Santiago de Compostela has always fascinated us, not because of its historical value but more importantly because of its religious significance as a city. We have planned to go to this city last year, but due to unfavourable weather conditions, we had to blast that plan. Fortunately, we were able to realize it this year (2015). After exactly one month of touring some parts of Northern Spain, we have finally arrived at Santiago, passing cities like San Sebastian, Santander and Lugo, among others. Our objectives, both leisurely and spiritually, were achieved; our visit has given us a new perspective to some things, and realize that life, how complicated it might be, is beautiful and must be enjoyed.
Coming from Lugo, which was in a way, prepared us a bit in our coming to Santiago de Compostela, it took us two hours to reach the city. We were able to find a good parking for D’Traveller in Milladoiro, which is just 6 kilometers away from the city center. There is a good bus transfer which takes you to the city in less than 15 minutes (fare is 1.50/one way). There is water services and area for chemical toilet.
Campsite : Parking Milladoiro, Travesia do Porto
15895 Milladoiro (Santiago de Compostela)
Coordinates : N: 42.845 W: 8.58056
WALKING THE LAST 6 KILOMETERS OF THE CAMINO
Santiago de Compostela has always been associated with the Camino de Santiago, one of the most important pilgrimages for the Catholic people, aside from Jeruzalem and Rome. Millions of Pilgrims from many countries since time immemorial have travelled on foot, by horse or at present even by bicycles, to Santiago to honor Saint James, one of the Apostles of Jesus, whom people believed was buried in this city. We have always great respect and admiration to the pilgrims or “peregrine” as they call it in Santiago. They walk long distances for many days, carrying with them only the basic things, stripping themselves from other unimportant worldly belongings, and bearing the physical and natural hardships and challenges that come their ways in order to complete their pilgrimage and pay honor to Saint James. Knowing that we do not possess those qualities (at this point), we wanted to at least try to walk the Camino road. And the good thing was, from our parking there is an official Camino road that we could follow all the way to the cathedral.
Having many experiences of hiking in many different surfaces, we both thought 6 kilometer walk would be an easy one. And it was, actually, except for the last 1.5 kilometers when it was really searching for us! Anyway, it was November 18 (Wednesday) when we had our taste of the Camino. Hans had the apps of Maps in his mobile telepone on, while I just let the old route guided me thru the walk. Walking about 100 meters, we had the official Camino route : our first Santiago pillar with the St. Jacob’s shell icon. The route was varied and interesting : we walked through the forests, under the viaducts and highways, beside the train line, and at the prairies and farms. We saw charming old villages which we normally wouldn’t see if we just used the normal. We became acquainted with orio, the Galician small house for grain storage. And all throughout the way, the signs were aplenty and clear. Except for the last three kilometres when we saw two concrete pillars with arrows pointing to opposite directions. That was confusing. We waited for someone to come along and asked for the right way. We took the right pillar which was good. But we noticed that how nearer we came to the city, how scarcer the signs were. Until at one point, we didn’t know if we missed it, we had the wrong way. It helped that Hans’ map was on. Still, we had to ask at least 3 persons for the way to the Cathedral. Luckily after 2.5 hours of walking, we reached the Cathedral. It was 12.30 and a mass was being celebrated. We waited for it to be finished then we had a tour of the Cathedral.
THE CATHEDRAL AND OUR ENCOUNTER WITH SAINT JAMES
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has its history as early as 899 AD when the first church was built on the site where the remains of Saint James was believed to be found. From then on, it has been reconstructed and improved until it became the Cathedral that we have now. The Cathedral is the final destination of all the Camino de Santiago, be it primitive, French or Portuguese ways. The most impressive entrance to the cathedral is from Praza Del Obradoiro where the Portico de Gloria is to be found. But unfortunately, it was being reconstructed when we were there. Our usual point of entry was from Praza das Praterias. We entered this cathedral and came at the right wing.
The Cathedral’s High Altar is uncomparably impressive : it has the “Botafumeiro”censer, believed to be the biggest in the world, and above all, the altar of Saint James, with his Image. There is an opportunity for all believers to embrace the Apostle, by ascending a set of stairs behind the High Altar. Hans and I had to fall in line and waited quite a long time before we had our turns. It was quite an experience, embracing Saint James. It was like embracing him in person, and feeling his presence. Sadly, we couldn’t stay there so long as many people were also waiting after us. Under the High Altar is the lower crypt where the relics of the Saint is to be found. Again, we only had a few moments here because of the many visitors.
However, after these encounters, I still had the opportunity to come back to the Cathedral twice. Second time was in the evening, around 6. And it was the most ideal time because the cathedral was almost empty. There I was, having my special long moments with St. James, embracing him, and praying to him in the crypt. Such an intimate and solemn moments! The third time I went back was in the morning at about 11 when I had to say goodbye. It was still less crowded, and still I had longer moments with Saint James. The following day, Thursday, Hans and I returned to the cathedral to hear the Holy mass. Although it was in Spanish and we couldn’t understand a thing, it was still for us a very important religious experience to attend the mass at the cathedral. The Cathedral was almost full; there were seats reserved for the pilgrims with credentials in the front areas.
Leaving the Cathedral, we went to the Pilgrim’s office and inquired about how to do the pilgrimage. We bought 2 pilgrim passport in case that we decide to do the camino in the future. There were quite a few pilgrims walking around the city and the cathedrals during our visit. And who knows, in the future, we are also one of them…
THE CITY OF SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Aside from being the city of pilgrimage to the beloved saint, Santiago de Compostela is also the capital city of the province of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is a university city which explains why the city is so alive and vibrant. There are a lot of students walking around; the small bars, restaurants and cafeterias are always full with regulars, shops are everywhere, especially of course the many souvenir shops which sell all about Saint James, from the St. Jacob shells to Saint James images.
We had the chance to visit the Museum for the Pilgrims which is located at Praza des Praterias. The museum explains the origin of pilgrimage and how it evolved to how it is today. Also we did long walks around the old city, seeing gigantic old buildings such as the Parador de Santiago, beside the cathedral, the town hall and some universities and colleges; we walked thru narrow paved streets, some with columns and arcades. We walked all the way to the famous Alameda park and had a nice view of the city and the cathedral. We saw some smaller churches such as San Martino Pinario, Orfas, San Miguel, San Xerome, and San Francisco among others. However, we did not enter all of them, as some were closed and others had entrance fees. Even the Cathedral Museum had entrance fee of 12 euro per person, so we had to pass that one too. But all in all, our walk around the city has given us a very good impression of Santiago de Compostela as a city and a place of holy pilgrimage.
I, for one, was very grateful for being able to visit Santiago de Compostela. Having an origin in a small town in the Philippines with Saint James as our patron saint, Saint James has played an important role in my upbringing and nurturing my belief. He has guided me during my school years and until in the early years of my professional life. And now, I am so lucky that I had the chance to honor and venerate him by way of praying to his holy relics. I am a grateful Christian… just like we always prayed in our parish…..Saint James, Pray for us….