Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Day 29, Saturday 21 September 2013

Saturday 21 September 2013, our second day in Santiago de Compostela

Area Central Hotel
View from hotel room

We slept in the Area Central hotel and how we appreciated having our own room, clean, bug free bed, own bathroom with clean towels, privacy and a TV!  The hotel was situated in the Area Central Commercial shopping centre.  We bought snacks and sparkling wine to celebrate our achievement.
Our euphoria changed into sadness when we learned via the Camino forum that two German pilgrims were hit by a truck when crossing the national road at Santa Irene, a few kilometres before O Pedrouza. They were taken by helicopter to the Santiago hospital with serious injuries where they both later died.

Praza ObradoiraWe both felt tired and just wanted to sleep but we decided to attend the 12:00 pilgrim’s mass in the Cathedral, which was also part of the pilgrim’s final ritual.  Santiago de Compostela became a famous pilgrimage site in northwest Spain and a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century.  On the miraculously discovered spot where the bones of the Apostle James had been buried, a basilica was erected in approximately 818 during the reign of Alfonso II, king of Asturias. The Galician tomb thereafter became the symbol of the resistance of Spanish Christians against Islam. The cathedral was packed with people, the service conducted in Spanish, with inserts in French, German, Italian.

Santiago_Catedral_Botafumeiro butafumeiro

Part of the service was the swinging of the giant incense burner Botafumeiro. It was originally used to fumigate the sweaty (and possibly disease-ridden) pilgrims.  The Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro is one of the largest censers in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1,60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious occasions it is brought to the floor of the cathedral and attached to ropes hung from the pulley mechanism.


Shovels are used to fill the Botafumeiro, with about 40 kg of charcoal and incense. The metal censer is tied to the rope with elaborate knots. The censer is pushed initially to start its motion. Eight red-robed incense carriers (tiraboleiros) pull the ropes, producing increasingly large oscillations of the censer. The censer swings almost reach the ceiling of the transept. The incensory can reach speeds of 68 km/h as it dispenses thick clouds of incense smoke.

Cathedral Cathedral Cathedral Cathedral

The Botafumeiro reaches heights of 21 meters. It swings in a 65-metre arc between the Azabachería and Praterias doorways at the ends of the transept. The maximum angle achieved is about 82°. The maximum can be reached after about 17 cycles and require about 80 seconds of swinging. It costs about 250 € for each censer performance at the cathedral. Although this is expensive, the swinging of the censer is very popular with pilgrims, tourists and visitors.

Santiago Santiago

After the service we explored Santiago.  We encountered a nice tapas restaurant where Marinda ordered Patatas Bravas.  We also met a young British girl who walked part of the Camino in gratitude of surviving cancer.   She told us that she also went to Finisterre and that she felt that Santiago was not the denouement of her trip but rather Finisterre.

I was not feeling well. I felt like being drained from all my energy, fatigued, tired and emotional and decided to go back to the hotel.  In fact, except for the presence of all the pilgrims in Santiago and the atmosphere of relieve and joy after completing the journey, I was sort of disappointed in Santiago. It felt like a tourist trap with everything suddenly very expensive. And with all respect, the viewing of St James bones in a silver gasket a few metres away behind bars and the rest of the rituals, except for the Mass at twelve o’clock were an anti-climax.  The core of this journey for me was not the observation of these relics and rituals but the spiritual journey.

We reached the physical end of the journey by arriving in Santiago but did we reach the spiritual and emotional closure? The answer for me was no, partially maybe, but not yet.