A Day in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
I told everyone to enjoy sleeping in on our day in Santiago de Compostela.
Eat breakfast whenever you like.
We’ll meet up later for the noon pilgrims’ mass, if you want.
Also feel free to just get lost in the beautiful streets of Santiago.
Then I woke up early and concerned about everyone having enough time to get their Compostelas.
Compostela actually translates field of stars.
Because St James remains were reportedly found in a field under the stars, which guided his disciples to his remains.
But the Compostela is also the official certificate you get for walking the Camino.
The process to get the certificate has become a bit complicated due to COVID, so I hopped out of bed and ran down to the pilgrim’s office to see what was up.
I had already read that I needed to fill out a form online, so I did that and sent it to everyone else to fill out.
The office was just beginning to open and many pilgrims were already lined up, so I got in line and discovered that you were lining up to show one QR code but then you lined up to get a piece of paper with a number and another QR code. The second QR code took you to a website that showed you what number was currently being served, so you could leave and come back when they got close to your number.
My number was pretty high, so I walked back to meet anyone else who was up for breakfast and to encourage them to go ahead and start heading down to the office to get a number. Of course, I was not permitted to get extra numbers. Otherwise I would have taken numbers for our entire group.
So what started out as a fairly leisurely morning turned into me shooing everyone down to the office because I wanted everyone to go home with the certificates that they had earned.
At the office, they have a courtyard where you can wait for your number to come up and then when it gets close, you are permitted to go get in a socially distanced line inside.
When your number is called, you go into the office, present your number and your pilgrim’s passport, and retrieve your Compostela.
Because we sort of trickled into the office at different times, our numbers were fairly spread out. So when I finished getting my certificate I headed to one of my favorite spots in Santiago, the square in front of the cathedral.
I was actually headed to the cathedral in order to save everyone seats for the noon mass, but it turned out that it was already full before I had even left the pilgrims’ office, so there was no need to hurry. We would be attending the 7:30pm mass.
I was a little disappointed because I’ve heard that the botofumeiro, the giant gold censor that spreads incense throughout the cathedral during mass, would be more likely to swing during the noon mass. It’s actually totally unpredictable because it doesn’t swing at every mass. It’s used on holidays and special days and then on other days it’s arranged by different groups. So you never really know if it’s going to be in use.
But 7:30 it was. Which was also ok. We would have the day to wander. Everyone could do whatever they liked and then we could meet later for mass.
Since the day had opened up, I decided to find a seat in a cafe on the square.
There are several cafes on the main square and though you might pay a bit more for your coffee or your drink, it’s worth it for the views. I could people-watch all day from a corner of the cathedral square, and that’s exactly what I did.
The other gals came by and joined me one by one, after they received their certificates.
Similar to the garden back in Ligonde, the ladies came and went. And each time someone arrived we added another drink to the table.
We started with coffees and then moved to beers as the sun crawled higher and hit more of the square.
I gave directions for some shopping and then saw people’s purchases when they came back by.
I sat and watched people arrive from the walk, while having chats with whoever sat down at the table.
After a couple of hours, Mary Polly arrived. She was the last to get her number at the pilgrims’ office, so her number wouldn’t be coming up for a while. She had plenty of time before she would be called up so we went to find some gelato.
Eat gelato often is one of my favorite European travel mantras.
And I have followed this mantra with my kids on many trips.
Somehow it always makes them smile, no matter how old they are.
Then we caught up with a few other of our ladies. Most folks were doing a bit of souvenir shopping.
My mom and I both got new dresses in Santiago, which was fun.
Others were shopping for kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews. Laura even mailed a few postcards home.
Several of us stopped for a late lunch in one of the many seafood restaurants. We ordered lots of little plates to share and enjoyed a rest from walking around the town.
After lunch, I went to find a park I had seen on my map. I had not been to it on my last visit to Santiago, so I wanted to check it out. Janine came with me and we wandered around watching ducks and children play.
(I am always trying to find the green spaces in a city.)
We found a bench to sit on and enjoyed the afternoon shadows until it was time to wander back to the hotel and get ready for mass.
I had not been back to my room since I had woken up that morning worried about the Compostela so I was ready to get a shower and change into my new dress.
We all went early to get in line for mass because so few people can attend with the COVID regulations. Even after we got in, we couldn’t find seats together, but had to spread out in chairs that were in the back of a row.
It was so different from how I remembered. The last time I went to mass in Santiago, it was standing room only. The whole church was packed to the gills with people lined along walls and leaning against pillars.
But of course it’s a different time now with the pandemic. Fortunately for anyone who was not able to get inside for mass, there was a large party going on in the square. A band was playing and dancers were performing. It was a beautiful evening and whole place felt full of joy, inside and out.
Of course, the vibe was a bit more subdued inside the cathedral. And since we’d lined up so early to get in, we had a while to wait in our seats before it began.
But eventually the music started and mass began.
We listened to the blessings being said over us even though we couldn’t understand them.
I went back and forth between trying to make out what was being said and closing my eyes and just taking breaths.
Then my mind started to wander.
I started to think how it was all a bit anti-climatic, this moment at the end of the journey.
Our rest day had been a bit of hustle and bustle, with some pausing in-between. But that is what the days of walking the Camino are like as well. Only less hustle. Just wandering step by step.
Towards the end of the service, I actually found myself wondering if we had really even needed to get certificates and attend mass.
Surely the walk had been enough.
The time together on the trail was what we came for.
And then all of a sudden a group of monks gathered around the ropes that pull the golden censor.
They lit incense and pulled the cords together.
And the botofumeiro swung.
As the smell of the incense filled the cathedral, I took back all my thinking about not needing to come to mass.
I don’t know why, but it is a weirdly special moment to sit under the swinging incense. The experience illicited both laughter and tears from our party.
Somehow it felt like the completion. Maybe the blessing is more tangible when you experience it through multiple senses.
Every one of us will remember it always.
As we walked out of mass and up to the restaurant where we would have our last dinner together, the sun was setting and the sky was a glorious mess of colors.
Of course, the beauty and the blessing went on and on.
We ate dinner together and my sweet sister-in-law had our server put birthday candles on a piece of blueberry pie for me to blow out.
Then the group gave me a precious birthday journal in which they had each written sweet notes.
And they had bought me the painting that had made me cry just a couple of days before.
Such gifts. I had no words.
Now that painting is hanging in my home, reminding me multiple times a day of what an amazing adventure we had together.