west bound flight. We were crossing the Atlantic. We were heading home.
Una’s words came back to me as I gazed out the window at the clouds below. With the benefit of the plane’s Wi-Fi I was able to find passages from J. M. Barrie’s 1911 novel, “Peter Pan and Wendy” that spoke to my heart. I began to type.
May 31st. “Tir na nÓg” (Gaelic for “The Land of Eternal Youth”)
“”Second to the Right, and Straight on till Morning.’ That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to Neverland.” (From “Peter Pan and Wendy”)
Scarcely could there be better directions to the Camino. Over the last 6 weeks I have learned that it is not so much a place, although it is a place, as it is a Way. It is not something realized through a book or from a video, it is an experience that unfolds within. The things which were important at the start; selection of equipment, route planning, communications, became laughingly insignificant. Destination yields to Journey. Appreciation for the qualities of those dear to you gains sharper focus. One’s “guard” drops, and the door to new friendships opens wide. Expectations give way to Acceptance.
For some the Camino may remain a vacation, an adventure, or an item checked off of a “bucket list”. For me the Camino was a blossoming rebirth of the happiness, innocence, and affection found in childhood. My Camino also included anxiety, discomfort, pain, and illness. However, without the full range of experiences, good and bad, there could not have been growth or appreciation of the Camino’s “gifts”. These included sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which were a sensorial symphony that played every day. Also included were intense spiritual experiences, and friendships which were like a morning Espresso; deep, intense, and rich but fleeting.
At the risk of inadvertent omissions, I acknowledge those friendships at the end of this note; a final “thank you” to the people who gave special dimension to my Camino. We walked the path side-by-side, shared a table, ordered dinner and wine from a Pilgrim’s Menu, enjoyed and endured Albergues, and of course frequently exchanged the sincere declaration, “Buen Camino!”
These were friendships that carried with them the uncertainty of not knowing if a parting would be followed by a separation of a day, a week, or a lifetime. Reunions on the Camino were often unexpected and flowing with simple joy. This was the kind of delight that is more typical of a child’s excitement upon seeing a beloved but long absent grandparent. For an adult, such warmth without reservation was a rare gift.
Is it any wonder that my hesitation may be misunderstood when I am asked, “So, how was the Camino?” What can I possibly say that offers justice to the question, let alone the experience?
I carried my backpack over 800 km on the Camino. Difficult at first, but it soon became second nature. I have wondered what I might carry with me from the Camino into everyday life. During an evening prayer service in Rabanal, a monk urged us to be mindful that Christ walked the Camino disguised as a pilgrim, careful not to reveal his identity. Perhaps a metaphor, but the message worked on me. As I encountered pilgrims, I found myself thinking, “What if she…, or he…?” I became a bit more sincere, a little kinder, less inclined to judge, and more patient. Perhaps that is the best thing for me to carry forth from the Camino, that the Spirit lives within each of us, and that I must act accordingly.
There is more from the Camino that deserves to be preserved in my life: The childlike wonder that we are born with was stirred anew. It should not again be allowed to dim. Each day should be a search for a new joy, and when found it should be shared with others. There is within each of us the capacity to do our best, and in that to do good by others. Happiness has its source in these things, and when found gives the soul wings.
From “Peter Pan and Wendy”:
(Wendy’s daughter Jane speaking to Wendy) “What do you see now?”
(Wendy) “I don’t think that I see anything tonight.”
“Yes you do, you see when you were a little girl.”
“That is a long time ago, sweetheart.. Ah me, how time flies!”
“Does it fly, the way you flew when you were a little girl?”
“… Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether I ever really did fly.”
“… Why can’t you fly now, mother?”
“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”
May I never forget… “The Way”.
Love to all of you. Have Fun, Do Good, and Be Safe. Buen Camino!
Dedication: To you who I name, and to those who I forget to name, the Camino wove you into the fabric of my life. Do not underestimate your contribution or my gratitude: Kris, Maggie, Bernard, Roberto, John, Lene, Jacobien, Henk, Christine, Gabi, Sabine, Gerri, Paul, Martin, Heika, Ed, Sam, Brent, Michael, Tony, Geraldine, Jenni, Jack, David, Carole, Ramona, Kalina, Regina, Alan, Deb, Dick, Bonnie, John, Patricia, Philip, Alex, Vickie, Kate, Patrick, Karin, Sven, Claudia, Jay, Mark, Chance, Olivia, Stephanie, Marcia, Tess, Lisa, Rose, Mike, Angie, Marianne, Gurtz, Javier, Jessica, Marign, Yosmar, Una, Eric, Andre, Raphael, Begonia, Neus, a Monk, a barber in Vega de Valcarce, a Pilgrim from the 11th Century, and of course my very good wife, Christine.
