This didn’t post properly yesterday, so it is a day late – I actually arrived on Saturday April 30th 2016, for the record! I’m gradually adding photos to all these posts as I find a patch of fast enough wifi.
As with all journeys, this one ends with muddle and confusion and quite a lot of queuing. They won’t let me into the cathedral with a backpack, so I have headed to the Pilgrim Office where, I believe, I can leave it for a while as well as collecting my official Compostela (certificate of Pilgrimage). I had planned to do that early tomorrow to avoid the queues, but never mind. It will be nice to have it done.
And now it is done, and I am thoroughly certified as having completed the pilgrimage, 536km on the Camino del Norte and Camino Primitivo! And I have queued up to give St James and awkward hug. The Compostella certificate is in Latin, so it uses the Latin version of my Christian name – Catharine instead of Karen. The certificate of distance is a recent innovation, so that is just in Spanish. Anything over 100km counts as a valid pilgrimage.
The Pilgrims’ Mass, at which they read out all the names of pilgrims arrived in the last 24 hours, is at noon each day, so mine will be tomorrow morning. There is always a lot of wondering as to whether or not any group will be fortunate enough to see the’Botafumeira’ used. It is a giant incense burner, over a metre high, which at special services is swung dramatically over the heads of the congregation. As well as its use at regular Church festivals like Easter, groups can also sponsor it for 300 euros, so if you happen to arrive at the same time as a generous sponsor, you can see it for free!
I decided to go to the ordinary 6pm mass on the day of my arrival, and made my way back to the Cathedral from my hotel. (Yes, a real hotel for a few nights!). Arriving in the square, I find it packed with children, including Scout groups etc, all queuing to enter.
Amazingly, the 6 o’clock mass turned out to be a huge diocesan youth service with a lovely bishop, some of whose sermon I actually understood, and full complement of additional clergy plus a cathedral full of kids.
And when they swung the botafumeira at the end they were swooping it so low over the children’s heads that they were screaming with delight as if they were on a roller-coaster and the bishop was obviously enjoying it as much as they were. It really is incredibly dramatic – controlled by a team of six men and flying right up to almost touch the stone ceiling before whistling down over the congregations heads. Having the children there made it even better – it meant that we adults could take a child-like delight in the spectacle and excitement without embarrassment. And they specifically invited us to take a photo of it at the end, so everyone did, not just tourists! Definitely a good day to arrive in Santiago. I was in tears. It felt like God had arranged it just for me.