Santiago moments, and an encounter with the Botafumeiro

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.


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.


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.


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.


INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the start, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
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  1. HI Jerry, wonderful post and you captured the Post Camino emotions so well, especially receiving the Compostela at the Pilgrims Office. I was so happy that you and Sharon were still in town and that I had someone to share the experience of arriving in Santiago and attending the pilgrims mass with. It was also nice to talk with someone who had just went through the Camino experience too and be able to share thoughts about the journey. It made my celebration of reaching Santiago even more special to spend it with my two Camino friends.

    I enjoyed your tale of Three Ways of Wear, what a great story and applicable to the Camino journey and life. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Kathleen Colobong
    1. Thanks Kathy! It was wonderful to share your arrival and mass and spend some time together to talk through our common experience – a great way to unwind at the conclusion of the Camino 🙂

      Jerry Everard
  2. Jerry, Thank you so much for your blog, which I have enjoyed so much. We haven’t met, but we were on the path at much the same time. I also did not walk the Meseta, and walked with a small group (8), the others being from Canada and the US, me being the only Aussie. I have learned so much from following your daily notes, and it has enabled me to appreciate my journey even more.
    Many thanks again, and congratulations to you and Sharon.

    Lesley Robinson

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