Day 14. Santiago de Compostela
So, we arrived. We took the customary photos in the main square, we smiled at the other arriving pilgrims and we went in search of the pilgrim’s office. To be honest my feet/blister were screaming for a bar but Sara’s excitement and enthusiasm won the day, and it was a good choice as there was no queue. Once we’d collected our compostela we found the nearest hostelry and joined other pilgrims for a farewell drink. Oh my word the simple pleasure of removing shoes!
The rest of the day was simple…check in… eat tapas… sleep.
There were no alarms for our last day. No more kilometres to walk. Today was to be a rest day in Santiago. I’m one of the rare people that has never really enjoyed Santiago. I’ve arrived and visited the cathedral but I’ve always left the next day; maybe an extra day would change my mind?
We booked a tour of the cathedral rooftops; I’m not sure this is the best idea for a pilgrim afraid of heights! And there was a tourist train which is always a must for me! Jaqui and Sara were keen to buy some little keepsakes so we wandered our way down to the cathedral, stopping in almost every gift shop en route (did I say almost… a few were closed?)!
We dropped into the post office to enquire about a new box for our walking poles and their journey home. With hindsight we should have just bought cheap poles in Porto and left them behind. The box idea is great in principle but a pain in reality. However be warned, you will not be allowed to take poles out of Santiago airport so either post them, check them or lose them.
We wandered around the cathedral. We walked up to the bejewelled apostle behind the alter and we made silent wishes amongst the pomp and majesty. Then we walked down to the tomb. I’m not really sure what my religious beliefs are. I grew up within an extended church family; neighbours and parishioners guided my youth and I spent countless hours at the vicarage or church hall or at church. My childhood is woven around our parish church and for that I am truly grateful. I do believe that James walked with a man called Jesus and I do believe that James came to Galicia; I’d never heard of Iria Flavia a few days ago but now it will always be a special place for me. No matter what your belief, there is a quiet calm in that little space away from the pomp.
We left and we talked about our feelings for the grandeur and the tourism against the backdrop of the simple gospel messages. It all gets about bit confused and lines are blurred. I think we all agreed that in an ideal world things would be fairer and more compassionate.
Our rooftop visit was switched so that we could join the English group so we jumped on the tourist train instead; it wasn’t the best train we’d been on. The guide was inaudible and the cobbles particularly bumpy… and the cold wind whistled… and we saw very little of the old town… it was OK but not exciting (apart from a wave from Liz and a smile from one of two “working” ladies in Santiago).
Next was the roof. If my day so far had been so so, things were about to change. I would recommend this visit to everyone. It feels totally safe; it’s high but you never feel uncomfortable (trust me I can cry walking over a bridge!) Wow! We all loved this! what an amazing experience and the guide was excellent.
It was after two by now so time for lunch. We tried to avoid any obvious tourist restaurants and choose a very nice looking place off the main street. It was a mistake. Lukewarm food, our main left on the table whilst we ate our starters, not very tasty and we felt like an inconvenience.
We wandered around more gift shops and found a cake and chocolate shop; we bought a selection to take as a gift for our afternoon tea date. We bought our new box and took it back to the apartment (passing some very cool boots) before heading off to the pilgrim drop-in. A lovely Camino veteran lives in Santiago and opens her home for 2 hours Mondays through to Fridays for any pilgrims who want to visit; it seemed rude not too! We enjoyed a few hours talking about Santiago and caminos and walking and life. It was a really pleasant afternoon and I’m so pleased we went.
The girls wanted to see the church dedicated to St Francis so we headed off in that direction. It’s dark now and all the churches look splendid lit up against the inky blue sky. This particular church reminds me of St Matthew’s parish church in my hometown. It’s newer than many of the churches we’ve seen. It has the same grey stone pillars and looks a little more austere than some. It still has the magnificent centre altar and plenty of the familiar catholic imagery and sculpture but nonetheless it feels familiar. I’m taken back to the girl who made that other church her calm in an ocean of turmoil. And then the organ started. A dark empty church on a cold November night in Spain was transformed into an Anglican church in rural Devon. A tear rolled down my cheek for the ten year old that had found safety in the family of that church. I wandered around lost in a different time and place, seeing ghosts and shadows in every corner. At the very end in a little room sat a monk behind a desk. “Can I have one last stamp” I asked “Of course” he replied. It seemed right that this should be the last.
And still we had one last visit to make. Our guide had shown us the roofs of some of the oldest parts of the cathedral… we wanted to see them inside. First we found the 10th century chapel with its small domed basilica. We now knew that the exterior was carved by moorish artisans and it has a very distinct Arabic feel. We also knew that on one of the exterior pillars was the naked bottom of a master, carved forever in stone for not paying promptly!
Next we walked across to the oldest part of the building; a 9th century chapel. It looked and felt so different that the main cathedral and I’ve missed this little room on previous visits. In the corner lies a stone sarcophagus; is this what transported the body of James from Palestine? As we left we passed a dark space, gated and unlit. We could see nothing but the air was cold and we could hear the faint tap tapping of what sounded like a stone mason at work; perhaps the tour guides stories were getting to me!
Outside there was one last place to see before finding dinner. We headed to a large square beside the cathedral. The upper part of the square is called Quintana dos Vivos (Quintana of the Living), while the lower part of the square is the Quintana dos Mortos (Quintana of the Dead), as it was used as a burial ground until 1780. In a hidden corner of the square, by the cathedral, you might catch a glimpse of a very unusual shadow: the shadow of a pilgrim.
There are many stories about this pilgrim. Some say that the shadow accompanies pilgrims during the long journey to Santiago and that his presence can be felt especially during hard sections, but there is only one place that a pilgrim can meet this shadow and that is here in Quintana Square.
Others say the shadow is the spirit of a French pilgrim who walked to Santiago as a penance for poisoning his father. While on the Camino, he committed another terrible crime and he is still waiting for the souls of those he killed to arrive to finally receive his pardon.
The most widely believed version relates to the tragic path of a priest of the Cathedral, in love with a cloistered nun of the convent of San Paio, opposite the Cathedral on the other side of Quintana square. Legend says that the priest met her through a passageway that existed under the steps of the A Quintana plaza. This passageway connected the cathedral and the convent and this was where the lovers met. Tired of hiding, the priest suggested they run away together. Dressed in disguise as a pilgrim, he waited for her but she did not come. So now centuries on, night after night, the young lover appears in the square and wait alone in hope that she might come.
We found the shadow and he looked so alone and cold I wanted to hug him but that proved impossible. What a sad tale for a poor young man so in love that he spends eternity in darkness.
We left him waiting and returned to the busy streets of tourist Santiago. We found a tapas bar and enjoyed a small feast of tasty jewels. As we were leaving we bumped into our French friends and the lovely viking. We hugged and said goodbye one last time and returned to our hostel.
We set the alarm for 6.15am for our morning flight. We flew out of Santiago as the sun was rising and Maggie’s fallen clouds hung over the Galician hills. As with every camino, it was over and it was time to go home.