Our nine day bus tour is coming to an end. Today, from the perspective of a pilgrim, I want to walk with you into Santiago. In the next blog we will take off our pilgrim hats and visit the city as tourists.
This morning we will walk the final six miles into Santiago. We will follow the same route that Barbara and I took. We walked in the rain. One of the benefits of a virtual camino is that you will walk on a cool sunny day with clear blue skies. No soggy clothes and no mud. Life on a “Joanna Tour” is very good.
Pilgrims enter Santiago de Compostela on one of four different routes depending on which Camino one has walked. The Via de la Plata and the Camino Portugués enter the city from the South by two separate routes. The Camino Inglés arives from the North. The Camino Franćes, into which all of the other Spanish and European routes merge, will come into the city from the East via a still different itinerary.
Pilgrims from the Via de la Plata and Camino Portugués will see this view from the outskirts of the city. Once within the city proper, they will walk one of the narrow cobblestoned streets to the Cathedral, ending in the Plaza de Platerías.
The Plaza de Platerías, from the Spanish word silversmith, is the traditional entrance for Pilgrims coming from the South.
Since the renovations on the West facade of the Cathedral and due to heightened security measures, this is now the only entrance to the Cathedral for all pilgrims. Lines into the Cathedral can be long especially on a weekend when many Spaniards walk the last 100 km to obtain the Compostela. Backpacks are no longer allowed into the Cathedral. This can be a nasty surprise after hustling to make the Pilgrims’ Mass and waiting in line for over an hour. Happily there is a tiny shop kitty corner to the Cathedral doors where for a couple of euros, pilgrims and others may leave their bags.
Pilgrims from the North walking the Inglés have the best view coming into the city.
Pilgrims coming from the East arrive first at the Monte de Gozo (the Mount of Joy). Here, they get their first glimpse of the city of Santiago and the Cathedral spires. For pilgrims who have walked many miles there truly is a feeling of joy and relief. The end is literally in sight.
This little 11th century San Marcos Chapel is all that remains of the historic hillside. Pilgrims may get the penultimate stamp in their passports. Some pilgrims may even stop to light a candle and say a prayer.
Most pilgrims climb up to the modern statue by Brazilian sculptor Yolanda d’Absbury to commemorate the 1993 pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Santiago.
Unfortunately, the majority of pilgrims arriving at the Monte de Gozo miss the other statue by Galician sculptor José María Acuña. Although trees and buildings threaten to obscure the view, the statue is fantastic and the three spires are still just visible.
The final 5 km from Monte de Gozo to the Cathedral is a slog along sidewalks with missing markers and punctuated by precarious street crossings. This sign is a cheerful antidote to the nondescript buildings.
It will take another hour or more before crossing into the pedestrian only historic city center.
From here it is a short walk to the Puerta de Azabachería (jetstone). The original door on the former facade was known as the Puerta del Paraíso-the door of paradise. The earliest pilgrims entered the Cathedral here. Today, it is the Exit of the Cathedral.
Modern pilgrims walk a little further down the stairs and through the Arco de Palacio (Palace Arch) to the Plaza del Obradoiro.
Obradoiro meaning workshop gets its name from the stone masons who labored in the square.
Straight ahead is the Palacio de Rajoy – the Santiago town hall.
To your right is the Parador where we will spend the next two nights.
Pilgrims and the ubiquitous white tourist trains fill the center square.
Pilgrims however only have eyes for the Cathedral of Santiago. For some there are tears of joy. Others fall to the ground, lie on their backs and gaze up in amazement. The awe, relief and pleasure are evident. It is a thrilling sight to behold whether for the first time or the tenth.
Finally you really have arrived. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and for now, your walking is done. Saint James is watching over you. Two kings kneel on either side of him. All is well. It’s photo time. Even pilgrims arriving at the Plaza de Platerías will come here to take the traditional “I made it” photo.
For pilgrims, however, their Camino was not finished until they had performed three traditional tasks.
First, they would walk up the stairs behind these Westerly RI pilgrims. At the Portíco da Gloría they would stop at the center mullion depicting the Tree of Jesse with Santiago seated just below our Lord. They would place their fingers in the indentations, etched deep by millions of pilgrims who came before them. They would give thanks for their safe arrival.
Next they would knock their heads three times against the head of Master Mateo hoping to have some of his genius transferred to them.
They would have their first view of the Cathedral and the baroque altar of Saint James and join the crowds at the stairway behind the altar. They would ascend the stairway and “hug the Apostle”.
Their final duty was to descend to the Crypt. Here they would kneel and leave prayers and prayer requests before the silver casket containing the bones of the Saint. Now their pilgrimage was officially over.
Most pilgrims choose to attend the daily Pilgrims’ Mass at noon. If time allows before the Mass, they will go to the Pilgrims’ Office. Here one presents his/her passport and receives the final stamp. The credential is carefully scrutinized and validated. If you are determined to have successfully gotten the required two stamps per day and the examiner believes you have walked at least 100 km, you are granted the Compostela.
