Encounter with the Secret Pilgrim

I had heard rumours of a so-called secret pilgrim, or hidden pilgrim, from the concierge at our hotel in Santiago. It was all a bit cryptic, so I decided to find out more. But first, it was time to visit the museum and tour the cathedral – including hugging the Saint.

Santiago cathedral

This latter is another pilgrim tradition. Saint James’ relics are contained in a large life-sized reliquary in the cathedral. And by climbing the stairs behind the altar and under the watchful gaze of a member of the clergy (no selfies allowed) you can embrace the jewel-encrusted golden reliquary.

St James reliquary

And then we explored the rest of the Cathedral, finding niches and side rooms richly decorated with Camino symbolism.

Santiago cathedral

The Cathedral museum, housed in the former Benedictine monastery next door – was the very monastery from which Dom Salvado came to Perth in Western Australia to found New Norcia – itself the subject of an Australian pilgrimage route. The museum held a wide range of art objects and religious objects – chalices and the like, and statues formerly mounted on the Cathedral, and a couple of spare Botafumieros that have been used over the past few centuries.

Botafumiero

We met up with Camino friends Dekel and Jack once again. They had walked to Finiserre and Muxia and had returned to Santiago before departing back to the UK. We shared a wonderful meal and drinks with them before parting. It is definitely worth hanging around in Santiago for a few days to meet up with those wonderful people we had met along the way.

Jack and Dekel

Later in the evening, it was time to seek out the hidden pilgrim. He was a shadowy figure, only seen at night. And there is a story attached.

Legend has it, that centuries ago a monk fell in love with a nun and planned to elope. He told her he would dress as a pilgrim (great disguise as there would have been thousands of pilgrims as they are today), but at the appointed hour she didn’t show, so he appears every night hoping for her to turn up. It is, of course, a trick of the shadows formed by the base of the lightning conductor and his staff is the shadow if the support column for the Berenguela clock tower – but it makes for a good romantic – even gothic – story! It was made all the better for the late evening gloom and the rain that fell steadily throughout my search for the pilgrim.

Secret Pilgrim

It was time to celebrate with a Tarte de Santiago – the famous Galician almond cake that provided excellent sustenance along our journey. We would not be eating many more of these once we left Spain, so it seemed a fitting conclusion to our Camino. Next stop Madrid, then Rome!

Tarte de Santiago

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Santiago moments, and an encounter with the Botafumeiro

We were looking forward to seeing the famous Botafumeiro, but we wanted to make sure we had our Compostelas, or certificates of completion. So first thing, we headed down to the Pilgrim Office to receive our Compostela – the certificate we receive to mark the conclusion of our pilgrimage. There are three categories of pilgrim: those who walk for religious reasons; those who walk for less specific spiritual reasons; and those who walk for sport, health or just to see the sights. For us, it was, I suppose, a spiritual reason, though we are not religious by inclination.

Compostelas with shells

The hospitalero carefully examined the rows of stamps on our credential, to verify we had walked at least the minimum 100kms. She asked where we had started, and we told her that we had started at St Jean Pied de Port, though we didn’t walk the Meseta, but walked the rest. She nodded, and carefully inscribed my name in latin – Hieronymus – like the painter. As she handed us our Compostelas, she smiled and said “congratulations, well done!” And the tears welled up as the scale of our achievement became real.

We took some time out to compose ourselves in the adjacent Pilgrims chapel, before heading out to meet with fellow Australian pilgrim Alan, one of our Camino friends. We shared a breakfast and coffee. Soon, he departed for the airport to begin his journey home.

Alan Garside

Then it was time for us to head off to find the Correos (Post Office) to retrieve the parcel we had sent from Pamplona, and then on to retrieve the bag we had sent from St Jean seemingly an age ago. They have a great service – you can send a suitcase or bag from St Jean Pied de Port and they will hold it in Santiago for up to 2 months without extra charge. We were directed to an Albergue a few streets away to collect it. And within a few minutes, we had our bag.

Santiago

We got it back to the hotel and opened it up. What’s with all this stuff?? Did we really think THAT was an essential item? Why did we pack this?? And so it went. Then it dawned on us. We had changed. The Camino had changed us. And we realised that in our busy lifestyle, we accumulate so much stuff that is simply unnecessary. Having lived out of a backpack for six weeks, we realised just how little we actually needed on a day-to-day basis. I also noted that my boots were worn down, and Sharon’s walking shoes had worn right through the sole. And then I thought about how the journey had shaped us as we had shaped our shoes.

And I was reminded of a story I once wrote – one of my Stranger Tales – about the three kinds of wear:

                                   Three Ways of Wearing

The stranger went down into the village for he was unsure about the direction of his destination. In the main square there were few people, but they were intent on their business and paid no heed to him.

