Day 31

Day 31. Thursday, September 25, 2014.
Santiago… Last day.

When we got up this morning most of the pilgrims in the albergue were already gone. After breakfast we dropped our backpacks at the hotel where we would spend our last night and went to the cathedral where concelebrated the 10:30am English Mass.

We were early and explored the cathedral. We had bought St. James medals and wanted to touch them to the statue that pilgrims traditionally hug on their arrival, as a sign of reverence. We prayed at the tomb of the saint for the protection of Christians throughout the world, especially those suffering persecution.

The English Mass was more intimate than the pilgrims’ Mass we attended the last two days, but we packed the chapel that is reserved for the Mass. The priest, from England, who has volunteered three months to minister to English speaking pilgrims in Santiago. All in attendance were invited to tell people where they were from and if they had made the Camino. We were happy to see many pilgrims who had walked the Camino with us.

After Mass we had lunch at a parador restaurant, an elegant state run restaurant in a historic building. They offered a pilgrim menu which was by far the beat we’ve had.

We checked in to our hotel which is humble but seems luxurious after sleeping in albergues for a month. We had no idea how we missed real sheets and towels!

We rested and toured the cathedral museum and cathedral with an audio guide. It helped bring together the architectural development over the centuries of the cathedral from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to baroque. We were able to see Romanesque statuary that had been discovered in the ongoing renovation, reliquaries and antique liturgical vessels, and rooms of tapestries. After the museum the tour continued to the cathedral from the perspective of a medieval pilgrim. It emphasized for us the design of the cathedral to receive pilgrims. We got a better sense of the theology which celebrated welcome, love, conversion and salvation.

On emerging from the cathedral we happened on an orchestra concert just beginning to start in one of the plazas. What a wonderful way to conclude our Camino!

This is our last entry from Spain, however we will continue to reflect on this adventure. It has meant a lot to share this Camino with you.

We’ll close with a blessing used at Mass today marking an end of a pilgrimage:

Father we ask your blessing on us,
Pilgrims who have come to venerate the tomb of your apostle Santiago.
As you kept us safe on our Camino way
May You keep us safe on our journey home.
And inspired by our experience hers
May we live out the values of the gospel
As our pilgrimage through life continues.
We ask St. James to intercede for us
As we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
Your Son and our Redeemer, Amen.

Please pray for our safe journey home.

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Day 30

Day 30. Wednesday, September 24, 2014.
Santiago…Rest day.

We stayed in bed until about nine before packing up our backpacks and going out for coffee. Although we planned to stay in the same albergue we had to clear our things and recheck in after 1:00pm. We are not thrilled with the albergue, but it is in a great location and we could not get a hotel room until tomorrow night.

We explored the area taking note of restaurants and shops. There were a number of churches that we visited. We also came upon a market which we enjoyed seeing. But the best was yet to come.

We went to the cathedral to concelebrate the pilgrims’ Mass at noon. There were 14 priests at the Mass and it was a great feeling to be welcomed and given vestments and be part of this great experience again, this time from the altar. When pilgrims arrive and “hug the saint” it is from a hallway behind the main altar. Throughout the mass arriving pilgrims were walking behind the main altar, visible only through a grill, and we could see their hands embracing the saint during the Mass. Fr. Jim and Fr. John were asked to distribute Holy Communion. They were moved by the devotion of so many people. About 1,000 people attend the pilgrims Mass each day. Again, the botafumiero was used and we had a birdseye view as it swung through the transepts, but we had been told no cameras! It was great after mass to see more familiar faces of pilgrims we had walked with along the way, some only arriving today.

Two Irish sisters from Gallaway have become good friends and we invited them to join us for lunch. We ate at an outdoor cafe and through lunch kept welcoming more friends from the Camino who happened by.

The women recommended a bus tour that goes around the city, so we got a better idea of the city.

We also took a rooftop tour of the cathedral. It was exciting to climb the 100+ stairs to the roof. It was a beautiful day and we had incredible views from the roof, as you can see from photos in this post.

The day passed quickly and after dinner we are about to go to bed. In the albergue light are out at 10:00pm sharp.

We are happy to see our bodies already recovering after one day off the trail. Perhaps we will be fully recovered by the time we arrive home. If you are wondering about the beards you will have to wait and see this weekend!

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Day 29

Day 29. Tuesday, September 23, 2014.
Feast of St. Pius of Pietrelcina
SANTIGO DE COMPOSTELA.