In 2000, the Camino office was a small and friendly place. There was no line. Pilgrims were taken at their word that they had walked the route. No one cared when I took off my boots, sat on the table in front of the map and took a picture of my battered feet, held together by duct tape. No one cared if pilgrims ditched their sticks at the bottom of the office stairway and went on their way. But in 2000, only 55,004 pilgrims applied for the Compostela.
In 2002, Barbara and I walked from Arlés in France to Santiago on the Chemin d’Arles. We were among the 68,952 who walked that year. We walked 1388km (862 miles) and received our Compostelas, no questions asked. We were exhausted and it showed.
In 2004, we walked the Via de la Plata – 891 km ( 554) miles. The woman in the pilgrim office “didn’t think I looked like I had walked the Camino.” How did the other 179,944 people who received their Compostelas look? Moral of the story. Don’t take a shower before you go. Go directly there in your walking togs. Walk in wet and muddy. Wear your backpack. Don’t comb your hair. You’ll be fine.
By 2014, the Pilgrim Office had moved and getting a Compostela was an iffy, unfriendly, high tech operation. The line was over two hours long and that was in late October. Pilgrims were not allowed to sit on the ground, only on a chair of which there may have been ten. Photographs inside were not allowed. Barbara and I were nearly denied our Compostelas. We had taken a bus on a section that was too long and hilly for us to walk in one day no matter how early we set out. Of the 824 km path, we walked 800 km of it, meaning we walked 497 miles out of the 512. Either way, it was well over the minimum 100km or 62 miles required for eligibility. 237,797 other pilgrims successfully passed the same test. No statistics on the number that failed.
On the plus side, the Compostelas were now in color and it was also possible to get another certificate showing how many miles had been walked. Two certificates seemed like overkill so we passed on the distance one but did wonder if they would have subtracted the 15 “bus” miles.
If you do get inside, stop at the little chapel on the right on your way out.There is a very good multi-media camino reflection which runs continuously and there are two statues worth seeing – one of Our Lady as a pilgrim, carrying Jesus, and the other of Jesus himself as a pilgrim.
By 2018, the number of pilgrims admitted to the pilgrim office each day was limited to a certain number. If you walked with a group, the tour leader or a designated person was instructed to present the credentials for the entire group, fill out the paperwork and return later, ususally the next day, to pick up the passports and credentials. On my 2019 “group credential”, I have been renamed “Joyce”. Somewhere a “Joyce” has become a Nancy, Nancie, Nanci or Annam, my Latin name.
This development is very good news for anyone who “has to have a Compostela”. Travel en masse. No one will verify anything! No questions will be asked!
Sadly, more and more pilgrims who have walked a full Camino leave Santiago without their Compostelas. Either they could not stay in the city long enough or they had heard stories of pilgrims whose credntials were denied and skipped the whole thing.
No doubt these changes are the result of the huge increase in pilgrims -327,378 in 2019 – but there has to be a middle way.
It is understandable that pilgrims and staff alike find the crowds overwhelming. Perhaps some of the patience that pilgrims have learned while walking will rub off on the staff. Perhaps pilgrims will have a little more sympathy for the job the mostly volunteers are trying to do. Perhaps the Compostela has lost its meaning.
It is a sad commentary that a pilgrim whose 62 mile “walk” is aided by buses and taxis gets a Compostela and one who walks a complete Camino, perhaps at great physical cost, leaves Santiago without one. Maybe more honesty and more charity is needed all around.
One of my guide books says that medieval pilgrims spent the first night of their arrival into Santiago sleeping in the Cathedral and that there was such jostling among pilgrims to be close to the altar that fights often broke out. The altercations rose to such a level that in 1207 the cathedral had to be reconsecrated. I have been unable to verify this anywhere but knowing Christians, I think this could well be true.
We, however, will not be sleeping on the floor of the Cathedral. Thanks to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and Joanna Wivell, we will spend our final two night in the ne plus ultra of paradors, the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos.
This state run Parador, founded by Ferdinand and Isabella as a pilgrim hospital, is one of the jewels of Spanish hospitality. The indoor/outdoor bar is one of the best places in the city to celebrate a significant birthday, a rainy day, a sore toe or just to watch the action in the plaza.
Many of the hotel bedrooms rooms face either the courtyard or the Cathedral. Many have views of both. You could teach your children to swim in some of the bathtubs. Whichever room you are given, you will not be disappointed.
Tomorrow we will attend the Pilgrims’ Mass at the Cathedral, tour the Cathedral and the Cathedral Museum and explore the Parador. There is so much to see in Santiago. Until then, a preview of the wonders of the newly restored Portico de Gloria. It’s always good to end the day with a smile and this smile should do the trick.
Sweet dreams. Hasta mañana.