All, save one, a woman who was sewing a quilt at a small table. She had glanced at him once or twice when it seemed as though his gaze would not be caught. At length the Stranger set out across the square, as though looking for something. A sign, perhaps.

She beckoned him over, held captive by the mound of fabrics around her. “I can tell you where you want to go” said the woman. Startled, the Stranger turned to her, quizzically, for how could she know where he wanted to go before he’d had the chance to tell of his journey.

“Oh I can tell you where you want to go, but it will cost you.” She said. He reached for the purse that hung by his side “Not that stuff – I have no use for money.” “Then what use is it talking to you?” asked the Stranger. “I want something closer to you,” she said. “But I have nothing of value,” said the Stranger. “That depends…” said the woman. “What I want,” she continued ” is something you have worn.” “Ah,” said the Stranger “that depends on what you mean by ‘worn’. For there are three ways of wearing.”

The Stranger reached into his bag and removed a sock which showed daylight where once there had been a heel. “First, an item can be worn out, like this sock – it has been abraded by the world with which it has made contact until it becomes weak and no longer provides protection.” He made as though to put it on. “Then the item itself can be worn, meaning I can wear it, in the sense that I can fit it to my foot.”

“And what of the third?” Asked the woman. “Ah that is the greatest loss,” said the stranger “For in wearing the sock, the sock wears me – I bear the marks of the creases in the sock, and the sock has abraded my skin until it is quite shiny and raw – indeed I have left much of myself in this sock.” “Then give me the sock, for you have no further use of it,” said the woman. The Stranger shook his head sadly and said: ” That I can never do, for this sock bears witness to my journey. It is the only reminder I have of all the miles I have walked in search of my destination.

“Well, that is all the more reason why I must have the sock,” she said, and with that, the woman snatched the sock from the Stranger’s hand and stashed it quickly beneath her pile of fabric. “Now tell me of your journey, so that your sock may continue to bear witness for generations to come. The Stranger sighed deeply, for he knew there would be no arguing with her.

And he sat down on his heels and began to tell her of his travels. At length, the woman nodded, satisfied, and said “We have made a bargain, and now it is my turn. You should seek lodgings nearby and return in three days and I shall tell you how to complete the next stage of your journey”.

The Stranger found lodgings on the outskirts of the village, for now, he was bound to await the return of the quilter. On the third day, he went out to the Square – by now it was crowded and the quilter was nowhere in sight, for it was market day and before long dust filled his eyes and nose, and the sounds of spruikers, dogs and exotic birds filled the air.

At length he stopped at a tea tent for refreshment, searching the crowd and swallowing his growing disappointment with each mouthful of tea. As he rose to leave he felt a tug at his sleeve. A small boy beckoned and led the Stranger away through the crowd between the cacophony of tents and stalls, people and animals. Then abruptly, through a break in the crowd, he saw a pile of fabric around the knees of the quilter. The woman finished her thread before looking up at him – directly into his eyes.

“You have given freely of your memories, and now it is my turn,” she said. The woman gave him a square of fabric that at first glance resembled a geometric blackwork pattern. “This is where you have been – your sock will lead you home as surely as Ariadne’s thread”. And as he examined the pattern he saw that it was a beautifully embroidered map. He thanked her and turned to leave, but she held up her hand: “Wait,” she said, “This will take you home and it will help you recall your journey, but your path lies elsewhere…” and reaching down she handed him a second square – a blank piece of fabric. “This will take you where you need to go.” she said.

“But I don’t understand – you have taken something from me and given me something in return, but how will a blank piece of fabric lead me to my destination?” asked the Stranger. She smiled then, and said “I have taken both something and nothing – you still have your sock, I merely gave it a new context and a new shape. The map you carry is made from the thread comprising the sock but now the thread marks your memories inscribed in fabric. The ‘wear’ has become ‘where’.”

“And what of the second piece?” asked the Stranger “It is for you to give it a new context – already it carries the image of a quilter – the rest is up to you.” And she smiled, and it was a beautiful smile.

I now had my photos and notebooks, and a few days in which to prepare for the next part of our journey. But first, there was something important to do.

Santiago

Our Camino friend Kathy would be arriving, and we exchanged texts to find out when she would be arriving in the Square. And at the appointed time we went up to the square. It was late afternoon, and clouds hung low overhead. There were a few people milling around as pilgrims do in order to take in the scale of their achievement, and as a way to keep moving when they have reached their destination, in much the way that after a long drive you stop the car, yet the road seems still to be in motion. It is like waiting for the soul to catch up when you have arrived.