Some of you I have named will read this, but for others this dedication will be a message in a bottle. If you can pass it on to another who might not otherwise receive it, then the bottle will have reached that shore.
Finally, a special thanks to Albert Hickson. In the earliest days of publishing these posts to my website, Albert began sending me near daily comments, suggestions, and corrections. His contributions were voluntary and unsolicited. Albert is 73, retired, and he has walked the Camino more than once. He and his wife of 43 years, Viv, live near London, England. We had never previously known of or communicated with each other.
When did our Camino begin? Was it in 2011 as we exited a movie theater, inspired by the characters in “The Way”? Perhaps the beginning evolved during our discussions over the following year. More concrete: Maybe it was when we began buying our packs, hiking boots, and of course our “sporks”.
When we made airline reservations, was that the start? Or was it at Mass in Kansas City on April 5, 2013 when Father Bill and the congregation of St. Francis Xavier Church bid us farewell and the priest entered the first “sello” in our pilgrim credencials.
Any of these may have been the start of the emotional Camino. I believe that the physical Camino began when we landed in Barcelona, Spain on April 8, 2013.
When did our Camino end? Emotionally, as these hundreds of pages attest, it hasn’t. It could be said that our physical Camino ended with our arrival in Santiago on May 22nd. However, part of the experience of our Camino was embracing the broader magic of Spain. That alchemy continued with our return to Barcelona.
A pre-dawn taxi transported us to Santiago’s international airport. We were checked in and at the gate by 7 a.m..
The two-hour flight made a mockery of the 6 weeks that it took us to transit that distance by foot. Once on the ground we returned to Ana’s hospitality and the comforts of her centrally located Guesthouse. Kris Ashton also secured a room at Ana’s for the day preceding her return to the States.
Our belongings stowed in our rooms, the three of us proceeded the few blocks on foot to the Sagrada Familia. We had learned from our experience in April that reservations to tour the Basilica were prudent and depending upon the day, necessary. It was a Tuesday, yet the park in front of the church was active with tourists, vendors, and entertainers.
A quick walk around the Sagrada Familia disclosed progress in the construction accomplished over the 6 weeks since we first gazed upon its exterior.
The organic stonework of the Nativity Façade on one side of the Basilica and the linear sculptures on Passion Façade still amazed us with their stark contrast.
The first view of the interior was breathtaking.
These images only hint at majesty of the colorful stone columns that transform into an overhead canopy. It is like an otherworldly forest, everything drawing the eye up in wonder.
We had purchased tickets to climb and tour one of the towers. While somewhat physically challenging, Christine also had to suppress her discomfort with heights in order to enjoy the experience.
It was obvious that we were touring an active construction site.
Beneath the Church were the studios of the architects who work with computers and models to execute the transition from inspiration into reality.
There was also homage paid to the genius of Antoni Gaudi. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries Gaudi did not have the benefit of computers to aid him in creating designs that were founded on his favored elements of circles, ovoids, and parabolas. Instead, he tied strings, weighted with small bags of sand, to give vision to his thoughts. Gravity created the non-linear flows which were reflected in a large mirror underneath the “string-cathedral”. It was from this that Gaudi was able to test and draft his concepts.
I could write an entire post (or two) about the Sagrada Familia. In fact, I did during our 2018 visit to Barcelona which was part of our walk on the Portuguese Camino. Rather than recount the narratives and those many images, here are links to those posts and pictures from 2018:
That evening we joined Brent, his wife Marilynn, and some of their Barcelona friends for dinner. It was a wonderful sharing with a true “Camino brother”. Sadly, Marilynn passed away on New Year’s Eve 2019. May she rest in peace. Before her passing they had returned to the States from the home they made in Barcelona. Brent now lives in “God’s Country”, otherwise known as Idaho.
