(The cathedral which is built on the site of the original church. The original tomb is in the basement)
We’re leaving Santiago de Compostela today. My friend and I went on a free tour of the town yesterday. It was very interesting. Two hours of history and geography and tips and suggestions. I would definitely recommend it.
(Our tour guide with the white umbrella)
The story of this place is a little complicated and shrouded in mythic stories. I’m going to attempt to give you a potted version.
(This building is just 3 meters deep. It was originally just a front facade to give aesthetic balance to the plaza at the east facing entrance of the cathedral)
Once upon a time, more than 2,019 years ago Jesus was having a serious conversation with his disciples. He asked them to do something for him when he was gone, meaning dead. Of course he was only in his 30’s so they didn’t think he’d be gone for a long time and so it wasn’t hard for them to say, no problem whatsoever tell us what you want. He wanted them to spread the word of his message – about the loving god and the loving way to live – to all the ends of the earth.
(Narrowest lane in Santiago de Compostela)
He was dead very soon after and when the disciples recovered from the shock they started going about spreading the message. But one disciple took Jesus’ words very seriously and he literally went to the ends of the earth.
(Higgledy Piggledy layout of the old town)
At the time the earth was thought to end at the edge of Europe and the west coast of Spain was on that edge. So the disciple James headed in a stone boat to the end of the earth and arrived in a place called Fisterra. He began preaching about Jesus and his message. It didn’t go well. The locals weren’t very interested and he was probably getting a bit low in himself when Jesus’ mother Mary appeared to him and told him she would love to see him. So off he went back to the Holy Land. His message hadn’t fallen completely on deaf ears in Spain and he had two disciples so they went back with him in the stone boat.
(Cute window seats)
Well if he thought things were difficult in Spain they were ten times worse in the Holy Land. There was all sorts of bad things happening to anyone who was a follower of Jesus and poor James was beheaded. Now he became Saint James and his two helpers didn’t know what to do so they took his body and raced back home in the stone boat.
(A lot of ham)
When they arrived back they went to the forest and buried their friend. No more was heard about the message of Jesus or St. James in that place for 900 years. That’s when another guy, Pelagius, arrived to the very same forest. He was on a similar mission to St. James. Anyways one night he had a dream about a field of stars and one star was pointing directly to a spot in the forest. Next day when he went to that spot there was a tomb. He had found the tomb of St. James!
(Almost impossible to get lost in the old town, just look up, you’ll see the towers of the cathedral )
Absolutely delighted with himself, Pelagius went to the bishop and said we need to build a church for St. James and take care of his tomb. Long story short the king, Alfonso II, heard the story and paid for the church to be built. Then he did something millions of people have done since, he made a journey to the tomb.
(The covered market is very impressive, this is the restaurant section. At the first restaurant on the left you bring ingredients you have bought at the market stalls and they cook them!)
That was the beginning of the Camino of Santiago de Compostela and the town grew up around that first church. Camino means the Way. Santiago means St. James. Compostela means field of stars. People who make this journey are called Pilgrims. In the past they were coming to start again, to let go of their old sinful ways. These days there are probably as many reasons as people but usually pilgrims come with a wish or an intention.
(The shell is pointing the way. The Camino)
There are seven official routes, the French Way, the Portuguese Way, the Northern Way, the Original Way, the Silver Way, the English Way and the Fisisterre Way (Fisterra in English.)
(There’s the end of the earth, Fisterra)
I am here in Santiago de Compostela only because the stars aligned, the snow fell on the plateau and my friend choose this week to walk the Camino.
Life is lovely, Mairead.