Musing with Max

Musing with Max

July 11, 2013

La Espana-parte tres 1/2-Santiago de Compostela-Galicia-the end of the road

I've never seen more bars and cafes than in Santiago de Compostela. It seems that every other storefront on those beautiful winding cobblestone streets is one or the other...or a pharmacy, which makes sense because after all that drinking and eating you probably need some pharmaceuticals.

and they have these wonderful little signs to show you the way (OK not all are bars or pharmacies but they are all so darn cute I couldn't resist). There are also hidden gardens

which I plan to duplicate, ahem. And plazas

and La Tuna (not the fish)

and a million little churches tucked into every corner. 

And then there is the place where all roads lead.

La Catedral de Santiago or the Cathedral of Saint James where the Apostle is said to be buried.

The story gets better. Many centuries ago when the remains of the Apostle were buried here (and you can read all about it here) people throughout Europe began pilgrimages to this site, Catholics that is. The pilgrimage continues to this day and people from all over the world take part in it. It was originally a religious pilgrimage which was deemed "El Camino" or "The Way"; it was primarily begun at your own front door, walking until you reached the Cathedral and the tomb of the Apostle. These days the pilgrimage has several starting points throughout Europe with the most notable being in France, in the Pyrenees, near the northwestern corner of Spain. However, there are different known routes starting in Bilbao, Seville, Portugal and other parts of Spain. Most people walk "the way",

but it is perfectly acceptable to ride a bicycle or a horse or donkey (they did it this way centuries ago) and I actually read you can do it by car! Which means we did it since we drove from Bilbao! OK, that's suuuuuch cheating. It is also not necessarily a religious pilgrimage anymore, a lot of people do it to find themselves or "the way". (This movie is a beautiful example of what it's all about). Regardless of the reason or motive, everyone ends here.

Where they are enthusiastically and warmly welcomed by the Archbishop of Santiago.

When we started planning this trip I spoke to an old friend of mine, we've been friends since I was 8, whose family comes from Galicia and she has visited many times so I asked her for suggestions. Among the many that she gave me about places to visit in the area she told me that if I was lucky and went to mass in the cathedral I may see the "Botafumeiro" (incense burner) at work. She had never seen it and had tried to find out when they put it to use but the schedule is not really set...almost at random so that I should maybe try and go to Sunday mass. I didn't go on Sunday since I figured it would be packed. On Tuesday morning we decided to go into the cathedral to see it and see the tomb of the Apostle. We walked in to find all the pews filled and a sense of anticipation. Since there was no place to sit we started walking towards the main altar

side altar
when a voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the "Pilgrim Mass" was about to begin, "no flash photos or video please" and as we stood behind the altar for this very special mass...there it was

hanging above the altar. We were stunned. This mass will have the ceremony of the Botafumeiro! A procession of priests, about ten, followed by an Archbishop walked onto the altar and took their seats. The mass was started by a nun with a beautiful singing voice then the Bishop spoke and explained how this was a mass to welcome all of those who had completed the pilgrimage, all the priests who were in attendance were from different countries representing the pilgrims and one had been invited to lead the mass this day since he had just completed the pilgrimage. He was the Archbishop of Detroit. He led the mass in beautiful Spanish and English and spoke of the benevolence that pervades "the way". After communion was administered it was time. The Botafumeiro which is held up by a pulley system consisting of sturdy ropes and knots was lowered onto the altar, opened and lit

then the voice over the loudspeaker came on again asking for no flash photos or video, she also said  "this isn't an oddity, please don't see see it as a tourist attraction, please see it as what it is something to make your spirit soar!"

and one priest gave it a push just as a swing at the park, and eight priests started to pull on those ropes, and it swung, and it swung, and it swung, higher and higher and higher and higher and higher each time

with that smoke and aroma just filling the air, almost hitting the 90 foot ceiling, over and over and over again. And it soared, and soared and soared.....and so did every spirit there at the place where all roads lead.

Adios Espana, hasta la proxima.


  1. WOW! I started by being enchanted with all the beautiful signs and couldn't wait to comment about how much love old signs but that enthusiasm was stolen by the Botafumeiro story. It replaced my love for the material things and made my spirit soar. Beautiful.

    1. I know the signs were so much fun, I couldn’t stop (there’s more) and I was going to post about them and then another about the pilgrim mass, blah blah blah, but I decided that by now enough is enough so I lumped it all together. I have to say the Botafumeiro experience was one of those things in life that hits you out of nowhere and you just go WOW!!!!.

  2. I second what Steve wrote. Halfway through the signs I was ready to move there! And then the mass and the incense...otherworldly. What an amazing place.

    1. It is something else, and you should see all the people walking around with canes and bandaged feet...yet happy! Pilgrimage anyone?

  3. Que entrada más chula Amelia la idea de fotografiar los carteles ha sido genial, y el resto de las fotos me ha traido muchos recuerdos de nuestro viaje hace 3 años.¿A que es impresionante? Nosotros estuvimos en la misa de peregrinos de las doce y fue muy emocionante.

    Un beso

    1. Los carteles me tenian hipnotizada. Es un milagro que no choque contra un edificio, siempre mirando para ariba mientras caminando. La misa es unica y la experiencia de ver el Botafumeiro casi no se puede describir. Me gusto mucho Galicia, hasta con lluvia y frio.