Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 20, 2011

Our Arrival

The cathedral is impressive – towering, ancient, powerful – a plaza on each of its four sides and construction scaffolding everywhere. St. James mounted on a rearing horse and wearing a Gabby Hayes hat with a scallop shell on it gazes down on us from the high pediment and I seem to sense he is smiling.  We take several group photos and then over to the center of the square to kneel and place our hands on the last scallop shell embedded in the concrete, ground zero – the act which finalizes our journey.

But, we are not quite finished…now to the office which issues the official certificate of completion – our guides know the time with the fewest pilgrim applicants, so the process of certifying the stamps on our camino passports and checking IDs is relatively short.  We proudly receive our papers with our names in Latin and go outside and sit on a wall to wait for the others.   Suddenly I hear the dulcet tones – “Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia”….yes, it is out Italian friends and we exchange shouts  and laughs as they head in to get their certificates.

We retrace steps away from the center and find our hotel several blocks away.  Its modest entrance belies the garden and aviary areas behind, but we barely notice as we drag to our rooms.

We are numb as if we are on “pause”.  Having a destination and focusing on it made life a little simpler and clearer.  The journey seemed more real and satisfying somehow than the arrival.  It will take a while to sort this out….so after using much soap, shampoo, and hot water, we march off to our final group dinner at a nearby restaurant.  It is both joyful and poignant.  We bid adieu to Jason and Ria and it is painful.  They have been wonderful – caring, professional, humorous – terrific, interesting, intelligent people who somehow changed our lives a little.

The next morning we meet our new guide for the day – Margerina (sic) who takes us on a tour of the cathedral and surrounds.  She is delightful and speaks with the classic Galician lisp.  We walk around the four plazas then inside – it is a fabulous space – ancient, but busy.  Our guide walks us around the interior pointing out the private chapels, the sealed off steps to the vast catacombs, the history and legend of it all.  We are led up a narrow stairway behind the altar and as we pass by we each hug and lay our heads on the back of a once bejeweled bust of St. James.  For an instant you have him all to yourself and whisper a short prayer onto his neck. The service is very relaxed, almost casual – it is noontime and most of the pilgrims are still in pilgrim road gear. It is called  the Pilgrims Mass when all pilgrims are acknowledged and blessed, and then disperse eventually to the worlds we came from.

The most amazing feature of the service came last – not liturgically correct, I believe – but who cares.  It is the huge, silver censer which hangs like a lantern from the dome in front of the altar.  An elaborate rigging sits high in the dome right at the apex of the cross layout of the sanctuary.  As the music begins, five men take their ropes and lower the censer for the priest to ignite – it must weigh 200 lbs. – one man gives it a little push, and suddenly it is jerked upward with smoking incense streaming from it.  Eventually this slight push and vertical movement are worked into a swinging motion aligned with the short arms of the cross going back and forth in front of the altar.  It swings at 60 mph and is quite high above our heads and you want to watch it forever.  On one pass overhead we note a huge star worked into the bottom of the censer before it flies away from us – yes, this is the place.  Later we will return on our own to the cathedral when it is quieter to light candles for several people.  I imagine the soft candlelight and the sweet aroma as we put fire to our small prayers to God to remember and bless those we name, but it is strange times and we end up putting euros into a slot for electric light.

Our friends depart to resume their own schedules and lives.  We miss them already and hope to meet again. This incredible journey has been a gift for a lifetime – a piece of time forever enshrined in our hearts.  There are so many precious moments unmentioned here, so much beauty in God’s creation that was laid out before us, such a sense of the passage of time over the millenia that we just cannot sense in  America, and all of it enhanced with a sense of the sacred.  It will be some time before we can estimate the extent and form the pilgrimage has affected us, but we are willing to wait.  Buen camino…

Touching The Scallop Shell; Our Quest is Finished

Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 20, 2011

Tuesday – getting warmer

It is getting serious now as tomorrow is our last day  of walking.  We are getting to be pros now at “Hola” and “Buen camino”, we are used to everyone’s pace and particularities, and used to being encased in our little pilgrim world – a special pod of pilgrims – blessed somehow to have found one another, each of us traveling for our own reason – together, but alone.

