Another Sunday

Oct 16

I have to admit that I am a romantic. Ilike traditions and rituals. 

For the month I have been walking towards Santiago I have been wondering what it will be like to arrive as a pilgrim for the fourth time. How will I feel? Will there be the same excitement as the first time I walked into the plaza and saw the cathedral? Will the rituals of the pilgrims mean the same thing to me as they did before?

Time will tell.

We walked, virtually alone, into the old town. Chris and George had stopped off at their hotel. It was Sunday morning and the city was still asleep. We would have plenty of time to get to the Pilgrims’ Mass in one hours time. 

Through the old town 

Past the side entrance to the cathedral 

Down the stairs to the plaza and left to our first glimpse of…… 


A train! Not one train but two nearly run over us. Not good to have come all this way and be killed by a tourist train !

This was only the first shock . More were to come .

There had been much talk along the camino  about the extensive work being done on the cathedral. The first view of it was a surprise to say the least. 

The stairway to the Portico de Gloria, the usual  entrance into the cathedral, was closed. 

Normally pilgrims would ascend this staircase and upon entering the cathedral stop beneath the center column .

This column, in the style of a Jesse tree, depicts Christ sitting in judgement at the top , Saint James beneath him and Master  Mateo, the builder of the cathedral, at the very bottom. 

The tradition for pilgrims  is to  place their hand on the Column and give thanks for their safe arrival to Santiago.

 Next they knock their heads against Master Mateo, the architect of the cathedral, in hopes of knocking some sense into them- to add whatever was lacking after their walk.

Note grooves in column after 900 years of pilgrims 

Then they would walk into the church, up the aisle past the altar and its amazing reredos of  Santiago, climb the stairs to hug the Apostle, and  finally descend to the crypt and pray before the relics of Saint James. 

Since it is impossible to get to the Jesse Tree  and perform these rituals, I will be flexible.  After all isn’t this one of the lessons I am trying to learn on this walk.

We go around to the back side of the cathedral and discover two things. 

We cannot take our backpacks into the cathedral. In fact we might not even get into the Cathedtal. We are not the only people going to the pilgrim mass today.

The line into the cathedral is stretched from one end of the plaza to the other. 

We check our packs at a little souvenir shop for 5 euro each and get in line. By the time  get into the cathdral it is packed.

We sit on the floor until we are told by a security man to move.

We crowd into the corners behind a pillar. The Mass begins with a girls choir singing a hymn to the tune we know as the Doxology. They sing beautifully. 

We can’t see a thing but  the words are familiar. All around us people push and shove, angling for a better view. Tour guides with wands and umbrellas pointing to the ceiling lead their groups around the edges. Security men bark orders at the unruly restless crowds.

At communion  I am reminded of my conversation with another pilgrim about whether as an Episcopalian I should receive. His comment ” Jesus Christ invites me to his table and I  accept .”  I too accept. 

Several dozen priests fan out through the church and administer communion. I receive near the  back door behind a red rope. The priest returns to the altar  twice for additional hosts and is eventually joined by a second priest.

A man near me returns  triumphantly from his Communion, laughing and regaling his  also laughing companions of his accomplishment. I give him  my best stink eye. Neither one of  us are at our best at this moment. Such is the body of Christ. Such am I .

And then comes the reason many of these people have come here on this morning. 

They have come to see the swinging  of the Butafumiero- a gigantic incense burner, used to cover the smell of pilgrims like me.  Pilgrims need a lot of incense and prayers to sweeten them up. 

And then it is over and we are swept out into the plaza.

Next  stop.  The new pilgrim office where we will present our passports, now full of the requisite two per day to stamps,  to determine if we will be given a Compostela – the document which is given by the church as evidence that one has made the pilgrimage to Santiago.

We wait in line for two hours and hear tales of people being denied their Compostela because they did not have the required two stamps a day or they had walked “too many kilometers” in one day. 

If the desk sitters, jokingly referred to as the inquisitors, had walked any camino,  they would know that on the lesser travelled routes it is not always possible to find two places open each day to get a stamp.

 They would know how the pilgrim could be so tired that she forgot to get a stamp. 

They would know sometimes a pilgrim really did have to walk 40 km as the alberge where she planned to stay was closed or he was running  out of days to get to Santiago before he had to return home.

Here too security monitors tell us not to sit here, stay close to the wall , don’t clap when the next number finally appears on the electronic screen, no laughing??

It is now possible to get four different kinds of Compostelas- spiritual, cultural, sportive or one that simply acknowledges the distance walked. To qualify one needs only to walk 100 km (60) miles. 

My number is up. I have walked according to my Fitbit 867 km. We shall see.

After a thorough grilling both B and I pass the test but barely. 

She has problems because we took the bus off the path to Orvieto to get a second passport and took the bus back to the path to continue. 

I am asked repeatedly if I really walked it. Guess I don’t look the part. I finally tell the woman she can look at my feet if she wants proof.  Actually my feet are perfect but my socks would be the dead giveaway if she got too close. She adds the “completion stamp” to my passport. 

She is amazed I don’t want a distance certificate. She does  not understand I didn’t do it to brag about the distance. 

We are out the door, Compostela in hand , completion stamp in the passport.

We have done it.

The day is over.  We are officially finished. 

Time for some attitude adjustment. Pimientos  and alamedas and vino make everything better. 

I sit and think.  What has happened to my Camino de Santiago or maybe what had happened to me? What has changed ? Is it good or is it bad?  Do the traditions and the rituals mean anything ?
We decide to head for Finisterre where we can have time to process all of this.

I need to sit on a rock for a long time and do some thinking. 

One thought on “Another Sunday”

  1. Beautiful and a little sad too, but you rise above the developments at Santiago. These blogs and phots really should be made into a booklet which could serve lots of purposes. Can’t wait to see you. Andy


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