The last day of the walk was a short one. And a damp one although not as bad as Thursday. This section took us through some beautiful countryside: Oak woods, eucalyptus forests and fields before entering the outskirts of Santiago.
We stopped for refreshments (and a stamp in our Credencial del Peregrino) at another roadside cafe. Then we were almost in Santiago in an instant. John told me about a French expression ‘on sente l’écurie’, which means that you can smell the stable … we all embraced the last few kilometers with renewed vigour as we saw our destination loom into view. Difficult to imagine how ancient pilgrims might have felt on catching their first sight of the cathedral (not covered in scaffolding like it was for us) but how that must have lifted their hearts after their long and arduous journeys.
The cathedral square was packed but we were met by a team of politicians (including the Tourism Minister, the Head of the Deputacion of A Coruna and the Mayor of Santiago) and paparazzi before going inside the building opposite the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela for a welcome reception (where we must have dripped all over the floor!). I heard several people wondering out loud who we were and whether we were famous (if only they knew!).
Then we had a splendid lunch in the Parador, which was hosting an international conference about pilgrimages … followed by a tour of the cathedral where we were able to embrace the gilded statue of the Apostle James from behind, as is the pilgrimage custom, and visit the tomb holding the remains discovered here in the 9th Century. Apparently pilgrims would follow the Milky Way to the site “O campo das estrelas”, which is where the name ‘Compostela’ comes from. We learned that they would burn their clothes on arrival (I’m telling you, I WAS tempted … ). Sometimes pilgrims slept in the highest part of the cathedral, which led to the introduction of the botafumeiro (a huge incense burner), which it was believed would dispel the diseases of the tired and unwashed pilgrims. I would have done with one in my room that night!
We saw many wonderful treasures in the cathedral and its museum, and many people. It was somehow quite surprising to see the many pilgrims and fellow walkers suddenly in Santiago having seen so few along our Camino.
My colleague, John de Coninck and I then set off for the impressive Seminario Menor hostel where we were to stay the night like true pilgrims. We came back into town for supper at the Parador with the rest of the INTO Executive who had arrived in Santiago from across the world that day.
We all made our different pilgrimages to Santiago for this important meeting and I believe we will leave this wonderful city with a renewed sense of common purpose for INTO. Thank you again to our colleagues at Tesouros de Galicia for making this happen and we look forward to seeing you again soon, wherever that may be!
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