We were so excited last night that it was hard to sleep. We were up and ready to go about a hour earlier than we had planned, so it was dark for the first hour of the last leg of our Camino. We stopped for breakfast and captured the moment with a photo.

We looked forward to the Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy), where pilgrims saw their first glimpse of the cathedral of Santiago. We were disappointed that there is no longer a view due to urban sprawl. There is only a monument whose artistic merit escaped us. We prayed morning prayer on the mount.

We continued on the remaining 4.5K down the mountain, through the city, to the cathedral square. We met a number of pilgrims on the way. It was about 11:15am when we arrived. We stopped to take pictures and orient ourselves to the area.

There is a pilgrims’ Mass every day at 12:00 noon. We had said it was not important to attend the Mass when we arrived, but when it became a possibility we moved heaven earth to do it, finding our hostal to deposit our bags and rushing back to the cathedral for Mass.

The cathedral is undergoing renovation so it took us a few minutes to figure out which door to use. The pews were packed so we had to stand in the transept with a partial view of the sanctuary. The gospel was about Jesus saying “Whoever hears my word and acts on it is mother and brother and sister to me.”. It was powerful to hear this proclaimed in the midst of the cathedral packed with pilgrims. We were treated to a blessing by the butofumerio, the monstrous thurible attached to the ceiling of the cathedral which almost touches the ceiling in its arc when it is hoisted in the air and swung by eight men through the transepts of the church. W you could see the fiery coals as the smoke billowed throughout the church. We plan to concelebrate the Mass tomorrow.

Ironically, in our excitement and exhaustion we forgot all about hugging the statue of the saint (Santiago). We plan to rectify this as soon as possible.

After Mass we rushed to the pilgrims’ office to show our credentials and receive our Compostela. We received it after a two hours wait in line. We were exhausted and tired and rushed to eat and then to take a nap. We are getting a second wind as we write this closing line. 29 a 29 b 29 c 29 d 29 e 29 f 29 g 29 h 29 i 29 j 29 k 29 l 29 m 29 n 29 o

Day 28

Day 28. Monday, September 22, 2014.
Pedrouzo.

18K to Santiago.

It is obvious that we have hiked out of summer and into fall. The mornings are cooler and we no longer face the relentless heat under the scorching sun. This morning we could see our breath as we started out. Mist laid in the valleys. The noonday temperatures were comfortable.

There is decidedly a new energy as we near Santiago. The pilgrims seem more relaxed. The thunderstorm couldn’t dampen the spirits of pilgrims at the little tavern last night. This morning there were no pushed departures with people bumping around in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, waking everyone. At the rest stops we call out to the various groups of pilgrims passing by, people who have become familiar to us over these weeks. They greet us as well. There are few strangers at this stage of the journey.

The scenery is beautiful as ever, but we have become familiar with the meadows and hedgerows, the groves of eucalyptus trees with their fragrant aroma, the small stone churches with their double bell towers, the ups and downs of the rutted paths. We were grateful that the rain of last night had passed into a fine morning but the storm had left mud and puddles. At times there was no avoiding muddying our boots.

We stop often along the way, partly to savor the time we time we have left and partly to fill the remaining spaces in our pilgrim’s passports with sellos (stamped seals) they give. Two sellos are required per day in Galicia to attain the Compostela that acknowledges the completion of our pilgrimage.

It was a relatively short and easy hike to Pedrouzo. We arrived before lunch. We didn’t want to press it too much today. We want our last leg of the journey to be enough to challenge us but not enough that we will be exhausted when we arrive.

We talked along the way about how crazy we are to have taken on this journey. What possessed us to spend these four weeks pounding the trail, sleeping in bunk beds in rooms full of people we didn’t know, risking blisters and bug bites and back spasms? It has been a crazy adventure but we have been undeniably blessed.

We wonder how it will be when we see Santiago… first from the Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy) where we catch our first glimpse from a distance, then as we join other pilgrims in the final kilometers to the city. There is a pilgrims’ Mass at the cathedral at noon but we are not sure we will make it tomorrow. We look forward to two full days to savor Santiago and to venerate the tomb of St. James.

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Day 27

Day 27. Sunday, September 21, 2014.
The Feast of St. Matthew
Ribadiso de Baixo.

41K to Santiago.

We left a little later than usual, it being the sabbath and all, and joined the throng of pilgrims starting on the Way. It was early enough to be treated to a view of the sunrise. Since we travel west we always have to look behind us to see it.