Santiago cathedral

There was one lone figure standing still with her backpack, and slowly looking around. Sharon saw her first, and with a shout we ran to her and hugged a deep embrace. We talked a while, then she went to find her apartment, and we arranged to meet for the pilgrim mass at the Cathedral.

Kathy Kolobong

Kathy arrived early, and we were not far behind. She managed to save us a space in the front pew. And the Cathedral filled quickly to capacity. There was singing, and a welcome to pilgrims from many countries – we heard Australia mentioned – and from many starting points, including from St Jean Pied de Port. This was our welcome. The mass was solemn and beautiful. There was a nun leading the singing, and she had a magnificent voice that inspired you to join in with her. The liturgy was in Spanish and mostly unintelligible but the spectacle was moving nonetheless. No filming was allowed during the Mass itself.

Botafumiero

As the mass ended, the famed Botafumeiro – the giant thurible (incense burner) – was unfurled, opened and lit with a sense of ceremony. Then eight strong men hoisted it on ropes and swung it almost to the roof. It weighed nearly 100kgs fully fuelled so the swing was spectacular and skillful. It filled the air with incense as the choir filled the air with music. Camera flashes went off and as the Botafumeiro swept past the pews along the aisle across the Nave, a small child crawled out into the aisle fascinated by the swinging object passing a few feet above. We held our breath that rope holding the fiery brazier would hold, until at length the swing was slowed, one monk detached from the group and waited for the thurible to slow, then in one last sweeping motion he grabbed the side and swung the Botafumeiro to a standstill. And the congregation erupted into spontaneous applause. It was breathtaking!

We headed out for dinner together. It was wonderful to have someone to share our experience with, and to hear her stories. It is a special experience on the Camino that few would comprehend who have not done it. We walk our own Camino, but there is also the common experience of those who have dared to push themselves into a new space, and arrived successfully at the other end.

Tomorrow we will tour the Cathedral, and museum, and then perhaps take a bus to Finisterre and Muxia.

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INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the start, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – also found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog

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Pedrouzo to Santiago – Arrival at last!

Pedrouzo was shrouded in mist as we set off to reach Santiago de Compostela. Day 41 of our Camino, and it’s All Saints Day. Some time ago we wondered if we could reach Santiago by this date, knowing that it would definitely be a day on which the famous Botafumiero (giant thurible, or incense burner) would be swung in the Cathedral. Would we find the fabled ‘secret pilgrim’? To find out, we need to do some walking!

Leaving Pedrouzo

It had rained overnight and there was still some water on the track. We left Pedrouzo at first light, initially testing our night-vision as we glimpsed the dark shape of the town through the trees amid the encircling gloom.

Pedrouzo

We passed some Camino graffiti: ‘Se Siempe tu mismo’ which translates roughly as ‘always be yourself’, next to an outlined yellow arrow. I think that if you have walked the Camino, then by now you are already aware that you walk your own path on the Camino as in life – so it’s probably a bit of a statement of the obvious. Nevertheless, it seems some people feel the need to leave pop psych wisdom daubed over people’s walls right along the Camino. I suppose it beats profanities and expletives, but it does detract from the ancient ambience we find right along the route.

graffiti

We found an official Camino marker ringed with a cyclist’s inner tube. Was it symbolic of an inner deflation? Or a speedy repair to enable a mounted pilgrim to continue, perhaps with the lesson that where there’s a wheel there’s a way…

Camino marker, Galicia

Not long afterwards we passed a more traditional older-style Camino marker, beautifully carved from stone by an unknown skilled stone mason. A couple of offerings had been placed on top, probably quite recently.

Camino marker, Galicia

The path took us through delightful woodland and the going was gentle. We appreciated that, as the cumulative fatigue was taking its toll.

woodland path

Interestingly, we found ourselves walking in this scenery, barely noticing that the woods off to the side cleverly concealed the fact that we were walking around the end of the runway of Lavacolla airport. It was peaceful, and unseen birds sang in the morning sunshine.

Nearby we encountered what appeared at first sight to be a dump. We were next to a foetid, polluted stream and in a small clearing every tree and every shrub was festooned with ribbons and bits of clothing, and boots and picture mementos. An orange chemical substance was oozing into the stream. I puzzled for a while, before realising that this desecration of the landscape was the fabled Lavacolla, the traditional bathing spot for pilgrims over the past thousand years, just a few kilometres from Santiago. You would not get very clean by washing in this place!

Lavacolla

According to the Codex Calixtinus, it is customary to wash oneself thoroughly in the river at Lavacolla, so as to be clean when arriving in Santiago:

There is a river in a wooded place two miles from Santiago called Lavacolla, in which French pilgrims, out of respect for the Apostle, wash not only their private parts but, stripping off their clothes, clean all the dirt from their bodies.

I took one look at the orange ooze seeping into the river and decided to hold off until we reached our hotel….

