Once again, I feel there are no words to really express what the past two days have been. But I want to write about them at least to remember them later.
I woke up earlier than I was hoping in the morning of day 31, but figured I might as well get started. Just out the door, I ran into a lovely Canadian couple. I haven’t met many other Canadians, so this was a nice treat. We walked together for quite a while. Eventually we parted ways when I stopped for a drink and a sello (a stamp for my credencial – you need to get two on your last day on the way into Santiago!). I was actually glad to walk the last 9 kilometres of the day by myself. (Another aside: the night before I had been joking with friends that our last day was only 20 kilometres. While walking those 20, I thought, 20 kilometres is still 20 kilometres. But I recovered quickly and really wasn’t tired! It isn’t much any more!)
The highest point of elevation of the day was Monte del Gozo – the Mount of Joy. For centuries, pilgrims have come over this hill to their first few of the cathedral, and they have been overwhelmed with joy. Probably not in small part for knowing that they’re about to arrive! I was thinking during this part about all the amazing things that have happened, the things I have seen, the experiences I’ve had, the wonderful people I’ve met, and above all the goodness of God I’ve known. Monte del Gozo was joy-filled, but the outward expression of that joy was a lot of tears running down my face.
From the outskirts of the city, it’s still about 4.5 km in to the cathedral. There was no rush, though, and I walked with such joy. I kind of expected to be able to see the cathedral the whole time through the city, but the narrow streets don’t allow for that. You wend your way along and don’t even need to look for signs because you just follow the hordes of pilgrims ahead at this point.
Suddenly, a turn, and there was the cathedral! It was not yet the main entrance, but I took a moment to go down the steps toward the door and just be there. A little old nun came up to me and asked me in Spanish where I was from. I told her Canada. She asked if I was alone. I told her yes. She expressed wonder at my bravery and courage for being so far away from home on a pilgrimage. Then she told me how beautiful I was – radiant from inside. Of course, my response was more tears, but that was really how I was feeling. I don’t think anything could have taken away the huge smile from my face.
A final 100 metres or so took me through the last arch and into the square of the west entrance, the famous viewpoint of the cathedral. Arriving was strange. I didn’t feel like things were really finished. I have known along every point of this journey what to do next – walk to this place, rest for tomorrow, do my laundry, find some food… But now I had nothing left ahead of me. Arriving wasn’t the moment that I thought it would be. Later discussion with friends revealed similar experiences for them, and we hypothesized that it’s because the Camino really is about the journey, not the destination.
Soon friends came into the square, and then seemed to come from everywhere. This led to a celebratory attitude. We decided to go to the pilgrims’ office to get our final stamp and compostela, but the line was ridiculously long. Instead, we found a little bar with chairs out on the terrace along the route to the cathedral where we could have a celebratory drink and watch pilgrims arrive. Of course, we saw many more friends and acquaintances, which was very joyous.
Finally when we parted I made my way down to my hotel. A room to myself … ahhhhh!!!! After a siesta I made my way back to the cathedral and found a seat inside.
It was here that I finally had my sense of arrival. I just sat for quite some time in the presence of God, and it was beautiful.
A trip to the pilgrims’ office found me waiting in a shorter line than earlier, and I officially received my compostela, along with a special one I purchased that indicates my starting point and number of kilometres.
Evening mass was followed by dinner with a large group of friends. We stayed out until midnight, which is just totally unheard of in a pilgrim routine. But we had much to discuss and reminisce about and laugh over. It was a wonderful, wonderful evening.
This morning I found the Convento de San Fransisco – Saint Francis of Assisi. It is the 800th anniversary of his pilgrimage to Santiago. This convent is offering a special compostela this year only, in honour of the anniversary. It is a wondrous thing to think of all the pilgrims, the many well-known men and women of God, and the just as devoted but unknown, who have made this journey ahead of me.
And then came pilgrims’ mass at noon today. The church was packed with people. There was celebration and thanksgiving in the air. The priest who came to serve the Eucharist on the side where I was sitting with friends was a priest who we had met walking the Camino – how heartfelt to receive the Eucharist from a friend and fellow pilgrim!
And then! The botafumeiro. The botafumeiro might be the most famous part of the cathedral, apart from the actual relics of Saint James. It was originally used to spread incense throughout the cathedral to help with the smell of pilgrims.
We had chosen our seats carefully, and the botafumeiro swung high to the ceiling and right over our heads as it came down. It was, again, a moment without words.
And then. After the mass it was time to say goodbye to the first of our friends to head out. After lunch were more goodbyes, and I know more again will come this evening, even as we look forward to more friends arriving in the next day or two. Saying goodbye to people you have met under such unique circumstances, with no likelihood of seeing them again… Most goodbyes were just teary hugs with no words that can be spoken.
Pain and delight, fatigue and strength, loneliness and friendships, sorrow and joy. The Camino has been all these things at the same time. And more besides. It really needs to be experienced to be understood. And each person’s Camino experiences are the same and yet totally different.