Christine and I resumed our embrace of Barcelona with a fond reunion.
In the 1990’s we had been volunteer representatives for AFS, the foreign exchange student organization. One of the young adults who we had the honor of knowing was Neus Santacana from Barcelona. Over the years we kept in touch with Neus. She joined us for the day and evening as we toured “her city”.
When we flew back into Barcelona from Santiago we saw mountains near the city that seemed to rise from the surrounding land like shark’s teeth. From the tiny windows of our plane I could also make out buildings that appeared to be built into the cliffs. Upon inquiry we learned that this was the Montserrat (“serrated mountain”) Range, rising over 4,000 feet above sea level.
The buildings were the Santa Maria de Montserrat Benedictine Abbey.
An easily navigated train ride took us 30 miles to the cable car station.
We boarded the 83-year-old conveyance for the dizzying ascent of nearly 4,000 feet to the Monastery.
Founded in the 11th Century, and rebuilt in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Monastery is world renowned. It is home to over 70 monks, and can now be reached by road, train, or cable car.
There is also a cog railway that took us farther up the mountain to the remains of the ancient Chapel of Sant Joan and ruins of hermitages, some believed to have been inhabited by Sant Joan (John) and Sant Onofre.
The precarious stairs and passages were once the only access to these remote habitations.
Hermits are believed to have lived in these mountains as early as the 6th Century. Chapels were known to have been established by the 9th Century, and more formal monastic communities not long after. Monks were held to extremely strict vows beyond those of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Among those requirements were total detachment from the outside world, complete abstinence from meat, arduous regimens of fasting, self-flagellation, and denial of virtually all worldly comforts.
In addition to the grounds, panoramic views, and history, highlights of a visit included witnessing a performance by the Escolania de Montserrat boys’ liturgical choir and seeing the 12th Century La Moreneta sculpture also known as the Virgin of Montserrat.
The choir is a 700-year-old institution consisting of boys who are educated and boarded at the Monastery. These 50+ boys are between the ages of nine and fourteen and perform each Monday thru Saturday at 1 p.m.. On Sundays and Holidays they perform at noon and again at 6:45 p.m..
By some accounts, the 38-inch Virgin of Montserrat dates to early Christianity. Alleged to have been carved in Jerusalem, legend holds that it was discovered in one of the nearby mountain caves where it had been hidden from marauding Saracens.
More likely it dates to the 12th Century. For hundreds of years the statue has been venerated by commoners, royalty, popes and saints. On March 25, 1522, St. Ignatius Loyola laid down his weapons and armor before the statue, thus beginning a period of asceticism before later founding the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).
We returned by train to Barcelona for dinner, packing, and a night spent in sleepless contemplation of tomorrow’s departure for home.
Our packs were secured in duffle bags for the flight home.
Rare for us, we were traveling first class. This was largely due to an accumulation of frequent flyer miles. The perks included access to the private lounge area, stocked with alcohol and snacks at no additional charge.
Thankfully, we were isolated from the airport crowd until it neared time to board our plane.
The real advantages of first-class seating came in the form of large comfortable seats that fully reclined into sleeping position, and of course liberal servings of adult beverages.
We resisted casting aside our pilgrim identities. Onboard the plane we each continued to wear our shells, and I my beret.
Heading into the clouds with the last views of Barcelona below us, I was well into my second glass of white. I gazed out the window and reflexively pulled out my tiny iPod-Touch. One finger-stroke at a time I began to type, “Tir na nÓg”, “The Land of Eternal Youth”…
May 24-27, 2013. Muxia, Finisterre, and return to Santiago.
I had been warned. I don’t remember when, I don’t remember by whom, but I had been warned. “There will come a moment when you realize you are no longer a pilgrim on the Camino.” That moment came on the morning of May 24th. Had we the time and inclination to continue our journey to Muxia and Finisterre on foot, we would have remained Peregrinos. Had we retained an intention to walk further Camino miles, we would have remained Peregrinos. We had neither the time nor the inclination for either. On the morning of May 24th we boarded a bus bound for Muxia. We were no longer “pilgrims”.
That is not entirely correct. Within each of us there had been change. We would return to the United States retaining the experience of Pilgrimage, and with that experience came a different view of ourselves and the world around us. Once begun, that pilgrimage is lifelong.