This semi-fortified chapel stood in marked contrast to the informal bathing spot we passed a few minutes before.

Capilla San Rocque

And we were clearly beginning to head into civilisation in the form of the hamlet of Villamaior. This Horreo was one of the better-maintained ones, possibly owned by the church, as shown by the cross surmounting one end.

Horreo

We passed a house with stylised plaster heads depicting children on the gateposts. They were striking in their simplicity. I wondered what message they were supposed to convey, or indeed what they properly represented.

Lavacolla

Soon we were climbing again, heading up to Monte del Gozo. The Capilla san Marcos stood gracefully beside the path as though to wave to the passing parade of pilgrims, gradually becoming more numerous as we approached Santiago.

Capilla San Marcos

Near the church was an ancient cross and it appeared that the Virgin Mary was pierced with a sword – the anguish of a mother who saw the death of her son.

ancient cross

And then the famous ‘Don’t STOP Walking’ sign providing encouragement to exhausted pilgrims. Not far now! This must be one of the most photographed road signs on the Camino!

Don't stop walking

We climbed and saw off to one side a famous landmark – a monument to the pilgrimages of Pope John Paul II and St Francis of Assisi. We were at the Monte Del Gozo – the Mount of Joy.

Monte del Gozo

From here, it is said, you can see the twin spires of Santiago cathedral on a clear day. Follow the gaze of the statue of two pilgrims, but the cathedral is not easy to spot among the sprawl of Santiago.

Then it was down a long flight of steps to meet the road and the bridge over the railway line. There were disturbing gaps among the rotten wooden floor to the footbridge and I made sure to stay within the line of the steel support girders clearly visible beneath the loose boards. It was not the best sight for two tired pilgrims.

And then we were on the outskirts of the city. We passed a statue with a plaque labelled El Templario Peregrino – the pilgrim Templar. Perhaps these days he was there to protect the pilgrims from the Spanish traffic.

El Templario Peregrino

We saw a sign to beware of walkers, tractors, mopeds and horses and carts. We decided to be vigilant because you never know when a horse and cart will come bounding out in front of a speeding tractor or moped!

road sign

Just beyond a roundabout, we passed a modern monument to prominent people associated with the Camino. It was like a portal and we passed beneath across the park.

pilgrim monument

And we found the way marked with bronze camino shells – our guides in many towns. The converging lines symbolising the coming together of all the various pilgrim routes to meet at Santiago de Compostela.

bronze Camino shell

Soon we were walking the city streets, past shops and cafes, with a spire of the cathedral tantalisingly ahead.

Santiago de Compostela

Embedded into the path we found an inscription from UNESCO. It read: ‘Europe was made on the pilgrim road to Compostela‘. The field of stars. And at once it became clear. Here is a path that transcends national and local boundaries and has brought people together in common cause. It is a path that brought artisans, craftsmen and philosophers together to exchange ideas and to open our minds beyond the narrow parochialism of our individual countries. It is a path that today brings people together from all over the world, from Australia, Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Latvia. Italy, Slovenia, South Korea, Japan, China and Spain – and that is just some of the nationalities we met along the road. All bound by an ideal, and a sense of altruism. All walking in the footsteps of a thousand years of pilgrims from across the world.

Europe was built on the pilgrimage to Santiago

We soon lost sight of the Cathedral spires among the buildings around us. We followed the bronze markers and tried not to get lost in the maze of a town built on medieval streets.

Santiago

Then we encountered some steps, and a piper was playing. I grabbed the phone and tried not to take a tumble on the stairs. We descended past the piper, then all at once we entered the square.

I looked around and saw the Cathedral for the first time. We both burst into tears and embraced. We had done it.

Whether we wept from exhaustion, or from the realisation that we had accomplished something truly extraordinary is immaterial. We had walked a million steps and traversed 800kms/500 miles, we had crossed three mountain ranges and we had walked an ancient path to give thanks for a good life. And we had walked the ancient Way of St James.

Somehow, we are no longer the people who started out on this journey. Our perspectives have shifted. And we have learnt many things about ourselves, and about our fellow human beings. And it was good.

We set off to find our hotel – we have booked a week here and hope to meet up with some of our fellow pilgrims, our Camino family. At the hotel we were congratulated and welcomed for one of the best hotel stays on our entire trip.

Hotel Rua Villar

With a light drizzle in the late afternoon, we were amazed and blessed by a spectacular rainbow over the Cathedral! Some might take that as a sign. There is no doubt we will return here. But for now it is time to rest, then tomorrow we receive our Compostela certificates, meet some friends and attend the Pilgrims mass. Until then, Buen Camino!

Santiago Cathedral

 

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INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the start, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – also found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog

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