Monday, May 11, 2015

Santiago de Compostella

Santiago de Compostela, commonly known as Santiago, is the capital of the autonomous community[6] of Galicia in northwestern Spain.  Santiago de Compostela is also the final destination of the legendary medieval way of pilgrimship Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James), now considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The town is named after the Apostle Saint James (“Santiago”), who is buried there.[4]  Christians believe that Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle) preached in Galicia and, after his death in Palestine, was brought back to Santiago by stone boat and was buried there.  St. James’ tomb was supposedly rediscovered in about 814 by a religious hermit, Pelayo, by following a guiding star.  After the Austrian King Alfonso II had a church built above the holy remains, pilgrims began flooding to the site.  By the 11th century, the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago was a major European phenomenon.[5]  Fast forward hundreds of years - after the codification of the Camino in the Codex Calixtinus[7], fights between rival nobles, and economic hardships for the Camino and the cities along it, the 1980s brought a resurgence of interest in the Camino, bringing pilgrims and money to Santiago de Compostela.  Today, some 200,000 pilgrims and thousands of other visitors journey to the city each year.  

Map of the Pilgrimage [1]

The Old Town, a roughly oval-shaved area bounded by the line of the medieval ciy walls, is one of the world's most beautiful urban areas.[2]  Praza de Galicia marks the boundary between the Old Town and the Ensanche (Extension), the 20th-century shpping and residential area to its south.[5]  The oldest monuments in the city date back to the 11th century - the main body of the cathedral, constructed over St. James tomb, was consecrated in 1211.  The Cathedral is Romanesque in structure and was continuously embellished with additions to the building throughout the 13th - 15th centuries.

Santiago Cathedral [X]

Waking up in the car just as we pulled up to our hotel in Santiago was not exactly how I had planned my entrance into the destination point of the Camino, but strangely foreshadowed the rest of my experiences in the city.  For example, I was not expecting to see the city from the top of a huge ferris wheel at a carnival nearby.  I was also not expecting so much construction/renovation to be happening to the cathedral, nor for this construction to prevent us from being able to touch the legendary place in the wall that all pilgrims typically touch as they enter.  I was not expecting the cathedral to be so bright (for whatever reason), and I was not expecting to feel as let down as I did at the "end" of this pilgrimage.  Let me clarify - the cathedral was outstanding and beautiful.  Just as ornate as others we've seen along the Camino, the Santiago Cathedral was built on a massive scale, created and updated with greater detail of exquisite paintings, carvings, and architectural features.

The city definitely has a different energy than others we've been in, though I'm not exactly sure how to describe it.  The evening we arrived, we struggled to find the correct door to enter to get into the cathedral (many of the doors were entrances to the Cathedral Museum or otherwise blocked off).  Once we found a way in, we discovered that a mass was taking place, so we weren't abel to look around.  It was interesting to see the mix of people in the mass - those I could tell had been on the Camino, their still bandaged toes poking out from flip-flops, groups of older tourists, those who looked like they might be from this area in their Sunday best, and more.  (My particular favorites were a young couple holding hands as they payed rapt attention to the service and one young woman who had a button on her backpack that read "F*ck your patriarchal beauty standards.")  There were many people attending the service with standing room only, so we decided to take a walk before dinner that night.  It was hard to miss the many pilgrim shops selling items similar, if not exact copies of shell and arrow paraphernalia I had seen in other cities during our travels.

The next morning, after our breakfast of coffee and pastries in a café near our hotel, we went off to the Cathedral Museum.  This museum featured many artifacts and pieces of architecture from the original structure of the cathedral.  After seeing these and the grand cloister, we headed into the cathedral for a Pilgrim's Mass at noon.  The mass was apparently not what had taken place at previous Pilgrim's Masses in past trips.  The mass was typical, though the names of pilgrims who had made it to the city were read at the beginning of the service.  Dr. Survilla and Chelsea told us that when they had experienced the service, it had been done in multiple different languages, there was burning of incense for the pilgrims, and there had been a more casual air to the service.  This was not the case in our 45 minute, mostly Spanish mass.  It was a lovely service, but I felt like most people were not really paying attention.  I saw some people taking pictures during the service and later from the prayer area from which they were asked not to take photos.  Later, when we were about to actually view and touch the relic of Santiago that millions of pilgrims have come to do for hundreds of years, I couldn't help but feel removed from any seriousness or spiritualness of the situation.  We stood in line and then shuffled through a room that had a priest sitting in it, watching all those who went through.

Though I was slightly disappointed with my experience at the cathedral, my time there made me think back to a previous day, when we visited the Iron Cross.  This stop had been one of my favorites and had given me a lot of time to think about the Camino and my journey on it.  When I was able to sit down, think, and journal about the Camino, I came up with the following concerning the symbols of the shell and the arrows of the Camino and what they mean to this experience:

"...The arrows are markers along the path for all who travel it.  They are there to help pilgrims get to their final destination - Santiago.  I've been thinking all along that "it's the journey [not the destination]," which is true.  However, the purpose of the pilgrimage, even though the journey is important, is to get to the final place.  Life doesn't really stop for those on the Camino - it never has.  Elsewhere, people still die, laws are made, babies are born, people fall in and out of love, and people leave.  The Camino isn't stepping away from life - it's just going along a different path for a while.  Everyone is following the arrows forward - those on the Camino have just taken a step away from the mainstream and are moving forward to a place...but it isn't over after Santiago.  Life keeps moving forward and we cannot stop it, even by taking a trip/pilgrimage.  We can be changed though, while continuing on."

I'm glad that I had come to this realization before getting to Santiago.  Dr. Survilla talked to us about how this place means so many different things to so many people who traveled the Camino for whatever reason.  Even though I was a little disenchanted with this 'final stop,' I know it isn't actually a final destination for me or for anyone who has come here along the Camino.  This place, with all of its meaning, significance, energy - whatever, is a part of everyone who comes and leave's journey.  It will continue to shape who I am as the rest of this journey has - even if I didn't get to put my hands on a wall.

Some pictures from my time in Santiago - 

 Construction outside the Cathedral

Santiago in the flesh!

Laura and I in the ferris wheel at the carnival

Inside the cathedral, just before mass

Sources & Footnotes

[6] An autonomous community is a first-level political and administrative division of Spain created in accordance with the Spanish constitution of 1978, with the aim of guaranteeing the autonomy of the nationalities and regions that integrate the Spanish nation. [X]

[7] The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th-century book containing sermons, reports of miracles along the pilgrimage, and set of musical pieces intended for pilgrims, codified by Pope Callixtus II.  [X]

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