May 24th, Muxia.
Muxia (pop. 5,200) is located 70km west of Santiago on the Atlantic Coast. For less than 10€ each we enjoyed a pleasant one-hour bus ride through the scenic countryside. For Peregrinos it would have taken 3-4 days. However, we were now tourists.
Part of the “Costa da Morte” (Coast of Death), this area was infamous for the many shipwrecks occasioned on its rocky shores.
Muxia is a quiet seaside village that in modern times still clings to its fishing roots.
From town we ascended the 230 foot high Monte do Corpino that provided a panoramic view of the village and coast.
Legend holds that it was here, near the site of the 17th Century Santuario (“Church”) da Virxe da Barca, originally the place of a pre-Christian Celtic shrine, that St. James grew despondent over his failed attempts to convert the local inhabitants to Christianity. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him and offered encouragement for him to continue.
The church was closed, however an open window in the door provided me with the opportunity for these pictures. On December 25, 2013 the church interior was destroyed by fire started from a lightning strike.
This internet image reveals the extent of damage. The church was restored in 2015.
The 35 foot tall, 400 ton sculpture known as A Ferida (“The Wound”) was erected in memory of the disastrous 2002 Prestige Tanker oil spill which devastated the coasts of Spain and Portugal. The near derelict vessel sank offshore during a storm, releasing over 17 million gallons of heavy crude, an amount greater than was discharged in the Exxon Valdez catastrophe. A Ferida represents the environmental injury suffered from that tragedy.
Here also is one of the rare “Pedras de abalar” (oscillating stones) once used to determine the guilt or innocence of the criminally accused. Over time, the bases of these huge rocks have been naturally eroded, leaving a balance point beneath them. The crash of a wave, or even a strong wind may cause them to rock from one side to the other.
We stayed in the 8 room A de Lolo Hotel, which was clean, pleasant, and featured an excellent restaurant.
Good fortune provided us with late afternoon entertainment in the form of a colorful display of traditional music and dance.
While Finisterre is historically considered the “End of the Earth”, it is Cabo Tourinan in the Municipality of Muxia that extends farther west into the Atlantic. As the sun set we considered that only water separated us from home in North America.
Tomorrow we “tourists” would proceed to Finisterre.
We prepare ourselves for the big events of life that we can anticipate; a wedding, births, a new job, retirement, just to name a few. Arrangements are usually thorough with both practical and emotional preparation.
For a pilgrim walking the Camino, there is no event more monumental or anticipated than walking into the grand square and first beholding the majesty of the Santiago Cathedral. How many who have known that experience for the first time have given forethought to the emotional impact. I had not.
At 7 a.m. we were out the door of Pension Maribel and fast on the path to Santiago.
After a few kilometers we encountered an unusual Peregrino. He was tall and sun-darkened in a way that spoke of many days spent in the elements. He also wore clothing that channeled pilgrims of medieval times. He is seen here walking next to Christine.
His staff was decorated with a variety of trinkets, some ornamental and others of a more practical nature, such as a drinking cup. There were prayer flags and even a gourd. We had seen him before and had overheard other pilgrims remark, wondering if he were homeless or perhaps mentally ill.
I walked to his side and quietly asked if he spoke English. In a gruff German laden accent he said “yes”. He also expressed a willingness to slow his pace for a brief visit. He was from Austria and had begun his Camino in Jerusalem. It was a distance of over 5,500km! I calculated that at 25km per day with no rest days he had been no less than 220 days afoot. After an exchange of pleasantries, I asked what he intended to do once he completed his Camino, “I will get on a jet, return to Austria, write more software, and walk another Camino.” The gentleman then resumed his pace, quickly leaving us behind.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so it is with our species and gaps to our knowledge. We tend to fill those “voids of understanding” with speculation, conjecture, and “stories”. In the case of this gentleman the speculations were perhaps harmless, but it is not always so. Over the course of history some of the “stories” have resulted in great suffering, and even death on a global scale.
We did not see him again. However, in 2018 as we walked the Portuguese route of the Camino I saw his framed and autographed picture hanging on the wall of a small restaurant where we took lunch. I regret that I did not learn more about this most unusual, and possibly famous Peregrino.
A few more kilometers near San Paio we came upon a monument that declared “Santiago” and was embellished with symbols of the Camino.
