Final thoughts on this Camino, part 1


My first view of The 11c Cathedral


SANTIAGO – The foul mood that came over me after I arrived in Santiago began to dissipate over the next few days. It felt like my body was waiting for my spirit to catch up, and not happy about it.  I thought maybe I wasn’t ready for my Camino to end.

Santiago de Compostela turns out to a delightful reunion where by chance I ran into pilgrims I had walked with on the Camino, and we congratulated each other, celebrating our finish line. We made it! I wondered, was this what Heaven was like, a place we connect with all the souls who shared our journey? Today the feeling of celebration is genuine.

Gary & Helen from Australia

Gary and Helen from Australia

I run into Gary and Helen from Australia. Gary did the Camino last year and wouldn’t shut up about it, so Helen decided to do it with him this year (hint, hint Suzanne). We had cooked together a few nights before, and I learned that Helens Camino was more a move of desperation on her part just to get Gary would not shut up about, The Camino.

Hans, Jannette, & Steve waiting for Mass to start

Two-thirds of the “Swedish Mafia” and Steve” waiting for Mass to start.

Then there was Ellie from Minnesota, the Swedish Mafia, the Germans contingent, but no Tzika, and of course all the other faster walkers who are home by now, resuming their lives. I met up with so many who walked at my pace or slower and go to worship, or to eat, or to just exchange contact information.


Man who gave Jannette the walnut and rose

“Take this walnet and rose from my garden to St. James…for my wife”

A few days before Santiago, Jannette (ringleader of the Swedish Mafia) was stopped by an old man who pressed into her hands a rose and a walnut from his garden. He begged her to take them to Santiago for him and leave them with St. James since he could not make the journey himself. Jannette and I sat together with Hans before Mass, and she pulled them out asking “What do I do with these?”

Jannette, with walnut and rose

“What should I do with these now?” Jannette asks.


I had seen the bones of St. James earlier, and saw people were leaving bits and pieces with the beloved saint. So, while waiting for Mass to start, we slipped downstairs and tossed the walnut and rose, toward the bones of St. James. Crack, rattle, rattle, the walnut rolled across the floor.

Items left near the bones of St. James

Behind these bars rest the bones of St. James, and people leave stuff near them.

And then there was Karen, from Canada but who lives in Hong Kong and another legend of this slice of the walk. She was trying to lose her sock tan from doing the full Camino in just 17 days, “walking” about 50km (30mi)/day. I get the feeling she didn’t sleep in Alburgues with the snoring pilgrims, nor carry her pack, or wrestle with the demons as I did. We all walk our own Camino; she just walked hers faster.


Restoration efforts to the Cathedral of Santiago

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Reaching the 11c Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has been many a pilgrim’s motivation along the journey, imagining what it would feel like when they arrived. On years when St. James Day falls on a Sunday, the gate of forgiveness is open, and since the 14c, indulgences were granted for pilgrims who passed through the gate. Today the heavy brass door is securely locked (I’m told in years past they bricked it up). The next time it will open is 2021, and to prepare for it, the Cathedral is being restored and covered with blue netting. The sound of hammers and power saws is the background noise of the Temple.

Gate of Forgiveness

No forgiveness for me today as the Gate of it is closed until 2021

Mass in the Cathedral is held morning, noon and night, and always full. There is something special about worshipping in a packed house, and a service that took 8-12 clergy, including a Roman Catholic cardinal one night.



There is something very special about a packed house for worship, even if half of them have their cell phones out recording it.


I think about my father-in-law Charlie, who used to go on about how beautiful the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass was, I feel that same sort of mystical quality in the Spanish Mass. Yes, I have almost no idea what they are saying, but how they are saying it sounds beautifully mystical. I’ve been attending Mass every few days now for a month, and all but two were completely in Spanish, (exception German:1, English:1). The Cathedral is no different except the part where they tell us not to come forward for communion unless we are a Catholic. The “husher” (what I called the head usher who spoke to us) they did that in English. I mostly obeyed. Actually at the last Mass before I flew out, the husher told us communion was only for baptized believers in Christ who were in good standing with the Church, but this time he said nothing about which church…so forward I went.

Butafumerio at rest.

The butafumerio at rest (before Mass)

I had seen the butafumerio (meaning smoke expeller in Galician) in the movie The Way, and read about this large incense ball sometimes swung at the conclusion of Mass. The Cathedral began using the butafumerio in the 14c to mask the smell of the stinky, unwashed pilgrims. These same pilgrims were given new clothes once they burned their smelly pilgrim ones on the roof of the Cathedral. My guidebook said the butafumerio only swung on Friday evenings, and holy days.


The eight men in red robes who swing the butafumerio are called tiraboleiros. (Galician for “turifer”, or “incense carrier”)

When I arrived in Pamplona, I toyed with the herculean effort of reaching Santiago on a Friday just to see it swing. Turns out, each of the five Mass’ I attended (Mon-Wed), the butafumerio swung and each time it made me laugh in delight, and wonder in awe. What must it have been like 600 years ago for the simple true pilgrims? I loved going to worship, altogether going seven times over my three nights there. It was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but in worship, I felt at home, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.


The butafumerio begins to swing after being lit and let go

The first few times, I took a lot of pictures of the butafumerio, I didn’t know when I would see it swing again, but by the last time I just watched its mighty swing and saw so much more of its beauty.



at the top of its arc, it is a foot or so from the ceiling

I wondered about the tension between watching life unencumbered, and viewing it through the lens of a cell phone or camera. See more; remember less. But its those pictures that trigger the stories, but at what cost?



The butafumerio is well documented

Each swing of the butafumerio is well documented.



2 thoughts on “Final thoughts on this Camino, part 1

  1. Ryosuke and I saw butafumerio swing in one of the chapels/churches we visited in Peru. It was after my surgery so we explored slowly and I ended up sitting on a pew and watching the whole things while he was off wandering. It was very peaceful.

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