Camino de Santiago, The Way, PrincesasDelCamino, Alison Chino, MacsAdventure, Chasing Daylight

Snippets of the Way: Pilgrims’ Mass

Camino de Santiago, The Way, PrincesasDelCamino, Alison Chino, MacsAdventure, Chasing Daylight

Ringing bells

call pilgrims to the Cathedral

in Santiago de Compostela.

From east, west, north, south

the doors are open and the people pour in.

The church fills

more bodies than seats.

Folks wander

and wonder

looking up

and spinning around

taking photos

taking it all in.

People start settling

against columns and along walls.

The closest seats are reserved for those who have walked to be here.

We have just arrived in Santiago.

We will begin walking tomorrow.

Backwards, we have come to the mass that you are meant to attend upon finishing.

It is not the first time I have done something the wrong way,

and it certainly will not be the last.

We find a place to stand, awkward between a post and the sides of long pews.

We each have a place to lean.

We grow quiet.

I watch faces and guess which ones have walked the longest

or fought the hardest battles

to arrive here today.

Some eyes are shining and others are very, very tired.

Some have come in with the dust on their feet.

Others arrived yesterday, and have cleaned up before coming to church.

Soon there is music and procession and the signs of everything beginning

and then

One small, lonely nun,

cheerful and bright,

speaks out strongly from the nave

words we do not understand.

She sings a line.

Though it is in Spanish, I know it is worship.

She stops.

She smiles and motions

and then the whole cathedral echoes the line.

The sound fills the cavernous heights.

She sings another line, pauses and then again, the people echo.

Oh, we are repeating, we slowly understand.

We stumble to join in,

echoing sounds and syllables

like children

learning to speak.

The lines stretch and grow and fill

not just the church,

but also our hearts.

Prayers follow

in every language.

Men in robes who have come from all over the world take their turns offering prayers.

I hear a prayer in American English, midwestern I think.

Camino de Santiago, The Way, PrincesasDelCamino, Alison Chino, MacsAdventure, Chasing Daylight

Then these same men take cords together and release the famous thurible,

the Botafumeiro,

literally “smoke expeller”in Galician,

the local language in this part of Spain.

Together, the red-robed tiraboleiros send the censor swinging

higher and higher

And they are singing

higher and higher.

Smoke swirls through the air, released from the censor by the motion.

The smells and the sounds

find their way to every far corner of these hallowed halls.

Behind the nave and the swinging thurible,

the remains of Saint James are preserved in a shrine.

The tomb of the saint has called pilgrims to Santiago since the Early Middle Ages.

Each one of them has carried a burden, a story or an offering on the long walk.

Camino de Santiago, The Way, Santiago de Compostela, Pilgrims Mass

A week later,

we enter the church again.

This time

with the dust of the Camino still clinging to our feet and faces.

The day’s Pilgrims’ Mass long over,

the afternoon sun low in the sky,

we walk the quiet cathedral

and join the small queue

to pass by the remains of Saint James.

Like many before us,

we silently ascend narrow stairs

to embrace and kiss

a statue of Saint James.

The apostle

was martyred for following Jesus

almost two thousand years ago.

Camino de Santiago, The Way, PrincesasDelCamino, Alison Chino, MacsAdventure, Chasing Daylight

We are four loud American girls, but we are silent as we leave.

We lay down the last of our own relics on the fountain outside the cathedral.

I walk away with the memory of Saint James and his beloved Jesus and these words.

Come to me,

all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you

and learn from me,

for I am gentle

and humble of heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

Rest for your souls.

Camino de Santiago, The Way, PrincesasDelCamino, Alison Chino, MacsAdventure, Chasing Daylight

A word about the Pilgrims’ Mass: The mass in Santiago de Compostela happens every day at noon. We were fairly certain that we would not reach Santiago by noon on our final day of walking so we decided to attend when we first arrived in Santiago, before taking the train to begin our walk in Sarria. We discovered later that we were fortuitous in attending a mass where the Botofumeiro was present, as it is not used for all services. The censor is the largest in the world, crafted by a goldsmith over one hundred years ago. The services for which it is used change throughout the year, so it is worth researching in order to attend a mass where you will be certain to see it.  The mass fills up quickly, so arrive early if you would like a seat.

Our journey along The Camino de Santiago was made possible by Macs Adventure, who found us the most wonderful places to sleep and made our giant suitcases magically appear in our rooms each night. 

Camino de Santiago, The Way, Santiago de Compostela, Pilgrims Mass