The trail took us by Santiago’s international airport, Lavacolla, located near the site that medieval pilgrims had traditionally stopped to wash and purify themselves before entering the city.
We merely stopped to refresh ourselves before continuing on.
Soon we began to encounter vendors selling various trinkets and Camino related souvenirs.
The path, now paved with asphalt, was well-marked and becoming increasingly crowded with pilgrims.
20km separated Arca and the Cathedral. We had not yet reached the half-way point. There were signs of industry and development now interspersed with pleasant country lanes and eucalyptus woods.
A well-marked path lay ahead for us, but there were still the occasional “lost soles”.
At Monte del Gozo (“Mount of Joy”, elev. 1210 ft) we came upon a huge monument commemorating the 1989 visit of Pope John Paul II to the World Youth Day festivities.
The Pontif said Mass on this spot. The sculpture was erected in 1992 but, ravaged by time and the elements, it was removed early in 2021. Only the four large bronze plaques remain (image from the Camino Forum).
Two of the plaques refer to the Pope’s visit, one is dedicated to the 13th Century visit by Saint Francis of Assisi, and the final plate is an abstract hand with four fingers representing routes on the Camino, joining at the palm and then concluding at Santiago, seen at the end of the thumb. There are no plans to restore the former concrete structure.
It was atop this hill that we first drew sight of Santiago in the distance. For pilgrims this spot was appropriately named “Mount of Joy”.
At this plateau was a huge complex of barracks capable of housing over 500 Peregrinos to alleviate pressure from facilities in the city during holy years and other times of heavy pilgrim traffic. In counterpoint was the tiny Capilla de San Marcos (Chapel of Saint Mark) which was erected in 1965 at the site of an earlier chapel dating to the year 1105. There were also more vendors.
Down the hillside and a long flight of stairs we walked.
Soon we were into the city proper, greeted by the huge 2004 sculpture, Porta Itineris Sancti Iacobi (“Gateway of the Camino”).
This towering structure located in a pleasant park, features 20 bronze plaques honoring famous persons who over the centuries have been associated with the Camino.
On we continued through the heart of the modern city.
45 minutes later we had our first view of the Cathedral towers over the tops of lesser buildings.
In less than 10 minutes we entered the Praza da Inmaculada (Square of the Immaculate). On our right was the Hospederia San Martin Pinario Seminario Mayor where we had reserved a simple room with bath in the attic area set aside for pilgrims.
Portions of the lower floors are a more upscale hotel shared with the Monastery of Saint Martin. The Monastery dates to the 9th Century and its current building to the late 15th Century.
Straight ahead and down through the tunnel-like Arco del Obispo (Arch of the Bishop) we were treated to music by a lone bagpiper. We deposited a few coins.
Emerging from the archway we entered the expansive Praza do Obradoiro (The Golden Square). This grand plaza was breathtaking. To our right was the magnificent 5-star Parador Hotel, once a 15th Century pilgrim hostel.
There were pilgrims everywhere, among them many familiar faces from our days on the Camino. We walked to the front of the Santago Cathedral and as if struck by lightning our emotions exploded.
We cried, we embraced, and we cried some more.
Eventually we regained a semblance of composure. Opening our eyes to the evolving scene around us I became aware of a gentleman standing a polite distance from us. Behind him was a professional looking video crew. He was watching me with a look of concern. We made eye contact and he approached. In excellent but accented English he explained that his crew was filming pilgrims arriving in Santiago for a local news story. He apologized for the intrusion, “…but you are such a lovely couple, and we were wondering if you would mind if we took some video of you? If you will allow me, I would be pleased to take some pictures of you with your camera.”
We did not mind at all.
On July 24, 2013 a Renfe Express train heading into Santiago careened out of control a few kilometers from of the city. The train, capable of speeds in excess of 250kmh had failed to slow for an 80kmh curve. It left the tracks, emergency brakes engaged, at twice that speed. Of the 222 people aboard, including 4 crew, 143 were injured and 79 died. The engineer was tried for negligent homicide and served a 4-year sentence. (picture from BBC News)
Images of the disaster and background information about Santiago received national and international coverage. We soon learned that video of us embracing before the Cathedral was included in the coverage.
