The joys of Santiago de Compestela – getting closer to God

Oh dear, I have been remiss in keeping this humble little tale of adventure up to date. I can assure you  that I have good reason for this as it has been hard work being the expedition photographer (and Val thought it was hard being Tour Guide and Translator!) In order to fulfil my duties I have had to be out and about at all hours of the day (and night as ‘golden hour’ and street lights don’t come on until well after 10pm) looking for that elusive shot that will capture the essence of Santiago.  Will that ever be possible? Not sure. 

Santiago is a wonderful little gem of a town. As I said previously, we are staying in a delightful loft apartment that we found on Air BnB.  It’s only a two minute walk to the Cathedral along the streets of the old town. We can lie in bed at night and look at the flood lite steeples (and scaffolding) of the Cathedral. We hear the old bells chime for the parts of an hour and another deep one count out the hour. We don’t get any street noise at all. And the icing of the cake of course it that it’s not an albergue!

So I think the only way to tackle describing this beautiful town is to break pm it down into what I see the as being Santiago.

1. Religion

Santiago has to be the most actively Catholic town/city in Spain. The Cathedral of St James (Santiago) is reportedly where St James’s bones were found so they plonked a massive cathedral on the site. I’m not going to bore you with the details of his life, how he came to shore on a clam shell as a pilgrim or as the moor slayer despite the moors never settled in Galicia. Fact vs fiction – who knows and I don’t really care. The end result though is a town that thrives on the legend of St James the Pilgrim. 

The local older Spanish people are clearly very devout as are a considerable proportion of the pilgrims who walk here from various parts or Spain or the French border. The end point is one of the two plazas outside the massive Cathedral complex. The pinnacle of the walk being attending the Pilgrim’s mass at midday (after you have stood in line for over an hour to get your Compestela making you a bone fide pilgrim and worthy of that express pass into heaven at the pearly gates). Attending the mass is almost as difficult as the walk to get to Santiago in the first place. The Cathedral just doesn’t have sufficient seating space to match the demand at this time of the year.  There are front row pews for the pilgrims but these are basically full over an hour before the mass commencing. The poor locals are relegated to the back rows, but then again, there are a number of masses they can attend thoughout the day.  In many ways it is difficult not to view this mass as a ‘tourist spectacle’ but it’s not and very serious for those attending. This little Buddhist went along like a good little Buddhist who is tolerant of other people’s faith and devotion. I arrived at 10.40am and got seats for myself and Val in the last row in the nave. I was hopeful they would swing the Botafumerie as the Cathedral was filled with the heady fragrance of incense from an earlier mass. Lots of pomp and solemnity but I couldn’t really see anything. Nice male and female choirs. After 25 minutes I left as it was just meaningless to me. I decided that the little old lady dressed in black widow’s weeds who had been standing a number of rows ahead of me needed the seat more than I. Val had already gone by this stage as she has no religious interest or tolerance. So I placed my bag on the seat to stop any other person getting my seat, went and got her and offered my place to her. That felt much more satisfying to me. And for the record, they did swing the Bontefumarie I found out later. No big deal, I was happy with my decision. 

So the Cathedral itself. It is big. It is impressive. It has scaffolding on the outside as it is in need of restoration to stop it deteriorating. It has lots of people visiting thought the day both as sticky beaks and for the numerous masses held during the day or in private sessions of prayer. There are multiple chapels inside the vast interior, some of which are a bit creepy, some beautiful. 

   
 

   

   

  

  

 

The Cathedral also has a museum where you can acces the cloisters and a number of the church’s treasures are on display and that you are not allowed to photograph. I’m not sure how these images happened. The most magnificent displays were the old illustrated texts dating back to the 1100s and it was impossible to pull out a camera here. The old archbishops robes embroiled with gold were pretty stunning though.

   

  

  

 
The next Cathedral we stumbled upon was Igrexa de San Miguel dos Agros which is another important church In town. It was stunning – gold, gold, gold. The old wooden choirs stalls were so ornate and some thing to behold. I a n tell they had very little bottoms in those days! But I can’t show you the stalls as I just couldn’t get an image I was happy enough with.

   

 

Thus Carhedral was also a museum housing some interesting things including the most forsaken Jesus I have seen.

 
One of the other nice things about churches is that have interesting steeples which make for nice silhouettes.

 
 
If you look When walking around, it is possible to find ornate carvings tucked away. I was having a black and white moment or two. Here’s St James (the pilgrim) himself, in the flesh.

   

     
Now I think that is going to do for now. I will leave you feeling all pious and full of wonder with the Glory of God. More to come in the next instalment as I have a plane to catch.

  

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