Day 29: Obviously

In the doorway of the Cathedral of Santiago, one of many statues stands out. Breaking statue tradition at the time, the figure representing the Prophet Daniel is grinning widely, while his companions stand beside him, stone-faced and stiff. Manuel tells us that, according to legend, Daniel is smiling because he has been placed facing a particularly attractive lady statue with generous upper-body proportions. Some centuries ago, a bishop, unhappy with this lewd situation, ordered a breast reduction, and our statuesque madam was trimmed down accordingly. Daniel still grins, though, proving that size isn’t everything.

Such odd stories are not uncommon in the Cathedral, where the conflicts between bishops and kings, sculptors and priests, and, more recently, religion and tourism, shape the building’s history. Until recently, the Cathedral had two separate organs due to a clash between an archbishop and a king. The organs were played simultaneously, each trying to drown out the other. Finally, someone realized that this was absurd, and joined the organs together into a single, massive instrument with over 4000 pipes, 2000 of which are still in use.

The uncomfortable overlap between religion and tourism is not represented instrumentally in the Cathedral, but it was nonetheless evident at this morning’s pilgrim mass. The service was performed by the archbishop in seven languages. The Cathedral was packed with pilgrims, and again we saw some of our former Camino companions. I waved hello to Canadian Rick, who I’d met the day prior, as I descended into Santiago. From my position in the back of the transept, I could hardly see the archbishop, but I could hear him as he congratulated us on our arrival to Santiago, and thanked us for our efforts.

The pilgrim congregation prayed, sang in Latin, and received communion while the conjoined-twin-organ accompanied a particularly gifted singing nun. The pilgrims, many of whom had been on the trail for over a month, also engaged in some less-appropriate Mass behavior. I either played witness to, or heard tell of: elbowing, texting, a backpack in the Holy Water, portions of tombs used as benches, and forbidden-in-seven-languages flash photography. This last issue was particularly problematic during the swinging of the incense burner. For the unfamiliar, this involves 8 men directing a giant silver chalice filled with incense by pulling on a rope. The chalice swings in a nearly 180 degree arc through the transepts. This is quite an astounding sight to see, and was met by a rousing round of applause, which some in our group felt was inappropriate. “Mass is a worship, not a spectacle,” exclaimed Justine as we exited into the sunny square.

Video in Santiago Cathedral

After the spectacular worship and our subsequent tour of the Cathedral, our final pilgrim rites ended. Our pilgrimage was over. We acknowledged this fact reluctantly, and brought ourselves to do the thing we’d been dreading for days: say goodbye to our guide, Manuel. Crowded around a cluster of outdoor tables, we shared with him and one another the stories of our own personal Caminos, and how he had helped us along the Way. As I spoke, my voice became frustratingly unstable, and the tears came faster than I would have liked. Rapidly, the Honors DOC degenerated into a hugging, weeping, picture-taking, drink-spilling hot mess. The Camino clearly changed us all at least a little bit. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that scene three weeks ago. We said goodbye, our words of farewell mixing in with the seemingly omnipresent auditory backdrop of Santiago: bagpipes and ritualistic drumming.

Adios, Manuel. We will miss you. Obviously.

Lillian Tiarks – English