We could hardly contain our excitement this morning as we prepared to head down the hill into town to attend the Pilgrims’ Mass at 12 noon in the cathedral. Having read so many accounts of this ceremony, we were aware of the significance of the special mass for all the footsore pilgrims from all over who had travelled resolutely along the Camino de Santiago and had reached their destination, the cathedral which legend says holds the remains of St. James the first martyr.

For us, this marked an end to our journey westwards, having chosen Santiago as the point where we would turn and start our way back in the direction of Scotland. This was not so much a physical or geographical turning point as much as a spiritual one where we would feel that our travels with the Magic Caravan had reached their furthest point from home and that we could somehow breathe more easily. Last August we chose to embark on a journey of discovery covering all of Western Europe and including a trip to Australia. Santiago de Compostela was always going to be the place where we would start to come home.

The question is: will we come home different people from the two who, nine months ago, waved goodbye to the Gibson and the George families from the Amsterdam ferry out of North Shields? Have we changed, either in a subtle or a more overt way? Do we see things differently from before? At this moment we cannot answer these questions but maybe you will all notice something when we return in June (and we don’t mean our tans!). One thing we do know for certain is that we are really compatible as a couple. How else could we have survived all this time living in a wee 2-berth caravan, cooking, eating, relaxing, playing and sleeping in a room 12 feet x 6?

Perhaps you now have a better idea of the importance we gave to attending this mass then. It was something we had to do, in a similar way to the millions who had preceded us. We were attending not as tourists who had come to see the bonny church and the big incenser swinging up to the ceiling, but as pilgrims ourselves, thanking God for his protection on our travels and for a safe arrival at our destination. The cathedral did not disappoint.

Despite arriving half an hour before mass began, we found ourselves battling for standing room never mind a seat, but eventually settled on the right edge of the main aisle quite near the front and beside a rope which stopped visitors from crossing in front of the altar. We didn’t know however that this was the passage used to admit the celebrants to the altar so we were lucky enough to have a close-up view of them as they walked past our noses in procession, the cardinal himself brushing by as we made way for the party to pass.

The Pilgrims' Mass

The Pilgrims’ Mass

The mass itself was perfectly normal, conducted in Spanish with the gospel repeated in English while the announcements were also in German and French. When it came to the welcomes we were absolutely astounded to discover that there were people in the congregation from all over the planet as well as from the four corners of Europe and the quantity of rucksacks piled beside each fluted column bore witness to the number of genuine pilgrims who had come here on foot along one of the Caminos.

After communion we found our places taken by a hoard of onlookers so we went to the back of the cathedral for a general look at the building. That turned out to be the moment they put the giant incenser into action and, although from where we were we couldn’t see the full arc of the swing, we did see the rope catapulting higher and higher until it appeared almost parallel with the ground, emitting clouds of incense which drifted down onto the camera-laden faithful below. Mary managed to shoot some video of the event but as usual my camera ran out of juice at the vital moment!

Main façade of the cathedral

Main façade of the cathedral

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the old town enjoying the sight of the hundreds of pilgrims in the area and, surprisingly, seeing some of a triathlon event which started and finished in the square in front of the main façade. Mary seemed particularly interested in the Lycra kit being worn by the male competitors but we both had a laugh at the continual “adjustments” they repeatedly made to their attire! Our post-mass refreshment was a delicious sandwich and cup of tea at a wee bar off the main road but still in sight of the cathedral. I splashed out on a glass of red to celebrate and could hardly believe it when the total bill came to 8 Euro! That’s real value for your money.

Mary in front of the East facade

Mary in front of the East facade

The evening was spent tidying up in the Magic Caravan, doing some more planning for the next 2 weeks and having a taste of some “Pinchos” which are small tapas served as a supper after 8 p.m. We went to bed really happy with our special day today and equally delighted to be heading back east from now on.

Technically that’s not true as we can’t leave without actually reaching the Atlantic which is 25 kilometres west at the town of Noia. I think we’ll go there tomorrow.

My best pal, Ghandi!

My best pal, Ghandi!

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