As of this weekend, it’s been ten years since my dear friend Pat Stankus and I marched into the city of Santiago de Compostela—culminating 23 days of walking the ancient pilgrimage across northern Spain, el Camino de Santiago.
Pat and I made sure that our final day would only require a short walk into Santiago in order for us to arrive at the Cathedral in time to register at the Pilgrims' Office, and attend the legendary Pilgrims' Mass and blessing. Every Pilgrims' Mass begins with reading the number of pilgrims who have been received (in the prior 24 hrs) in the Pilgrim's Office, where the pilgrims come from, and where they started their pilgrimage.
Serendipitously, and by that I mean providentially, many of our Camino friends also arrived to Santiago at some point that morning. This in spite of the fact that we had been separated from one another at some point along the way during that final week.
One woman from Germany, with whom Pat and I had only been able to communicate by means of smiles, hugs, and hands, made her way through the ocean of pilgrims to our pew in order to sit next to us that morning. We held hands off and on throughout the Mass.
And yes, on June 22, 2003—the feast of Corpus Christi—our Pilgrim Mass included the incomparable Botafumeiro, the largest censer in the world. It only took eight red-robed guys, tiraboleiros, to pull the ropes and get it going into a full swinging motion across the enormous Cathedral!
Aware of how smelly and dirty I felt in spite of having access to modern albergues with running water, I giggled when I got a whiff of the delightful incense aroma. A thousand years ago, that incense fragrance must have had a very practical use at the Pilgrims’ Mass!
From my Camino journal,
Things I have learned this final week on the Camino:
- a country church bell can be rung softly or loudly. I did both!
- all of creation is an open book (St. Benedict), symbolically expressing—and portraying, the sacred
- at least for this pilgrimage, I was not meant to walk in boots, but in sandals
- people in Spanish churches sing loudly, even at daily Mass
- my grace is sufficient for you
- eucalyptus leaves are a piece of heaven—and nothing like the ones you find at Michael’s
- sheep don’t like to be sheared
- I can still sing the lyrics to songs I learned in my childhood and have not sung since then
- The butterflies and wildflowers play silent music with their colors. Remember!
- I love Spanish food
- I love Spanish wine
- I may never fully understand why I did this
- Bidden or not bidden. God is present
- There is always shit on the path ahead. Old or new, shit always stinks
- Every Camino experience, like every relationship, is different, unique. Every pilgrim will go home describing a different experience
- Threading your blisters with a needle & thread and betadine really does work
- You can get blisters on top of blisters
- Creation’s beauty does not cost or weigh anything
- Your heart sees and recognizes joy as well as sin in a cloister community through its mere presence
- I doubted the guidebook. But, yes, cheese can be shaped to look like a breast with a nipple
- I love Spanish cheese
- Yo soy el Camino