Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela

 

Arzúa to O Pedrouzo (18km)

Friday, 5 October, 2012

That morning I ended up a little lost.  I was going in the right direction, but not on the pilgrim’s path.  I stopped at a bar and had some breakfast, and was directed to where I wanted to be.

I had not gone more than 200 m along the correct path when I came across an incredibly beautiful sunrise through the trees.  I shall never forget it as long as I live.  It was as if heaven was lighting my way.

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Lighting my way in the early morning

Much of the previous two days had been spent walking on paths through forests; the scent of clean air and wood has been almost intoxicating. I have never before smelled anything so saturated with purity.

And the path wound steeply up and down, through small villages with ancient churches, and hamlets with only a handful of houses.

I spent the night in O Pedrouzo.

O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (20km)

Saturday, 6 October, 2012

For the previous day the weather had been perfect; not too hot and certainly never cool. And yet that next morning all was changed; the sky was grey and threatening.  I envisaged a depressing six hour walk, arriving in Santiago, soaked and cold, with a room yet to be found.

But the rain held off, and after a long walk through the hilly outskirts of the city, wondering how much further could it possibly be, there it was, down a steep and narrow street: the cathedral.

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The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

With the downpour now seeming imminent, I decided that my priority was to find shelter. With a map from a very helpful girl in a tourist office, I found a room close by, and just in time; the heavens opened to welcome me to Santiago de Compostela.

I decided to leave the sanctuary to the next day.

Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, 7 October, 1912

It felt strange that morning to not pack up and head out to spend the day walking to the next overnight stop.  I spent most of the morning having a lazy breakfast, washing some clothes and generally wondering what to do next.

At lunchtime I wandered down to the cathedral. It took me quite a few minutes to get up the steep stone steps and in the main door; a mass had apparently just finished and the participants were in mass exodus. I found an empty pew to the right of the altar and sat quietly watching people and letting my mind wander.

It was not long before another mass started and the pews around me quickly filled; it seems that the masses were almost continuous throughout the day. Two nuns and a woman in normal street clothes led most of service, joined by an old priest who mumbled for what seemed like an eternity.

The ritual seemed unchanged from my previous experiences of mass; the same standing, sitting, responding, crossings. It left me feeling quite uninspired; it was about as motivating as watching a tap drip. I suspect that if Jesus and his disciples returned that day, they would not have felt inspired either.

After the mass finished and the aisles cleared, I left the church by the side door and went back around to the main square. As I turned the last corner, I heard beautiful singing; it sounded very similar to the melody of ‘Danny Boy’. It was coming from an archway by the corner of the cathedral and the acoustics were projecting the notes across the huge square.

And as I got closer, I realised that it was indeed ‘Danny Boy’, in heavily accented English, sung by two young tenors. When sung well, the song can bring tears to the eyes of a statue.

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It’s the melody and lyrics that mean a lot to me, and in his time, to my father too; he played it at almost every performance he gave. 

The singers were very talented, and when they hit the high note at the end of the last verse, I felt a wave of intense emotion surging through me, like an electric current. 

It was the feeling that I so much wanted to experience inside the cathedral, at the end of my Camino.  But the dogma and the ritual and the old mumbling monotone priest left me completely empty.

Was it just a coincidence that I walked into the square just as the two tenors started singing ‘Danny Boy’, and ending my Camino on a high note?

Perhaps.

But I suspect not.

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