Santiago de Compostela

I made a pact with myself that I would avoid writing a travelog of places we visit, but Santiago de Compostela is such an extraordinary place.

We set off on a coach from Baiona, it was not long before the newly formed geriatric coach party was asking Nick (WCC Organiser) when the first stop would be …for “coffee”. Another insight for me, I am now part of the very same coach parties that my Dad refused to join because he couldn’t abide “old people”.

At Santiago we were split into two groups and allocated a guide. We got the entertaining, and rotund Diego, a very knowledgeable but, by his own admission, amusingly lazy PhD student from the ancient University of Santiago.

As everyone who has seen the excellent film “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez knows, Santiago is the final destination of the pilgrims that walk the 800 km Camino de Santiago. It is home to the bones of St James housed in the very grand Roman Catholic cathedral. The RC’s know how to create a legend. In 813 a shepherd saw a light that guided him to a burial site. He told the Bishop who immediately recognised the remains as the bones of St James and convinced the King to build a cathedral on the spot. All very convincing in the days before TV and the Web. It is comforting to know that the flock are not so easily duped nowadays with silly beliefs in celebrity, democracy and WMD.

The Cathedral is truly gothic. The sculptors saw no need to hold back on the ornamentation and gold was obviously not in short supply. We were fortunate to visit the Cathedral while a high mass was being performed –and I mean performed. The highlight of the ceremony is not the taking of the body and blood of Christ – oh no – the highlight is the sight of the monks hanging on to the ropes that hold the massive incense burner. This censor is called the “Botafumeiro” and is swung down the central aisle of the cathedral during Mass. Incense has long been a part of the high mass but it is thought that the reason for this exaggerated method of spreading the incense may have something to do with masking the smell of the pilgrims after they had walked the 800km of the Camino de Santiago without the aid of lemon scented wet wipes.

The final point of interest to all sinners is that in 1122 Pope Calixtus II gave Compostela the privilege of granting a Plenary Indulgence to those who visited the shrine of the St James in each year when the saint’s day fell on a Sunday, and while there made their confession, attended Mass, gave a donation for the upkeep of the shrine, and undertook to perform good works.

So whenever St James’s day (25th July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year, and you can get a Plenary Indulgence – this means you can bypass purgatory and go straight to Heaven without collecting your £200. Holy Years fall every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032. Good luck with your hotel booking.


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Diego addressing the rally pilgrims.. Nick, the chosen one?
RP12 Slideshow (332) RP12 Slideshow (291)
High mass Swinging the Botafumeiro