A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela (7 km — felt wet and like it would take forever but, suddenly, it is over)
We have reached the end of our journey. We have arrived in Santiago de Compostela after walking more than 150 miles over 13 days through Portugal and Spain.
Words fail me.
No they don’t. Just kidding.
Two of my favorite T-shirts in Santiago. I regret not buying the Abbey Road mashup.
But seriously, when you read that, didn’t you feel a sigh of relief?
I think I will mostly get out of the way and let the pictures and captions tell the story today.
Santiago, especially its cathedral, is designed to leave you speechless. It seems as much a celebration of the bygone power of the Catholic Church as a tribute to the stunning craftsmanship of the people whole built these temples to power, glory, veneration, and wretched excess.
You stand in the central plaza, rotating until you are dizzy and giddy with delight. Eventually, you sink to the ground against your backpack and begin to appreciate that there isn’t a lot of humility built into this place.
Oh, I know, all for the glory of God, and all that.
But if there are any lilies of the field about, they are surely cast in the purest gold and carved in the finest granite.
When pilgrims first arrived here hundreds of years ago, what did they find? A simple stone church, probably, with a humble priest to greet them with wine and bread. Several modest inns for lodging, with bathing available on Fridays. A quiet space to contemplate their Camino experience and their relationship to the Universe and their God.
How soon before the vendors set up shop and began selling sacred amulets and Camino T-shirts?
Was it the merchants who decided that first church wasn’t such a great a payoff for people who had walked as much as 500 miles to reach Santiago? Or was it the desire of church hierarchy to build a temple equal in power and emotion to the unseen glory of God?
How did pilgrims in the 15th Century take selfies? I imagine dozens of artists set up with easels with pre-painted canvases in the plaza.
“For a pinch of gold, I can paint you right into this backdrop of the cathedral. You don’t want to go back to Rome without this beautiful keepsake, do you?”
If that all sounds cynical, it is.
I have always struggled with the idea that God should be worshiped in a physical manifestation of His greatness with a community of like-minded worshipers. Churches seem more like the outward expression of the egos of the mortals who commission them.
As much as there is a specifically defined god, I believe she/he resides inside all of us. We are the temples, we are the church, we are the truest representation of creation. The “we” extends to all things, living, inanimate, alien, and as yet, unknown.
Sorry. This flashback has been brought to you by my two years of spiritual conflict in a Catholic seminary.
I’m not so sure Santiago was ever meant to be a place for spiritual reflection. That work ought to have been done on the road, if spiritual reflection was a pilgrim’s original intention.
Every Camino is different, every Camino is personal, every Camino is legitimate — whether for fun, exercise, spiritual awakening, holiday, or penance.
You walk, you win.
In no time at all, attention is drawn outward by the joyful chaos, the incredible architecture, the profligacy of art and ornamentation, the sheer audacity of human beings to create this kind of place, and the pleasures of the marketplace where fine dining, strong drink, and souvenirs await your open wallet.
And not a velvet Elvis painting to be found in all of Santiago.
The not-so-grand entrance:
Remember when I was talked about entering the Plaza Obradoria as conquering heroes?
The Cosmic Jokester had another punchline in mind. It rained all the way to Santiago. That is Karin Schmid from Germany with Rose Alcantara. She shared the walk with us. She also has a cat named Bob.
Making our way into Plaza Obradorio, destination of all Peregrinos:
The closer we got to the Cathedral Santiago, the heavier the rain. It was still early and the plaza was mostly empty.
We did exactly what everyone does these days, took out our cell phones and started taking pictures and selfies to document our arrival. There is great shared energy — like you feel in an airport or train station — as new pilgrims enter the stage.
Let’s face it, where ever they started and however they made their way to the plaza, this is an accomplishment to be remembered for the rest of your life. And this is the moment to document.
Speaking of documents. The next step is to exit the plaza on the other side and head immediately to the Oficina del Peregrino and grab a number.
That’s right, grab a number.
This is the place to which you bring your Peregrino passport, and if you have been getting it faithfully stamped every day (twice a day during the last 100 kilometers) then you are issued an official certification, validating your Camino.
It is better than a selfie.
We were somewhere around numbers 644 and 645.
And the day had barely started. That day, the 10 desks staffed by volunteers would process 1,400 passports. Scores more would be asked to come back the next day.
So you can get some of the scale that the Camino deals with on a daily basis. And this is hardly the busy season.
Having numbers allowed us to go grab breakfast, tour the cathedral and surrounding Center and check into our hotel, dry off, clean up, and rest for a bit.
And when we exited the hotel, the clouds had dispersed, the sun was shining, and Santiago was a whole new city to explore.
Exploring inside Cathedral Santiago:
The cathedral is basically closed for renovation. However, there is a side entrance which enables pilgrims to enter the church and get a taste of how spectacular it will look when the work is completed.
You can even hug an apostle, James, I presume. But the line for that would put the opening of a new “Harry Potter” movie to shame.
Life in the plaza, Part II:
In the afternoon, with the sun out, Plaza Obridoro came to life. There was a wedding:
There was a proposal. She said yes. They were in that clutch for a very very long time:
There were group photos and selfies and a group of young Brazilians who were just happy to samba in Santiago:
Religious building art and architecture around the center of Santiago:
Images from the area just outside the center:
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Another of my favorites. It isn’t often that you get to see a statue on a cigarette break:
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So, the image on the left is from a side street in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The image on the right is from the airport in Porto, Portugal. One just feels like an inversion of the other:
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My favorite piece of found art in Santiago. These boots had been discarded along the pedestrian road leading to the Oficina del Peregrino. Deliberately? I don’t know. They just made a powerful statement for the end of one person’s Camino:
This is a similar pair put to good use at Casa Fernanda:
5 thoughts on “A giddy collision of excesses, Santiago is no haven for reflection — that’s what the Camino was about”
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Overcome by your words and fond memories of HEARING them in Merida where it was no sacrifice to give you my casita in exchange for your company
Thank you Barbara! Your kindness and generosity stays with me to this day. Without you, Tamera and Dennis who knows how I might have ended up. You were my angels I hope you are all flourishing and enjoying life!
What a fantastic journey! Indeed, the real work is always done during the struggle, not at the finish line.
Well said, Nate. Thank you!