Author: Lisa C.
Date of Trip: September 2011
The Back Story, Locale and Historical Data…
I read upon my return from a 7-day trek along the Camino Frances in Galicia, Spain that only 2% of the pilgrims visiting Santiago de Compostela were from America. Since I felt like an alien life form pretty much the entire trip along “The Way”, this percentage seemed essentially, yet sadly correct. I had worked on the planning and execution of this very spiritual and intense journey for over 13 months, and anyone I’d mentioned it to had that glazed over “I don’t know what she is talking about” look in their eyes… They weren’t even willing to listen for more than 3 minutes to anything about this great experience about which they know nothing, zip, nada!
I originally formulated my desire to go on this trip by finding an obscure link online about an upcoming movie, titled “The Way”, directed by Emilio Estevez. His father, Martin Sheen, plays Tom Avery, a father whose son dies while on the Camino and then decides to take his son’s ashes and complete the Camino on his own, meeting folks along “The Way” that endear themselves to him while driving him crazy as well. Just like his son says in the movie “You don’t choose a life, you live it.” Of late, everyone’s ‘limited attention span’ and even more ‘limited life choices’ are foreign to me, as when I hear of something previously unknown, I want to know more, lots more, especially when that something may actually provide a chance to learn about myself, my limitations, my potential and my spirituality; of course I want to learn all that I can about such a subject. Since it is not an online farming game, nor is there any info on anyone’s favorite faceplace website about spiritual journeys, I figured out quickly that mass appeal for spiritual travel was fairly low. The places I learned the most about the why, how, when and what of this Camino idea was in various forums and/or blogs, since the movie had not opened in America prior to my leaving in September, 2011. The 1st site listed herein is hosted by a local man named Ivar in Galicia and the other by American Pilgrims on the Camino http://www.caminodesantiago.me/ and http://www.americanpilgrims.com/ The 2nd site is also where I pre-ordered my Credential, a passport of sorts that a pilgrim uses to gain sellos (ink stamps) along his Camino and which verify the pilgrims’ progress, as proof that they have traveled at least 100km in order to qualify for their “Compostela” or certification. A Compostela is issued upon completion of the journey once the pilgrim has presented his credential at the Office of Peregrinos, located around the corner from the Santiago De Compostela Cathedral. Also an open Pilgrims Mass is held daily at Noon for all pilgrims having completed their journey. Both the Office of Peregrinos and the Cathedral are compulsory visits once a pilgrim completes the trail, as in order to experience ‘the whole enchilada’, you must get your certificate and receive heavenly absolution at your journey’s end. (Brush up on your Spanish though, as I struggled w/out it!)
Everyone ends up in the busiest square in all of Galicia, hundreds of pilgrims completing their journey, alongside thousands of tourists out walking daily along the Plaza De Obradorio, located just outside the main entrance to Santiago’s Cathedral and the largest square in Galicia; it is also bordered by the Rajoy Palace (parliament building), the Reyes Catholicos hotel (now a state run parador) and a college building of the city’s university, all of which are splendid examples of Galician architecture and dating from the 1100’s, when the Cathedral honoring St. James, the Apostle, Teacher and Warrior was originally begun. Continuing through the 16th & 18th centuries many architectural additions were made. The main Plaza Obradorio is the #1 spot to be while in Santiago de Compostela to simply people-watch and peruse the action where you will see many of the pilgrims you walked alongside for days prior, as well as random people sunbathing, eating lunch, many a tour groups amassing and tour trams lining up alongside taxi stands.
There are three other Plazas to be found encircling the Cathedral, Plaza de la Azabacheria, where many shops sell pieces of exquisite jewelry, most items made from the black gem stone Jet. The craftsmen who fashioned these stones were called “azabacheros” and it is from them and their trade that the square gets its name. The Plaza de la Quintana is lined on one side of the square’s length by massive stone steps and also provides one with a view of the “Portico Real” (Royal Door) of the cathedral which is only opened during one of Santiago’s holy years (2021 is the next holy year).It is this door through which Pilgrims must proceed during holy years in order to gain the “extra game bonus” of plenary indulgence, or forgiveness of sin. Of course a pilgrim must have first completed the requisite miles (by foot, by bicycle or by horse), attended the Pilgrims Mass, entering through this Royal Door, and made confession in order to earn plenary indulgence within the holy year. Holy years occur when the 25th of July (the saint’s day of St. James) falls on a Sunday. The Portico Real is accessible during holy years via a smaller gated door, dedicated to St. Pelayo (St. Paio ~ discoverer of the tomb of St. James). The final square is called the Plaza de las Platerias, a much smaller square, but one surrounded by splendid examples of Galician architecture and featuring an ornate fountain.
The privilege of holding a Holy Year dates from the 12th century and was granted by Pope Callixtus II and confirmed with the papal bull “Regis Aeterni” by Pope Alexander III in 1179. This privilege elevated Santiago de Compostela to the same saint status as Rome and Jerusalem. Since it’s consecration in 1128 in the presence of King Alphonso IX of Leon, whose remains are actually encrypted within the museum beside the Cathedral, pilgrims of every nationality by the 100,000’s have made their way to this site for spiritual fulfillment. Recently much ado has been made of the July, 2011, theft of the infamous Codex Calixtinus, a 12-century illuminated manuscript, believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud, and which was actually hand-written by one of the scribes who travelled alongside the scholar and is one of the first known written accounts of “The Way” along the Camino Frances. Rumour has it that it was an ‘inside job’, i.e. someone in the Administration Offices of the Cathedral, whom will likely never be able to sell or secret away this masterpiece due to its history and singular importance. The artifacts within the museum and Cathedral are too numerous to describe but a delight to behold. Of course, not to be missed, all pilgrims are given the opportunity to ‘hug’ the statue of St. James behind the altar, as well as traipsing down marble stairs with footprints worn into them further below the altar to view the saint’s silver crypt. Stay tuned for Part II to continue this sacred journey and the many lessons learned along “The Way”…
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