Today was are last day on the Camino de Santiago. We woke up around 7:30am, put on our familiar clothes and boots, zipped up our rain jackets and hit the road for a 4km walk down into the valley of Santiago de Compestela (field of stars to St. James).
We have been walking towards Santiago for 22 days and on the journey we had found friends we expected to enter this mysterious city together with in celebration and victory. This damp, cold morning Jon and I found ourselves alone at the cathedral in the center of the city feeling a bit lonely. To add to the mood the famous spires of the cathedral are under construction and covered with scaffolding and plastic. How does one hide their disappointment at such an anticlimactic finish? Especially on such a hard and honorable journey. We decided to hug, kiss, grab each other’s hand and choose joy in accomplishing this walk together despite the lackluster of the finish; and we went to a cafe for coffee which helped.
At noon we heard the bells for the pilgrim’s mass where the famous botafumeiro is used on Sundays. This is an elaborate flying incense container that requires the muscle power of 6 priests to lift and swing throughout the cathedral. Rumor on the Camino is it was created to fill the cathedral with the rich smell of incense as a metaphor of prayers to heaven, but practically to cover the smell of the thousands of smelly medieval pilgrims. We are no different in the 21st century even with our daily showers and quick dry gear.
Jon and I arrived to the mass right at noon and there were over a thousand people squeezed into pews, aisles, and lining the back sections. We unfortunately had our backpacks on and right as we found a spot to stand a security guard began escorting us out, “No mochillas en de cathedral”. I almost panicked, we walked 23 days to come to this mass and now because of our pilgrim packs we had to leave! Before the tears I felt welling up in my eyes could fall Jon grabbed my pack and said I should stay and to meet him outside on the steps after the mass. Without a chance to argue he was out of sight with both packs and I was alone admits thousands in the cathedral able to stay. My husband taught me more about God’s love on this trip then any church we entered, even the great cathedral of Santiago. Pure, selfless love.
I was enjoying the deep melodious chanting of the priest accompanied by an incredible soprano singing “En Eccelsis Deo” when I felt a jolt and realized I had been pushed. A woman in normal clothes, not a pilgrim, with a camera knew the flying incense was about to be swung and to get a picture she needed my spot. I felt anger and judgement flood my heart. Where had all my peace go? Vanished with one act of rudeness. In that moment I was more saddened by my own quick temper than I was with the woman. The priest called the group to communion and I knew I shouldn’t go. As people moved past me to get communion I closed my eyes and tears began to fall down my cheeks. Jesus was softly telling me all peace comes from him and he kindly beaconed me to his table, his body. I opened my eyes and joined the line to receive the bread of communion. This Camino has taught me so much about forgiveness and acceptance. Every morning is fresh, every moment as well, when you just come empty and willing to learn.
After communion with the shuffle I realized I was now directly in front of the alter with a perfect view of the swinging Botafumeiro, flying incense. I was again filled with peace as music and incense filled the air, but the peace came from a deeper place where external circumstances can never rob it. After the mass I found out Jon had checked our bags into a pilgrim storage facility and quickly returned to the cathedral. We both were able to enjoy it.
The next 12 hours we got our official “Compestella” certificate stating we finished the Camino and enjoyed sleeping on benches and walking around Santiago. We also had to pick up the package of “extras” we sent to Ivar (a guy who helps pilgrims by storing packages). At 10 pm we got a “Blah Blah car”, Spanish ride share, with two Galician chicas to Madrid to stay with our friend Felix for a few days. Our Camino is now complete, I think I will miss walking everywhere.