The Pilgrims’ Mass in Santiago, and other sights

The Pilgrims’ Mass — the highlight, for many, of their pilgrimage. For others, like the college kids sitting on the floor next to us, it was a chance to strip down to the tank top and get a neck rub. The lady sitting on the column nearby spent most of the Mass tapping away on her cell phone, while her husband photographed and video-d everything. St. James seemed unperturbed; I’m sure he’s seen a lot in the past millenium or so.
Peg and Tom arrived at 10:15 to reserve seats for us; we got there at 11:00 and all of the other seats were gone (although a couple of Mexican ladies squeezed into our rows with us). The aisles were packed as well as the pews and any available surface on which to sit. A nun with a beautiful voice in a severe classic black habit came out and taught us some of the music that would be sung during Mass, directing with exquisite authority and gentleness. Anthea translated: “Now the young ones, you can sing louder here. Good! And you here in the front rows, sing too.” At noon, the bishop came in at the tail end of a procession of a dozen or so priests. Before the Mass, there were welcomes to the peregrinos, and a listing of the pilgrims from different countries, done by lay people representing different Confraternities of St. James.
During the early parts of the Mass, the readings from the Old Testament and the Epistles of the Apostles, the bishop stood leaning his head on his staff looking tired. but when it came time for him to give the sermon, he brightened up, and got deeply into talking about pilgrimages until he was gesturing and vigorous. He tied his speech (Anthea said) to the first reading from Ecclesiastes, “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven. . . ” I don’t know what he said, but I could understand enough Spanish to catch the references in the reading, and thought that it could mean “there is a time for pilgrimage, and a time to come to the end of the pilgrimage,” and that was satisfying. We have come to the end of this pilgrimage, and it is complete. There may be another one, but our road to St. James came to its fulfillment in the Mass in the cathedral.
At the end of the Mass, the tirabolieros [translates as “the guys who swing the incense burner”] came forward in their rust-red robes and swung the huge incense burner, the Botafumeiro. We were fortunate to see this; we have read that they don’t do it at every Pilgrims’ Mass. It swings in a long arc up over our heads almost to the roof of the cathedral, then back down nearly to the floor and out and up again on the other side, for several minutes, with every head in the cathedral following its mesmerizing arc. Peg and Tom got us excellent seats, right underneath.
Before Mass started, about ten minutes, someone announced that there should be no photography or videotaping during the ceremony. Of course, people ignored that; a few at first, but more and more as the Mass went on. When the Botafumerio began to swing, all pretense at obedience ended — there were people using both camera and cell phone to properly record both the music and the event. As the tirabolieros brought the censor to rest before the altar, the crowds broke out in loud applause and cheering, quieted only by the firm voice of the bishop singing the final responses and blessing.
Another tradition of the pilgrimage is that when one arrives at the cathedral, and has a chance, one climbs the stairs behind the statue of the Saint and gives him a hug, or at least a pat on the shoulder in lieu of a handshake. We made our way slowly up the red marble stairs with their deep hollows worn by the feet of so many other pilgrims. St. James’s golden robe is set with gemstones — squares of citrine and ruby and others that I didn’t have time to look at. There are only a few seconds to say “Hello” and “Buen Camino” before it’s time to move along and make way for the next person in the steady stream.
We found a place for lunch (pasta, french fries, and the like), and then parted ways, with Jim and Anthea heading back up the hill to our cozy little bungalow, and the rest of us roaming around looking for coffee, shops with things for the folks back home, and sights to see. Anthea was sick last night, from something she ate; luckily by late morning she felt much better and came to Mass with us. But by mid-afternoon, she was ready for a rest.
The squares and streets were crowded with peregrinos and townspeople and tourists. We said “Buen Camino” to the new pilgrims arriving, but instead of returning the greeting, most of them ignored us. We felt that we had left that stream and could no longer (even carrying walking sticks, but not the big backpacks) be recognized as fellow travelers. They were focused on following the path to the cathedral; we were a distraction, or just not heard.
[I’m sitting in the bar/restaurant at the camping cabins place we’re staying — it’s a fairly upscale bar, and like all Spanish bars has a TV on which is playing a) futball; b) news and weather; c) Spanish soaps or action shows (Anthea can understand these, so pays more attention than we do); d) occasionally weird music videos. But mostly futball. The bars are equivalent of a cross between an American bar, a coffee shop, and a casual restaurant; neither coffee shops nor casual restaurants exist as distinct creatures — it’s always a bar.Everyone comes to these — families, singles, old men, business people, travelers. It will be strange to be in the U.S. and not hear the ubiquitous futball games in Spanish in the background.]
In the evening we went to the big shopping mall that Peg and Tom discovered when they were here for a night before they took the bus to Sarria. It has everything — shoe stores, clothing, phone shops, restaurants, electronics, game shops — you would find in an American mall but in its Spanish incarnation. The restaurant was Italian again, but had a wider variety than many, and good chefs. We laid our plans for the trip to Finisterre by bus tomorrow — two hours there and three hours back; with four or five hours to see the Atlantic, the “End of the Earth” and get some lunch.
Traditional Galician dancers performing at the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. [The hotel on the main square with the cathedral was built by Isabella and Ferdinand in the late 1400s to house poverty-stricken pilgrims; now it’s a 5-star luxury hotel run by the Spanish government.] Note the blue sky — the day stayed clear with a breeze to cool things off. The air begins to smell like autumn, and the sun to have the distant quality that it takes on as winter approaches.
Swarms of Spanish police in the main square a little before noon. We thought maybe they were expecting demonstrations (there have been a number of these recently, especially in Madrid, that we’ve seen on TV), but soon they all piled into vans and sped away, so we decided maybe they just changing shifts.
A pilgrim backpack waiting for Mass.
The Butafumeiro and the church’s arched ceiling.
The ropes for the Butafumeiro.
Notice the pilgrim head behind St. James’s shoulder. Stairs lead up behind the statue so that people can hug the saint, or say prayers.
A “Black Madonna” in one of the chapels around the perimeter of the cathedral. Several similar statues are honored in different places in Europe; from what I’ve read, they’re black because the original varnish has discolored. The cathedral has a dozen or more chapels honoring Mary and various saints.
Challah bread in a Santiago pastry shop.
A pair of faces on a set of church doors that we liked.
A laughing cheering bunch of student pilgrims from a Spanish school making their way along the Camino. Their chant sounded a lot like a football game — they were clearly having a good time.
A palm tree in a park. We see more of these in Galicia than in the rest of the north of Spain; they are more common in the south.
The Carns-Lazio crew after a relaxed day; we only walked about 9 miles today.
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This entry was posted in 2012, Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Camino de Santiago trip, travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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