Today we have a wonderful picnic – there has been some competition as we noted how delicious either Ria’s or Jason’s “feed the pilgrims” skills were….wine with lunch gets extra points.  11 miles and exquisite scenery – a good day.  We arrive at our accommodations for the evening to discover it was once a modest palace, now restored.  We enter the gateway to find a large courtyard – our rooms lining each side and a chapel and main building before us. It has been in the family for 13 generations.  This is good.  Our rooms don’t quite match the palace theme, but the cottage windows open to beautiful lawns and lots of flowers.  We have our last “meeting” on the terrace to discuss tomorrow’s last walk and then into a wonderful Galician style dinner…bread, wine, cheese – life is good.

Wednesday…the peregrinos (pilgrims) are coming home…

We pack our bags and heft on our backpacks trying to deny the sadness within.  We walk away from our palatial aubergue (pronounced Al-bear-gay in Galician) and move out.  Today will be a long walk in more ways than one.

The various paths to Compostela converge and there are more and more pilgrims on foot and bikes on the trail.  We meet Lana from Germany in her 20’s whose backpack tells us she is a serious walker.  She has done the entire camino from the French border and is now 5 miles away. “I want to run the rest of the way I am so excited about being there” she said with great emotion.  We pass by the Santiago airport light stanchions at the end of the runways, but with our path still in shaded forest – the modern world is at the margins of our current existence now and getting closer.  We pass by Lavacolla – literally “wash the bottom” – where pilgrims would wash up in the river before entering the city.  Going over a rise we can just see the city with rooftops and spires peeking up, but not our spire yet.

We had a wonderful picnic on Monte de Gozo, a beautiful spot marred by a dreadfully large, quasi-industrial statue dedicated to the visit of a recent pope…and freshened up at the large aubergue (hostel) $10/night, which will be upstaged soon by a larger, more modern aubergue near the cathedral.  Jason announces that we will all walk into the city together and we feel how right that is.  Down the hill, across the busy road and traffic circle, by the memorial to those who have honored Spain, and onto mean concrete sidewalks which suddenly become metaphor for all that is wrong in the world.  We trudge on toward St. James ensconced in his cathedral which now covers what was the “field of stars”.  The city is ok, but the walking is difficult and has no peaceful rhythm, and our goal is so close….we enter the old city – winding, narrow, stone streets running at all angles into small squares with ancient fountains.  There are quaint businesses along the way, apartments on the upper levels, and the number of souvenir shops increase as we near the cathedral.  We go down stairs, thru an archway with a resident bagpiper, and are suddenly in a huge plaza at the front of the Cathedral of St. James (Sant Iago) at last!!  There are pilgrims everywhere – collapsed, backbacks off, taking photos, exhilarated and exhausted at the same time.  Some have been on the camino for months and seem dazed by being at journey’s end.

Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 20, 2011


Prayer at breakfast before our last day of walking

                         Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Our heavenly Father – In the past days you have placed incredible abundance before us –

Tables of wonderful food presented with skill and affection

Hours of creating new friendships, of laughter, of conversation and camaraderie

The incredible glory of your creation laid before us in golden sunlight and soft rain – an awesome display of the richness of this world and the elegant cycles of life

You have guided us by providing Ria and Jason with their kindness, compassion and professionalism and gifted with their unique natures and personalities.  You gave us Thelso to keep us safe and mobile with his patience and good nature.

We have learned, dear Father, that the treasure we may seek is not found only at our destination, but in the journey itself.

We have learned truths about ourselves and discarded untruths.

This journey is a microcosm of the lives we will live beyond it – in many ways we will continue to travel it together.

Keep us safe, keep us well, always surrounded by the Holy Spirit until we meet again….Amen.

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