November 14, 2002
Arco do Pino to Santiago de Compestela
I passed through a couple of small villages, one of which had a small river running though it. This was the Labacolla. Tradition has it that pilgrims would stop here and wash their feet prior to reaching Santiago. Since it was a little chilly, this was one tradition that I would gladly pass up.
After the river, I met a pilgrim coming down the hill towards me. Confused, I asked him if I was headed in the right direction. Indeed, I was. He had already been in Santiago. In fact he had gone on to Finistierre and back again. I asked: Where are you headed now? Home! Where is home? Germany! How long will it take? Four months!
As I headed further up the hill to Monte de Gozo (Mount Joy), I thought about another pilgrim tradition. The top of the hill (it's not really a mountain) is the first place from which the cathedral can be spotted. The first person of a group who sees the towers of Santiago would be named the king of the group. The cry, "Soy el rey!" (I am the king!), became the medieval version of saying "rabbit, rabbit" on the first day of a new month — which is supposed to ensure good luck.
James Michener asserts that the this tradition is the reason for many names such as King, Konig, Roy, LeRoy, Reyes, etc.. He feels that such names were adopted in honor of a successful pilgrimage. I have a much more cynical opinion, "Hey, have you heard about the woodcutter? He calls himself king."
"Yeah he's rey all right, rey el mundo (king of the world). Hey, Ray, Raymond! If you're king then you can buy us a round of drinks!"
I had it all figured out. If I were by myself, then surely I would be the first of my group. I was looking off to my right, scanning the horizon, when out of nowhere another pilgrim pulled up next to me. He was from California. I tried to drop back and let him pass me when he said, "We ought to be able to see the cathedral pretty soon. Yup! There it is, behind those trees." I couldn't see it so he stopped and pointed with his walking stick. He then said, "I know where to look because I've done the camino before."
¡No soy el rey! Oh, no!! The king's crown slipped away from me in a single moment.
|The last 4-1/2 K was boring. The new section
of Santiago is like any large city with traffic, noise, and congestion.
There was new construction on almost every block and it became difficult
to find the yellow arrows. Several times, people would see me standing,
looking confused. They would point out the way. To make matters worse,
it started to rain again. About 2 K from the cathedral, I felt myself
starting to go hypo again. Was I burning off all those carbs from walking
fast, or was it an anxiety-induced increase of metabolism. Regardless,
I needed some carbs, so I ducked into a pastry shop and bought a breakfast
boli (roll). No sooner had I gotten through eating it, then I started
to feel better. (That quick recovery speed is an indicator of much sugar
must be in them.)
The old streets in the barrio antiguo (old section) of town were twisted and irregular. Even though I could see the cathedral's towers, I couldn't seem to find a street that would lead to the cathedral. A couple of times I had to stop and ask for directions. Finally I came down a small hill in the back of the cathedral. I wormed my way down and around to the Plaza Obradoiro which is in front of the cathedral's main entrance. To enter the cathedral, I had to go up two steep flights of stairs, the last stairs of my camino. The entrance is a baroque façade that was built in the 18th Century to protect the original Romanesque doorway, known as the Pórtico de la Gloria, and a glorious piece of art it is, indeed!
|Standing inside in front of the
portal with a look of awe was young Christoph. Assuming the role of wise
old pilgrim mentor, I said, "Place your fingers in the vines of the
Tree of Jesse, the carved marble pillar. You can see where it is worn
from millions of pilgrims performing the same ritual. Then circle around
behind the pillar where you find the statue of Santo d'os Croques. It's
reputed to be a self-portrait of Maestro Mateo, the craftsman who designed
and carved the portal. Touch your forehead to his in the hope that this
will impart some of his wisdom to you. Now, we will finish the camino
by going down into the crypt behind the altar. There we will see the sepulcher
which holds the remains of Santiago. This has been the goal of pilgrims
for over the past thousand years!"
As we began the last stage of our journey, walking down the aisle of the sanctuary, Christoph said, "Oh, man, this is it! The end of a trip that began over three months ago!"
I couldn't say a word. For me the camino began two years ago. I left Christoph and walked toward the back of the sanctuary. I was overwhelmed by strong emotions. I had to fight back the tears. I was afraid I would break down. Then I had a sense of déja vu. I had this same feeling once before. It was during my recovery from heart surgery — on the first day that I was permitted out of bed. I had just completed a difficult passage — and I knew that I had survived! I was going to live!