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 -