We set off fairly early and were soon walking through eucalyptus woods on nice soft earth. After a breakfast break we continued up and down several steep hills and eventually skirted the airport and were buzzed by a very low flying Ryanair plane taking off.
There was more time in the woods before emerging into the outskirts of Santiago. Fortunately it is not a very big or industrial city so the walk towards the centre was nothing compared to Burgos and León. After an annoying 1 km diversion due to blindly following a pilgrim who had missed a turn we finally saw our first glimpse of the cathedral.
We arrived at the back of the building, but there are doors on all four sides, so we entered to find the building full of visitors, ordinary tourists as well as many pilgrims. I gave Ella a quick hug (it had to be quick because she is not the most tactile person) and I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion. I found an empty pew and sat and wept for a while. I am not a religious person, and I was not feeling any emotion relating to the cathedral itself (although it is a very impressive structure). Rather it was simply the sense of occasion that we had completed such a massive achievement. I sat quietly for a while and gathered my thoughts before finding Ella and exiting via the main door at the front of the cathedral and descending the steps to the main square where we took a few photos, although I shall try to take some more impressive pics on a brighter day.
We then went to the pilgrims’ office where we briefly queued for our ‘Compostela’ certificate. This didn’t take long and we were soon making our way to the information office to get what info we could for the final leg of our journey – Finisterre, the world’s end. Here is a photo of the certificate and my complete pilgrim’s credential, fully stamped.
As we were leaving the office, our Dutch friend Peter came up behind us and after a short reunion we set off in search of a celebratory drink and a bite of lunch.
We are staying in the poshest of albergues, recommended by Peter. It is brand new, has very neat sleeping cubicles, and provides good quality cotton bed sheets and duvet! My first night outside of a sleeping bag for over four weeks. Bliss!
Ella has a snooze after lunch and although I am very tired I know that if I sleep during the day I will stand no chance of sleeping tonight, so after ablutions and laundry I wander off to look around the area. I return to the cathedral where it is now practically empty and take it all in without the hustle and bustle of earlier in the day. I go to the area where St James’ remains are kept and then up to where one can embrace a statue of the saint that looks down over the pulpit. I didn’t find it necessary to embrace a stranger so I just patted him on the shoulder. Here is some info about the old chap from a spanish guide, complete with some translation quirks:
………The name Santiago goes back to the Apostle James (Saint James =Santiago) who went to this most north-western part of Spain, called by the Romans “Finis Terrae”, “end of the world”, to preach and convert people to Christianity.
After returning to Palestine in 44 a.C., he was taken prisoner by Herodes Agrippa and tortured to death. The king forbid to bury him, but in the night Jacob’s disciples stole the body and brought him, in a sarcophagus of marble, on board of a small boat. The current of the sea drove the boat to the Spanish coast, into the port of the Roman province’s capital, Iria Flavia. Here the Apostle was buried at a secret place in a wood.
Centuries later, in 813, the hermit Pelayo listened music in that wood and saw a shining. For this shining the place was called, in Latin, “Campus Stellae”, field of the star, name that was later on turned into Compostela.
Bishop Teodomiro, who received notice of that event, instituted an investigation, and so the tomb of the Apostle was discovered. King Alphonse II declared Saint James the patron of his empire and had built a chapel at that place. It is reported that from then on Saint James did several miracles, even that he fought side to side with King Ramiro I in the decisive battle against the Moors.
More and more pilgrims followed the way of Santiago, the “Way of Saint James”, and the original chapel soon became the cathedral of the new settlement, Santiago de Compostela.
In 12th and 13th century the town had its greatest importance, and Pope Alexander III declared it a Holy Town, like Rome and Jerusalem. Pope Calixto II declared that the pilgrims who went to Santiago in a Holy Year should be free of all their sins. El Año Santo (Holy Year) is celebrated each time when the Apostol’s day (July, 25) is a Sunday……….
After dealing with St James I sat down in a pew to contemplate the last few weeks, and I think I dozed off for a few minutes. It was time to get up and go to rouse Ella for some supper before a night of luxury between cotton sheets. Such simple pleasures!