We attended the weekend Mass last night in Portomarin. Evening Masses here are at 8:00 pm. This is Fr. John’s 25th anniversary of ordination and he concelebrated the Mass. It ended with the pilgrims’ blessing. Fr. Tom thought that the readings were particularly fitting. St. Paul wrote that his life was Christ and nothing else mattered. All of us face challenges along the Way, some people worse than others, but we want our lives, first and foremost to be Christ. When we arrive in Santiago it will be the completion of this Camino, but the completion of our desire that our lives be Christ will continue.

Today’s journey was a little bit of everything, through a number of villages, through pastures, up and down hills, across rivers, through wooded areas and a large town, Melide.

Melide is noted for its preparation of pulpo (octopus) so Fr. Tom and our Australian friend stopped for a midmorning snack of octopus and beer. The town was bustling with traffic on a Sunday morning, and there was a Sunday market in the city plaza. Some people could have been in church but we couldn’t swear to it.

One of the interesting structures we see in every town is the cruciero. It is a cement cross on a cement base (see photo). Fr. Tom thinks this has possibilities at St. Olaf. What do you think?

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Day 26

Day 26. Saturday, September 20, 2014.
Palas de Rei.

67K to Santiago.

We began a little later this morning. Sunrise seems to be coming later than when we first began and there is not the need to begin early to beat the heat. We were grateful that there was no rain today, even though it was forecasted. As you can see by the photos, we has a glorious day.

There were a number of steep inclines but the Camino has conditioned us for them.

We are seeing eucalyptus trees in addition to the usual flora, but the flowers looked especially beautiful today, and some even seemed enormous! As we neared our destination we walked through a park that seemed to go for miles.

As we walked we could hear gunshots in the distance. Later we came to a group of local hunters huddled around the body of a 300 pound wild boar.

There seems to be two classes of pilgrims; the worn out pilgrims, like us, and the ones who have just begun. We are seeing more pilgrims than in days before. At times there are practically traffic jams of pilgrims. We spotted some pilgrims taking part of their Camino today by taxi… but who are we to judge?

Ours mind are definitely focused on getting to Santiago, but the short time left seems to have made us more appreciative of what and who we encounter along the way.

Palas de Rei is a larger village that seems to cater to the needs of pilgrims, with many albergues, restaurants and bars. Our albergue is directly across from the parish church where we will attend the pilgrims’ Mass at 8:00 pm.

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Day 25

Day 25. Friday, September 19, 2014.
Portomarin.

88K from Santiago. (Correction to yesterday’s entry: Sarria is 115K from Santiago. It is the last CITY on the Camino where you can start to complete the 100k requirement to earn the Compostela.)

We were disappointed to start the day facing constant drizzle, fearing the day would be a washout. We passed through Sarria and then a wooded path which led steadily uphill. We stopped after an hour for coffee and croissants, and by the time we were done the rain had stopped, giving way to a beautiful day. It remained that way until midafternoon

The number of pilgrims on the Camino today was noticeably more due to the pilgrims just starting the last 100K. It’s easy to spot those just starting. They are fresh and clean have energy. They also seem more hesitant reading the trail markers, not quite in their stride and as if they haven’t found the right adjustment for their backpacks. Those who have been at this for a while, as one pilgrim put it, have “attitude.” We aren’t concerned with what we look or smell like, we are just pushing through to out goal.

We continue to see familiar faces along the Way, sometimes those we haven’t seen for several days. Especially with the addition of the newbies, we have an even greater connection and solidarity. We don’t always remember each others’ names so we use descriptions, usually by country (the German girls, the Danes, that young guy walking with his dad… we are probably”those priests”). We all know who we are talking about. We are like a big group, who together with our possessions, are being swept together across northern Spain. If someone loses something along the way someone is bound to pick it up and return it to you down the road. It is a great sense of being in this together.

Today was a pleasant day through farms and countryside. This section of the Camino seems much more developed, with better walkways and more upscale caf├ęs here and there.

Today was the first time we had to share the Camino with cows.

Portomarin has an interesting history. It had originally been in the river valley, but when a dam was installed the whole town was moved to higher ground. The church was disassembled brick by brick and reassembled in its new location. If you look hard enough you can still see the numbers! You can also see the remains of building foundations under the bridge as you enter the city.

The images of St. James seem to increase as we get closer to Santiago… in most city squares.

There is a new energy as we close in on our goal. Four more days until Santiago.

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