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.
and spinning around
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
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 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
learning to speak.
The lines stretch and grow and fill
not just the church,
but also our hearts.
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.
Then these same men take cords together and release the famous thurible,
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.
A week later,
we enter the church again.
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.
was martyred for following Jesus
almost two thousand years ago.
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.