a day in santiago de compostela

On the first day in Santiago after completing my pilgrimage, I got up in the dark as I did through most of my Camino.  I wanted to get to the pilgrim office, Oficina de Acollida Ao Peregrino, by the 8:00 opening. When I arrived at 8:10, there was already a line.  There, I got the final sellos (stamps) for my credenciale , and I was awarded the Compostela with my Latinized name, “Catherinem” (?), and a certificate (for 3€) telling how many kilometers I’d walked (799 km!).

I returned to my room to drop the Compostela, then went to have churros and chocolate and a terrible Cafe Americano at a cafe near my hotel.


churros and chocolate

After breakfast, I headed for the Cathedral, where I walked around the various chapels. I also walked up the stairs into the High Altar, where I hugged the statue of the Apostle St. James from behind and gave him thanks for my pilgrimage.


fountain at the Santiago Cathedral


Santiago Cathedral


Santiago Cathedral

Out on Praza do Obradoiro, a group of protestors was making a racket by banging on metal pans and playing instruments in a cacophony of obnoxious sound.  It seemed to go on forever.  I never found out what they were protesting.

I ran into Greg and Sean going with Darina into the Cathedral rooftop tour, but I didn’t have a chance to talk much to them.


around Praza do Obradoiro


Cathedral of Santiago


Cathedral of Santiago


Cathedral of Santiago


Hostal dos Reis Católicos (parador)

At 11:00, I went to the Cathedral to get a seat for the noon pilgrim mass.  Darina arrived much later, after her rooftop tour, and sat in the back.  I hadn’t had a seat for the German mass the day before, and I wanted to enjoy the experience from a different angle.  This time I sat in the nave of the cathedral, looking directly at the altar.  In the apse, the statue of St. James presided over the nave from on high. All through the mass, I could see heads popping through the opening as pilgrims and visitors hugged the Saint from behind. It was strangely disconcerting.


Looking at the altar from the nave

This time there was a youth choir and the priest mentioned peregrinos and where they were from, naming countries all over the world. They swung the Botafumeiro again at this mass, but we had a different view than we’d had the day before; we’d sat in the transept during the German mass.  We only saw the huge incense burner as it went back and forth in front of the altar; it disappeared into the transept!

After the mass, I went to have some lunch at a cozy restaurant.  I had a tinto verrano and asparagus omelet and bread.  I browsed through a couple of shops and then went through the 14th century Casa Gótica, with its pilgrimage museum (museo das Peregrinaciónes).

The museum pointed out the dimensions of pilgrimage in both the real and imaginary worlds. The pilgrim embarks on a ritual journey in search of purification, perfection or salvation. Pilgrim, way, and shrine are all essential elements. There is a relationship between the earthly and the holy, the individual and the group, causing a transformation in the pilgrim.  In essence, the pilgrimage is a request or a plea, a way of giving thanks for a gift received, a desire to improve position in the social and emotional realms, or to draw closer to God.

Displays showcased the three great Christian pilgrimages: to Jerusalem, to Rome, and to Santiago de Compostela. The latter became a center for pilgrimage after the discovery of the body of St. James the Great in the 9th century.

The places related to the life of Christ, his disciples and the first martyrs became centers of devotion and destinations for pilgrimage.

The term “pilgrimage” is also used allegorically to express the similarity between a journey to a holy place and human life itself.  The physical effort necessary to reach the pilgrim’s goal is a metaphor for the human spiritual journey, full of sacrifices, renunciation and heartache. The objective is to reach the highest level of knowledge, spiritual renewal, glory, paradise or eternal salvation.

In the westernmost tip of Europe in the 820s, a tomb was discovered and identified as containing the body of St. James the Great (Santiago in Spanish). The stories about the life of the Saint have always been shrouded in a mixture of tradition and legend. There are questions as to whether Galicia and other parts of Spain were evangelized by St. James or St. Paul. The relics of martyrs were the most sacred of all objects for Christians.  Thus, the discovery of the body of one of Christ’s closest disciples, and the first apostle to be martyred, was of enormous consequence to 9th century Christian communities.



Early pilgrims wore typical walking clothes.  A cape that wasn’t too long, a cloak or pellegrina, a broad rimmed hat and strong shoes protected them from inclement weather and allowed them to walk comfortably. Later, the dress became standardized so pilgrims were easily identifiable. Often the outfit included a staff, a basket, a pouch, and a gourd to carry water or wine. Pilgrims often sewed to their clothes insignia from the shrines they’d visited (much like the sello in today’s credenciale), including the scallop shells typical of the Camino. Recently, colorful sportswear has revolutionized traditional walking gear and is now the preferred mode of dress.


pilgrim clothing

From the beginning, the journey on foot was the main mode of transport. Using animals or a carriage was a privilege. Pilgrims organized into groups to keep from being vulnerable to wild animals, bandits and criminals. Today, pilgrimage is still most popular on foot, although bicycles are an increasingly popular alternative.

The Pilgrim’s Guide (Book V of the Codex Calixtinus) was an exceptional 12th century guide book offering information for pilgrims.  Many pilgrim guides were written over the centuries.


modern day version of a Pilgrim’s Guide

The pilgrimage is full of rituals from beginning to end.  The pilgrim prepares himself before leaving home.  He may receive blessings and make a will. He may carry a stone as a form of penance, which he later throws onto a heap of stones. Completion of the pilgrimage could be verified in a document. From the 15th century on, pilgrims were given certificates known as “compostelas.”

Figures of St. James the pilgrim emerged in the 12th century, the product of a widespread cult related to the Camino.  He is depicted most often with a staff and pouch, a gourd for liquids, a hat to protect him from the sun and rain, and a cape as a complement to his cloak. The scallop shell is what identifies him as a pilgrim.  These depictions often aim to show the Saint’s human side.

After visiting the museum, I relaxed a bit in my room, then went on the rooftop tour of the Cathedral.  We had a Spanish guide, so I couldn’t understand a word.  Standing on the tilting rooftop was dizzying.


Cathedral of Santiago

I went back to my room at PR Libredón to reorganize my pack so I could leave some stuff at the hotel until I returned from Muxia and Finisterre on Thursday.  I threw out my rain poncho and hat because no rain was forecast.

Darina and I met for dinner.  I had an empañada with tuna (too dry) and sauteed peppers, which were delicious.  I washed my supper down with a beer and scarfed down some of Darina’s French fries. This would be the last time I would see Darina, and I felt heavyhearted about parting ways with my Camino friend. Our meal together seemed to have a sad note to it, as if we were emotionally exhausted by the whole experience, yet disappointed to have it come to an end.

On the way back to my room, I stopped to buy a Spanish-looking scarf, and then went to bed to rest and nurse my worsening cold.

The next several days, I would go by bus to Muxia and Finisterre, and then return to Santiago just in time for my 63rd birthday on Thursday.


*Sunday, October 21, 2018*

*9,077 steps, or 3.85 miles: Santiago de Compostela*

You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:


On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Cultured in Coimbra.