Santiago

I had no idea, while I was walking the Camino, as to how I would react when I walked into Santiago de Compostela. I had heard stories of pilgrims, grown men, breaking down in tears and others treating it like the end of a day hike. But as I started the last stage from Pedrouzo to Santiago I had a growing sense that regardless of how I felt, I needed to thank Santiago, St. James.

It had started at dinner several days before when I met Rosie, the pilgrim, for the first time. She had just come from the salon where she had her hair tinted, which didn't endear me to her. I'm sorry - no is supposed to look their best on the Camino. However, within five minutes she was quoting from verse 3 of the Gospel of Thomas, "the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you", to me the most profound statement in all the gospels. She was winning me over. Then, while she was talking about the spiritual journey of pilgrims on the Camino, she said it - "You know, God watches over us, but St. James intercedes." At first I thought she was a bit daft, a little too much over the top. But as I thought about it, I came to see she was right. I lost count of how many times I went to bed at night on the Camino knowing that I had to quit the next day or that I would be too banged up to even get out of bed. But I walked the Camino the next day. Or the times when I knew I couldn't even walk three more steps and, at the fourth step, I realized I could make it. Or the times I was on the trail lost in deep thought and something said, "Wake up", and I looked up to see a flecha pointing me in a different direction. There is no way I could or should have made it all the way to Santiago from Seville, but I did.

I could have chosen to assume that the pilgrimage is just a question of mind over body. If I pushed myself hard enough, I could make it. But I and many other pilgrims I met believed that each of us was carried along by our personal desires, by the spirits of the millions of pilgrims who had proceeded us and by the particular spirt of St. James. We were enveloped in a marvelous river of energy carrying us to Santiago.

So, I was walking into Santiago to thank St. James for his intercession. I had asked for his blessing and guidance on the morning I left Seville. I would thank him as I walked into the plaza in front of the Cathedral. A few days later I would thank him as a kneeled at his crypt below the Cathedral. At 6:30 in the morning as I left Santiago for Madrid I would stand before his statue on the Cathedral and give one more thanks.

So, how did I feel when I walked into Santiago? Probably the best answer is with the email I sent to my friends upon reaching Santiago:

Santiago
Santiago Cathedral
Santiago Cathedral
Saint James

Santiago!


May 21, 2013 (email to friends)


Yesterday around one in the afternoon I walked into the plaza in front of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. It was a powerful experience, something I'm still processing. On one level the pilgrimage is complete and on another a new pilgrimage has begun.


I was having dinner with another pilgrim the night before I was to walk into Santiago. I told her how I had come to see the Camino as a river. That every morning I would watch as hundreds of pilgrims would emerge from the albergues and be swept along the river that is the Camino. And as I walked the Camino each day I could feel the current pulling me to Santiago.


The problem was that the river would eventually meet the sea and the Camino would end. I had read about many pilgrims who felt lost after the Camino. They did not know what to do with the energy. Other pilgrims return to the Camino year after year. I had just met two men from Belgium, one 70 and the other 75, who were on their 5th Camino. And the 70 year old had to use a walker with wheels to navigate the trail.


I told my friend that I was afraid I just didn't know what to do with the energy once the Camino was over. She looked at me kindly and simply said, "Use the energy to help others."


And another pilgrim on the way spoke for the Angels.


I'm blessed, truly blessed. And today after the Pilgrims Mass I left a token at the tomb of St. James beneath the Cathedral to thank him for watching out for me.


What next? Not sure. I pushed my body very hard to make it to Santiago and I will need to rest my feet for three to seven days. Assuming my feet heal in time, I may walk to the coast. Otherwise ... I'm not sure.
Again thanks to all of you for your prayers, blessings and good wishes. I am in Santiago, in part, because of you.

Bill

Most people spend a day or two in Santiago and then head for home or out to Finisterre and Muxia. I spent two weeks in Santiago (with a brief trip out to Finisterre). Ostensibly, I stayed there to heal my foot which had become extremely painful from tendonitis. My suspicion, though, was that the spirits wanted me to just stay in Santiago; sit in the plaza mayor watching pilgrims as they came in, sit in the Cathedral and meditate, walk the streets of Santiago looking for friends, reading, and writing in my journal. It was a glorious time of contemplation, rest and being with friends.

Pictures from Santiago

Video of Santiago Cathedral

The side trip to Finisterre

The trip to Madrid to catch my plane