We ascended the stairs of the Cathedral and entered. The exterior Baroque facade dates to the 18th Century, covering Maestro Mateo’s (1100-1150) famed 12th Century Portico de la Gloria (Door of Glory), and capping the original Romanesque towers. This image of the Portico is from a 19th Century painting.
At the center of the Portico’s three ancient arches, which were undergoing restoration in 2013, is a column with the image of Saint James at the top.
Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have placed their hands at the base of the column in veneration of the Saint. A close examination reveals the resulting hand impression left in the granite sculpture. The pillar is now cordoned off in order to preserve the stone from further deterioration.
I was still wearing my pack as we entered and walked down the main aisle. In the distance was the golden main altar, and above it hung the fabled Botafumeiro.
This massive silver “thurible” (censer) is believed the largest of its kind in the world. Crafted by a goldsmith from brass alloy and plated with silver, it stands over 5 feet tall and weighs 124 pounds when filled with just under 2 pounds of charcoal and incense. (Measurements are from a unique 1983 study of the Botafumeiro that was authorized by the Cathedral.) A mass of incense is then poured atop the lit charcoal. The Botafumeiro is next hoisted upward by at least 8 robed attendants who set the massive smoking censer into a swinging motion. The arc soon travels high overhead, from near the top of one transept to the other, achieving a speed of over 50 miles per hour. This image is from May 23rd.
Above the altar is the visage of Santiago in glory. A passage below gives access to his crypt and reliquary. Another set of steps lead up to a small chamber behind the statue of Santiago. Here the devout may embrace “the Saint” and peer out over his shoulder into the main aisle of the Cathedral. We would visit those features another day.
Some outside of the Catholic Church criticize as idolatry the “worship” of statues by the faithful and members of other religions with rich artistic traditions. It was explained to me that the images and relics are not the subject of worship, but rather symbols of focus to aid the believer in achieving greater attention to prayerful and meditative thought.
We left the Cathedral bound for the Pilgrim Office in order to present our credencials as proof that we had earned the right to each receive our Compostela. It was another occasion that brought tears.
That accomplished, we checked in at the Hospederia San Martin Pinario and took a few moments to relax and unpack in our simple but spotless room atop the monastery.
At 4 p.m. we returned to the Cathedral’s main square, drawn to continue the experience of our arrival. At center was the Cathedral.
To the left the Parador, known as the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos and originally built in 1499 as a pilgrim hospital. It is considered to be the oldest hotel in the world. (Wikipedia image)
To the right is the College of St. Jerome, founded in 1501. (Wikipedia image)
Behind us were municipal offices and the Neo-Classical designed Town Hall. We would return there after dark for some traditional outdoor entertainment. This picture is from our 2018 Camino.
There were more familiar faces from our days on the Camino. A wave of the hand here, a nod there, and then… Kris Ashton!
We joined together in a long group hug followed by pictures of Kris, Christine, and Marshmallow in front of the Cathedral.
The three of us proceeded to the Pilgrim Office where Kris obtained her Compostela, and then we retired to a small tapas bar for wine and an opportunity to “process” all that we had each experienced over the past 24 hours.
The reflections went much deeper than that. We spoke of dear people who we had met, knowing we would never see them again. I specifically mentioned Roberto Del Pino Guzman, originally from Spain but a citizen of the UK for most of his life. Over 4 weeks ago Roberto and I, along with his Brit friend John, spent part of a day walking together to Villamayor de Monjardin.
We shared our personal stories, and I felt a connection with Roberto. But for geography I believe that we would have been close friends. I had barely paused my recounting of this to the women when into the bar walked Roberto! We mirrored each other’s looks of shock and wonder.
Roberto told us that he had sought a safe place to keep his bag for the afternoon. The bartender agreed to secure the pack which allowed Roberto to do some final sightseeing before meeting a friend and traveling on to Portugal. Returning to the bar he was minutes from that departure. I am again reminded of the words of Eddie, our 2018 hotelier in Puerto Rico, (who had also walked the Camino!) “Peter, in life there are no coincidences.”
Saying farewell to Roberto we continued reminiscing. Kris then invited us to join her and other Camino friends, including Mary and Les Virtue, to her room at the Parador.
Kris’s husband Dennis had reserved nights for her in that amazing hotel. Palatial only begins to describe the accommodations.