Full of Pulpo we boarded the coach and set off for Monte del Gozo. This is the place from which pilgrims have always gained their first view of the triple spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. We climbed the hill from the coach and were not dissapointed.
Two statues of pilgrims looking out and pointing towards the Cathedral are the place to which pilgrims head. We too looked in the direction they were pointing. Monte del Gozo means the ‘Mount of Joy’. Even we, who had travelled most of the way by coach, shared that joy. But one could only imagine what it must feel like for those who have walked miles and miles to get here, who are foot-sore and weary. Looking across to the sight of the heavenly city must have given them renewed energy to walk the final miles, to complete the journey.
After lots of photographs we grouped together and sang
Brother, sister, let me serve you
With that wonderful verse
We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
It will never mean as much again as when we sang it on that Mount of Joy, though I’m sure we will all be taken back to that place and to those brothers and sisters with whom we have travelled.
But the journey wasn’t over. Our wonderful driver, Mingos, and guide, Emma, needed to take us to within 1km of the Cathedral. We were all going to walk from there. That is a point just outside of the mediaeval city. So we got out of the coach again and began the walk.
The streets are lovely and everywhere there are pilgrims, some arriving, some relaxing, all looking full of joy and that spirit of the Camino. We walked past churches, down narrow streets and the spires of the Cathdral became ever closer. At the end of the road is an arch and you pass under it and into the square in front of the great west facade of the Cathedral.
The place was full of groups and individuals, pilgrims, many sitting on the pavement, simply gazing at the building. Some had laid down and were asleep. But most, having realised that they had arrived, climbed the flight of steps and through the west doors into this sacred space.
There are two things that pilgrims traditionally do on arrival in Santiago. They go and greet the apostle in two ways. So we went to the east end and behind the high altar. There was a queue there which we joined. I looked at the chapels along the ambulatory and to my amazement there was a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was like seeing a familiar face where you weren’t expecting it – England’s Nazareth there in this holy place and on the Feast of the Visitation!
The queue moved fairly quickly and in no time we were climbing the steps behind the High Altar where the statue of St James sits. You go behind him of course. He is clothed in a silver cloak that was once encrusted with precious stones. They disappeared long ago – but it makes no difference. And you embarce the saint, throw your arms around him and hug him. It is a gesture of friendship and more than that. He was the close companion of the Lord, there at all those significant moments in Jesus’ ministry and when you arrive here you feel close to him and close to Jesus.
It is only a moment that you are there, but a moment that will live on in the heart. From there you then go beneath the High Altar to where the bones of St James are kept in a silver casket. There is a kneeler there and you are able to spend time before the relics of the saint. Whatever you think of relics this is a place that has been revered for centuries, you are touching holy things here.
I was reminded of those lines of T S Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding’ one of the ‘Four Quartets’.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
There is nothing to prepare you for arriving in this place. It is the goal of a journey. These are holy stones that carry prayer and one of those thin places on the surface of the earth where heaven and earth touch.
The good news is that the walking group from Southwark Cathedral has also arrived. We saw one member on our way to the Cathedral and others have bumped into them already. It will be great to meet properly and share our stories of the Way.
Now we relax before the events of tomorrow.