Wednesday, July 15, 2015

CISVAAA Camino Pilgrimage to Santiago:Day 9

Day 9:Rua to Santiago

Well, we made it, and what a journey we've had. We began our day early, with a 6:30 am departure. It was still dark when we left the hotel with our bagged breakfasts. We were worried about getting to Santiago on time for the pilgrims' Mass at noon, so we walked quickly. We had thought the way would be easier, but there turned out to be numerous hills that made us work hard. Perhaps the early pilgrims decided that a last day of hard work was necessary before reaching the marvellous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in all its glory. We didn't really have a right to complain, when we thought of all of those centuries of pilgrims travelling the path in leather sandals or bare feet for penitence. Our sophisticated trail runners, hiking boots and hiking socks don't really compare, do they?

Our journey was beautiful, as usual, but today we were counting down to kilometre zero instead of just to the next town. The last trail marker was at 12.5 kilometres and it was odd for us to have markers with no distances on them from that time on; we have become very used to counting down. At last we made it to the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, where the new Camino markers were brass shells in the sidewalks, and the push was on. We really wanted to get to the Mass at noon, as we had been told by experienced Camino walkers  that there is nothing better than arriving at Mass hot and sweaty, carrying and wearing our walking gear, and celebrating the Eucharist with all of the other pilgrims. We certainly fulfilled the hot, sweaty, and weighed-down criteria today.

We did make it to Mass, having registered our Camino journey with the Pilgrims' Passport Office and received our Compostela, which is the certificate that is given to everyone who walks at least 100 kilometres to verify the distance traveled. Ours state that we have walked 200 kilometres of the Camino. It's just a piece of paper, and it took far less time to accomplish than many other things in our lives, but it symbolizes something important - a physical and spiritual journey that was at the same time an individual journey and a collective journey. Mission accomplished and mission begun.

The cathedral was so crowded for the Mass that we didn't even manage to get seats; we sat on the floor or at the base of the massive pillars. The  energy in the air was palpable and the feeling of accomplishment was evident. People of all religions were present at the Mass, to celebrate the end of their Camino journey in the community of pilgrims. The music was beautiful and the priest was welcoming to the pilgrims.

The cathedral is lovely. It is a mixture of  Romanesque and Baroque styles, but it somehow works. In a way, it suits the collision of cultures that make their way to Santiago: each has a unique style and personality, but all are working for the greater glory of God. There are many small chapels in the ambulatory, most of which are locked. One chapel is set aside for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all day. We spent some time in adoration in that serene place. There is nothing more peaceful than sitting in intimate prayer with Our Lord, even if it's only for a short time.

We were given a special treat during the Mass. The botafumeiro, which is the giant censer hanging from the ceiling, is now used only on special feast days (the last of which was July 11, the feast of Saint Benedict) or by special arrangement. We were not expecting to see the botafumeiro in action  today, but they did use it, much to the awe of the pilgrims.  This censer hangs from an intricate system of ropes and pulleys, and eight men pull them in concert to make the botafumeiro swing so high that it seems as though it will touch the ceiling. It swings back and forth like a giant pendulum, spreading the scent of incense throughout the church, until it comes to a standstill. As the men moved into position for the censer, there was a collective gasp from the congregation: no one expected to receive this privilege today. There was beautiful music sung by a sister and it was a truly ethereal experience for all of us.

After the Mass, we made our way through the throngs of people to the plaza in front of the cathedral. We found the shell on the  ground that represents kilometre zero on the Camino and all placed our feet on it. There was a general air of excitement and relief in the plaza, as the newly arrived pilgrims celebrated the end of their journeys.

We saw many pilgrims with whom we had travelled over the last nine days, including the leaders of the group of Spanish students, who had been such lovely companions on the way. We also met new people on our way today: a couple from Qu├ębec who had traveled all the way from the beginning of the Camino, and were so tired as they finished their journey; a woman from Denmark who was exhausted by today's hills and wasn't sure that she would make it to Mass on time, but managed to do so. One of the most wonderful things about travelling the Camino is the camaraderie that is felt among the pilgrims. When we entered the city today, it was a bit bewildering because we couldn't use our standard, 'Hola! Buen Camino!' phrase with all we met. Since that is the community in which we have been immersed for over a week, it was a shock to be back in a city once again. Within the old city, however, with the cathedral and its surrounding buildings and shops, the pilgrim spirit continued and we drank all of it in this afternoon and evening.

In the early evening, we brought the prayers of the CISVA to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to deposit them as we had promised to do all those months ago. We were told that we could place them at an altar of our choice and we chose an area that is dedicated to Saint James. Together, we said a special prayer, asking for the intercession of Saint James for the prayers of our greater community. We felt relieved after we had deposited the prayers, as if we had finally placed them in the right hands: we knew that Saint James would intercede for us.

And so, our walking journey is over, but we will make one more journey together as a team. We will travel (by bus) to Finisterre, 'the end of the earth' and dip our toes into the Atlantic Ocean, as Saint James did. We are looking forward to our last day together.

The altar of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

We officially reached kilometre zero!

The prayers of our CISVA community.

Entering the city.

The team in the plaza outside the cathedral

The botafumeiro hanging above the altar.

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