A New Start and a New Journey

After eight happy years with my large group of Devon parishes, I have moved to the Mendips to become the priest of East Harptree, West Harptree and Hinton Blewett. The plan in moving to a smaller group is to have more time to spend with my husband, who is now retired. I have also been asked to be part of an initiative to provide a voluntary Anglican Camino chaplaincy at Santiago de Compostela, so we will see what happens there! My licensing service was attended by two congregations, one full size and one knitted…


So what next? Walking to the End Of the Earth – day one, Santiago to Negreira

Having made good time on my walk, and not having had to use my extra days to cope with any injuries or other delays, I have about a week left before I return. So what to you do after walking all that way? Fortunately pilgrims have been answering that question for centuries. Walk some more, of course. To the end of the earth. 
Finisterre, whose name you will recognise from the shipping forecast, is three days walk from Santiago on the rocky ‘Costa del Muerte’ or Coast of death. It has become a tradition to finish the pilgrimage there, looking out to sea by the lighthouse at sunset, pilgrims sometimes still burning their walking clothes or equipment or throwing them into the sea. It was shells picked up from the beach there that became the emblem of the pilgrimage.  


When they say ‘Rooftop Tour of the Cathedral’ – they really mean it – Highlights of Santiago de Compostela

Annoyingly, WordPress glitches when I wrote earlier and everything disappeared. So not many words now, but perhaps a few pictures as no-one else seems to be clogging the wifi.  I don’t think even these photos can get across what it is like to stand on the roof-ridge of Santiago’s Cathedral. Unlike any other cathedral roof I have ever seen, it is not tiled but solid stone, designed to be walked on by archers defending it. You really can walk all over the roof.   It is amazing. 

This strange little tub (also on the roof) is where pilgrims would symbolically burn their travelling rags. I refrained.  

They seem to have the same issues with their towers as we do, but writ large!  Two of the restoration teambhard at work. 

Arrival – Muddle, Queuing and then an amazing experience. 

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. 


The Final Stage – getting ready

Probably everyone in the hostel is planning to be in Santiago today, though it would be possible to break the journey. There are an unusually large number of early risers – including me!   

Some of the people I walked with until my day off in Lugo got there yesterday, so we will meet for a celebration drink. And I am hoping that I may bump into some of those I walked with earlier on the journey, who took the coastal route instead of the Primitivo. Who knows?
Today passes a village called ‘Labacolla’ which translates approximately as ‘wash bottom’. It was traditional for pilgrims to dip in the river there and get a bit cleaner before arriving at the Cathedral city. I did dip my hand in the water as a gesture to its past importance, but decided that the hot showers in the hostels exempted me from anything further! 

After that, the next main landmark is Monte del Gozo, or Mountain of Joy – the first point from which the city of Santiago de Compostella becomes visible. Pilgrims used to vie with each other to be the first to see their destination, but the day is very hot and I am in no mood to run up the hill!  The top is crowned by a large monument commemorating Pope John Paul II’s mass there in 1989. I cheekily add the shell I am carrying to those he is blessing – I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.  

It is a day full of brief, chatty conversations as I pass or am passed by other pilgrims. All of us are headed to the destination at our own pace, and I am humbled to see people obviously struggling with pain or disability but still determined to get there under their own stream. It is a reminder that one of the things that prompted me to make this journey was gratitude for being able to make it – for health and strength at a time of life when they can no longer (if they could ever) be taken for granted.