Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela
The Dark Start
We left Pedrouzo a full hour before sunrise this morning, our intent was to make it as quickly as possible to Santiago, straight to the Pilgrim Office for the Compostela, then to the Cathedral for 12:00pm Pilgrim Mass.
Walking the Camino in the dark adds another level of complexity to the pilgrim’s navigation. The shells, arrows, and mojón are not reflective or illuminated in any way. It would have been a good time to enlist the help of Siri but being true pilgrims, we marched confidently into the dark guided only by our little flashlights.
An interesting thing happens when you march confidently into the dark, others think you know where you’re going and they follow, confidently into the dark. The good news is we wandered off trail only one time. When the dawn broke, it was light enough to see that our little tribe of pilgrims was on the right path!
The Final Stretch
There were a lot of elevation gains and descents on the walk today. Fortunately, it was relatively short, and we were buoyed by anticipation. A few short miles and we were at the Santiago Airport. A few more short miles and we were in the suburbs of Santiago. And then a few more, at the Monte do Gozo. By 09:45 am we were in Santiago but still a distance from the old town and the Cathedral.
We walked miles through what could have been any city in any country, normal urban sprawl. Had it not been for the pilgrims walking in front and behind us, you would never have known this was one of the world’s major pilgrimage routes.
It was a slog until we rounded that one corner and caught our first glimpse of the Cathedral. Around a few more corners and we were in the Centro Histórico, the Old Town. It felt like a pilgrim walk again. Around the final corner and we were in the shadows of the Cathedral, within a few hundred meters of the End!
From here, we could hear the bagpipes playing in the tunnel that led to the Praza do Obradoiro. As we neared the tunnel, my heart swelled with pride knowing that I had completed the task. My feet cried with joy, knowing relief and flip-flops were in their future.
The Piper welcomed us into the tunnel and played the background music for our Triumphal Entry…
And then we exited the tunnel into the Praza do Obradoiro…
I don’t remember having any expectations for this moment. Maybe a Pep Rally setting from the glory days of High School. A reception line of locals giving high 5’s to all entering pilgrims. A welcome from Pope Francis himself, or at least the Archbishop of Compostela.
What we found in the Praza were hundreds of tourists that had ridden the bus to Santiago (what?!?), several dozen pilgrims, a team of roadies building a massive stage for an upcoming music festival in the Praza, and scaffolding holding dozens of construction workers rebuilding the facade of the Cathedral.
No fanfare, no welcoming committee, no signs indicating this was the End. After searching the Praza, we did find this tile inconspicuously embedded among the thousands of others.
There is a huge lesson here and I will get to that later…
The Praza and all of the buildings surrounding it are magnificent! Most pilgrims sat in the plaza to absorb, nap, weep, and behold the scene. Not us though, we hustled down to the Pilgrim Office to get our Compostelas.
This was a good place, the Welcoming Committee in a way. We stood in line with dozens of other pilgrims, all of us with the same looks on our faces – weary but satisfied. We were family, kindred spirits, bound by the fellowship of pilgrims. Irrational people.
Officially declared pilgrims with the paperwork to prove it, we hustled back up to the Cathedral to get our seats for the Pilgrim Mass. It was just a little after 11:00 am when we arrived so we had our choice seats. We sat about ten rows from the altar and directly underneath the path of the swinging Botofumeiro. With seating secured, I had time for a nap, not the first time I’ve slept in church.
By noon, the Cathedral was packed with pilgrims, tourists, and local parishioners. All of the seats were taken, and throngs of people filled the aisles and every open space available. The Mass itself was special, ancient and in Spanish, it exuded holiness. This is something I miss in the American Protestant Megachurch.
Towards the end of Mass, the priest read a list of pilgrims arriving in Santiago today. Not individual names but their starting point and countries of origin. 100 pilgrims, starting in Sarria, 20 from France, 20 from Spain, 15 from Germany, 3 from Switzerland, 3 from Italy…etc. Then the next entry point, Ponferrada, and then the next, Astorga. León. Burgos. Pamplona. And then, 12 pilgrims from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, from Germany, Spain, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Denmark, United States. There were three of us from the US today. This was followed by the Pilgrim Homily and then the Eucharist.
And then, just like that, the Mass was over…and so was the pilgrimage.