Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Away from the Comfort Zone of home for almost six weeks has helped me observe myself, work on the self-assessment that will help me move to a new level. It may seem self-indulgent, in fact I’ve thought about the outward appearance of a blog that shares my adventures and a little of my philosophy. Yet, isn’t writing meant to be read, perhaps by more than the writer? Well, that was a bit of a birdwalk. I want to describe the guided walking tour of the old Town of Santiago I took today with a small group led by Paula, a young woman who lives in Santiago and attended university here. What a powerhouse of social, political and historical knowledge and humor!
Finally, right when I’m ready to leave, I’m beginning to want to stay in one place, in the familiar of my life or create a new familiar. I am learning to expect surprises instead of impatiently waiting. Twenty-four hours in a day. Today was full of learning and synthesizing, meeting new people, observing rituals from the outside and being invited in, merely by sitting in the Cathedral. Earlier in the week I walked on the Cathedral rooftop, high above and not for anyone who avoids heights. Do I? What a perspective and now another view.
At one time in my life, climbing the stairs to the rooftop would have been stressful enough, but now walking on the actual rooftop, not an observation deck, was a truly new experience. Since I jumped into the Camino, this new adventure fits right in. What is the risk and why not? A new attitude. You must read a guidebook to see and learn about all I experienced and someday you, too, can walk on a rooftop.
I met two musicians while walking in the Cathedral Square and spent time learning their story. They have traveled the world, are addicted to their music and performance. I bought their CD to add to the La Tuna music from a group I heard in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 2008. Later, walking in the dark to my hotel, I heard music playing and there they were, with a wonderful group of musicians, live music, a big crowd and great fun.
But my quirky highlights: An ancient carved stone skull and crossbones on the wall of a long ago pilgrim cemetery, now garden: “I am here now, but someday you will join me.” (Paraphrased, but you’ve heard that before.) Still, a mortality lesson. Live each day… We walked the winding streets and came to Cervantes Square. Paula told us Cervantes’ writing is only second to the most translated literary works in the world. You know, “Don Quixote.”! No, no, not Shakespeare. Try again. (The Bible).
The street leading to the square is Rua Do Preguntoiro: loosely translated, the Street of Questions. You cannot see the towers of the Cathedral to orient from this square and many people get lost over and over, even with a map. I was relieved to hear that I’m not the only pilgrim who followed arrows on the Camino, never once took a wrong turn, yet I am often confused in the maze of streets of Santiago. I’m just getting it and now I’m leaving.
Our last stop was Alameda Park and The Statue of The Two Marias. These women were political heroes during the Franco dictatorship that oppressed the people of Spain for decades. Their family was tortured for years, for anarchist views of three of the brothers, but they refused to cooperate or accept charity. They were not allowed to work. The community creatively provided food and other needs, as they would close their door to direct aid. Our guide told us they were a little off-balance, because of the severe torture, but in later years went out, wore flamboyant clothing and greeted university students in the park, just for fun. Many admired them, as women didn’t often appear in public wearing colorful clothing and they would not be hidden by their persecution. It is a sociopolitical story.
We learned intriguing stories, legends and myths about Santiago, St. James, pilgrims and the Church and early history. Thank you, Paula.
Tonight I attended mass in this majestic cathedral and witnessed the excitement of the priests preparing and then swinging the Botafumeiro, the metal incensory burner, high above, after adding incense, the fragrance and smoke, in an historic air-cleansing ritual, when unbathed pilgrims crowded into the Cathedral after their long and arduous journeys. A lot of us had showered, but not all. I sat in the middle of this glory, the spiritual and the beauty, overwhelming, beyond one religion or another, the historical significance, stories of our civilization, deeply moved.
Another day, I stood in a short line for the Holy Gate, The Door of Pardon, open only in Holy Years and 1916 was designated a Holy Year. Next Holy Year is 2021. Then I visited St. James and the stunning grandeur of the Cathedral.
I am Jewish and my perspective is not the popular or common view of most in the church that day, in Santiago or even on the Camino. I struggled before deciding to walk my Camino with reconciling my beliefs in a country that is predominantly one with culture and religion and where the history of Jews, Christians and Muslims is a mixture of acceptance, inquisition and sadly continuing intolerance. But, it is also my history and my heritage. And today I can freely walk it. So I did.
My research tells me only 14,000 Jews live in Spain in 2016. Is that possible? I’m not religious in the sense of organized practice, but I identify as a Jewish woman through heritage and social philosophy. Walking the Camino has helped me come to terms with assimilating into cultural, social or religious situations comfortably and confidently, yet staying true to my personal identity. Never on the Camino or in Santiago have I been asked about my religion. I have faith. The centuries-old welcome sign in Roncesvalles: “Accepting Heretics, Beggars, Jews, Believers, All.” (Paraphrased, but in some ways relegates ALL not as equals, but after the Christian).
I appreciate the history and majesty. I sat next to a man, maybe in his early fifties from Denmark, trying to work out some personal questions. He started his first-ever Camino early this year and just walked into Santiago on his third, from Barcelona. He is still searching, but clearer.
This is the story of the pilgrim; even those who walk for recreation, must come away changed. My walk has been physical, emotional, spiritual and transforming. I am returning home with a different life perspective than when I departed almost six weeks ago. Highly recommended: Take a Walk.
The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of the inner journey. The inner journey is the interpretation of the meaning and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both. —Thomas Merton