Santiago de Compostela: A Tourist Once Again

Having made it to Santiago, we settled in for a few days of rest and relaxation. Naturally, this included time at the cathedral. Let’s face it, if we’re going to trek 1172km to Santiago, its kind of a given that we’d spend a little time with Saint James and his huge church.

Again, the weather wasn’t the greatest, but we snapped the obligatory picture from the Praza do Obradoiro where pilgrims typically gather to view the cathedral and make merry in celebration of their safe arrival. It’s definitely a charged atmosphere with great cheers from groups of pilgrims juxtaposed with many sitting on the ground in quiet reflection.

And then there was the long wait to receive the Compostela. We slowly progressed towards the pilgrim reception for about an hour in what would challenge the wait at any government office.

Finally, we made it to the front of the line and prepared to present the credential or pilgrim passport for inspection. One could liken it to a final judgment scene.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but this was a pretty cool final judgment scene that we saw on a neighboring church’s façade.

(Back to the story…) At the end of the Camino, the previously blank document is filled with stamps gathered along the way. Basically, one receives a dated stamp at each albergue in which he stays. Additionally, most churches, town halls, and many restaurants have their own stamps. Many pilgrims who walk shorter distances will opt for these additional stamps, but we would have long ago run out of space if we had not been sparing in our collection of them. (Mikey’s rule of thumb is to request one at each albergue in which he stays and some cathedrals he visits.)

After inspecting his credential and asking a few questions concerning where he began walking, the nice church lady presented him with the Compostela (written in Latin) and a certificate of distance walked (written in Spanish). While officially credited with walking 1172km or 728 miles, Mikey’s propensity for taking wrong turns leads him to believe that he probably walked a lot further.

After dropping off the documents at the hotel, we walked (uncredited) back to the cathedral for a visit and a trip to the rooftop. (This is a view of the south façade or das Pratarías. It is the only remaining Romanesque exterior.)

This is probably one of Mikey’s favorite parts of the exterior. The trio of statues depicting the Saint is located high up on the eastern façade. As such, James looks east towards Jerusalem.

Another popular depiction of James is the Santiago Matamoros. Located in one of the many interior chapels, this piece depicts him trampling an unfortunate infidel over a bed of flowers. Yeah, James the Pilgrim is a lot less problematic.

This is an altarpiece in another chapel. Yes, the Virgin prays at the foot of the cross, but Jesus is the center of attention. Sorry, but we find it interesting how the Savior is seemingly in constant competition with saints and virgins in many Spanish churches. Just saying…

Also dominating the main chapel is a pair of Baroque organs. Perhaps akin to dueling pianos, they are played by two organists and fill the cathedral with rich and powerful music.

Our pictures do little to convey the sheer immensity of the space.

Still, even the most intimate rite of confession is conducted throughout the day. In fact, there are more than a dozen confessionals where many languages are offered.

This is a view of the main altar where multiple pilgrim masses are held each day. Part regular mass and partly catered to pilgrims, the highlight is the swinging of the botafumeiro at the end. This is a giant silver incense burner that you can see on the right. Thought to be a necessity when pilgrim hygiene was less than optimal, it is often employed in modern times and much to the delight of all pilgrims who are fortunate enough to witness it.

As we didn’t see it this time, here’s a video of it that we shot last year.

With that, it was time to join our tour group and climb up to the rooftop to see some views of the city and traipse around. Oh, Mikey thought this was interesting: zoom in on the guide’s bag. Our headsets were Russian-made. Hope you enjoyed listening in on the tour, Mr. Putin!

This was a nice shot of a Romanesque cross with a Gothic bell tower in the background. Due to constant additions from the 12th-century onwards, the cathedral is something of an architectural Frankenstein in its stylistic composition.

This was just a neat shot looking at Santiago from behind with flanking Baroque towers.

Oh, and the bells on those towers were pretty impressive! Apparently, they were donated by King Louis XI of France. Sounds like the lazy way out of garnering favor without doing a Camino!

Now much less crowded, the Praza do Obradoiro is both home to the town hall and quite the sight to leave you with this evening.

But, we’re not done yet! One of the best parts about Santiago is the great food and drink. In our next installment, Mikey plans on sharing some of the gastronomic highlights of the city before we head to another food Mecca – A Coruña. Hasta entonces.

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