This wonderful cathedral is the focal point of the entire pilgrims’ trail. It is said to house the remains of Saint James the Apostle, and has been a site of veneration for centuries. The golden altar, and silver casket, the coming and going of pilgrims and the sense of the faith of those who have journeyed there, and built it as a token of faith is evident everywhere. Some features are well worn by the faithful’s touch over the years.
This is a grand Catholic cathedral, and the symbolism is strong throughout. There is a set of special doors opened only in certain years which pilgrims can enter for the forgiveness of sin, and these are regulated directly from the Vatican as to when they can be opened. Again truly powerful in the spiritual feel and significance of the place.
We arrived just as mass was about to begin. The cathedral was packed, and the pilgrims and tourists were beginning to settle. The altar area and censer were beautifully crafted, and added to the sense of spiritual praise and elevation of the cathedral.
Again, as I stated in my post on preparing for the spiritual aspect of pilgrimage, I get much from the faith and devotion of those around me. The true communion of the saints. I also marvel at the works of art and architecture which are marks of the faith of those of previous generations. This cathedral is moving in all of these. Only at the Holy Sepulchre, have I felt it more.
That said, when mass is not taking place there are many areas to explore, and huge number of confessionals. There is a museum and a shop, as well, which sells guidebooks and religious artifacts such as rosaries and pilgrims’ badges (more marks of faith).
When we finished in the cathedral we made our way to the Plaza de la Quintana behind the cathedral. We stopped in the plaza to take in the atmosphere, and to admire the architecture. It had some beggars, but it was quieter than the main square. There were cafes, and plaza offered great views of the cathedral and the surrounding buildings. We watched the arrival of pilgrims, and had a quiet time for reflection.
We then stopped for a cup of tea and coffee at Cre-Cotte a cafe/creperie in the square. The atmosphere was great, and we continued to watch the pilgrims and tourists coming and going in the plaza. And just soaked in the feel. The tea was good, but the coffee was a bit tart even when sweetened. The service was quick. It was also a great place to take in the architecture of the cathedral (this section not under scaffolding) and the surrounding buildings.
With our pilgrimage achieved, we decided to go back to Praza do Obradoiro to try the “road train” tour of the city. We have used “road train” facilities before in other cities and most have been interesting, even if limited. This one however, is interesting for all the wrong reasons. Plus points first, you do get to see the city. Sorry, that’s it.
On the negative front, the tour is over very rugged cobbles, and there is a lot of jarring about. It is so rough in areas that any photography is impossible. On smoother sections it travels at too great a speed to take focused pictures. Only on the occasional stop for traffic signals are there any photo ops. The commentary is okay, but is difficult to listen to, accent is only a minor issue, but that it is over a intercom is more difficult to hear. It also has a limited scope of the sites available and spends more time in the university campuses than in the traditional old sectors. In short the tour was a diabolical bone shaking experience with little merit.
Once back to the plaza, we went for a recuperation, and some pampering at Cafeteria Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. This was a true parador experience. Firstly, this is a beautiful building with excellent service, and really tasty food. We had a good quality tea, and a latte. Then shared an octopus dish with olive oils, spices and very good bread wedges. This was followed by St James Cake, which was also rich and satisfying. This was a luxury experience and one well worth making if in Santiago.
It was all to soon that we had to depart the city. But it will remain one of the outstanding experiences of my life.