We left the hotel and made our way, first of all, to the market which is in the old city. It was lovely to see there not just great quality food but also people who were obviously there to sell what they had grown and produced. There was something very real about the place.
We then walked from the market and through the old streets, past ‘Jerusalem’, which was the old Jewish Quarter, past monasteries and chapels and eventually to the Cathedral. The square in front of the west facade was relatively quiet but people kept arriving as we stood there listening to Emma’s fascinating account of the place. Just as the bells were about to strike ten, three men emerged from the arch on the north side. They had obviously been walking and had just arrived. They almost ran in front of us, threw their bags on the ground and fell to their knees. It was very moving to watch. One of the men moved forward and knelt on the step at the iron gates that lead to the flight of steps up to the Cathedral. He was obviously very moved. It was a real reminder of the power of the Way and the sense of arrival people have when they finally see this sacred building.
We visited the museum which contains treasures of the Cathedral and then eventually went into the Cathedral. We needed to find our places as the church filled up for the Pilgrim Mass at 12 noon. We had suggested people make for the north transept. Bryan and Carla arrived, as did the walkers and we sat with them.
I had to go to the Pilgrim Office to find Johnnie Walker. He had been so helpful in arranging our visit to the Pilgrim Mass and our participation in it. I met him at the gate of the office and he took me in. There were queues of pilgrims waiting to get the stamp and their certificate that they had walked the Camino.
I asked Johnnie how many walk the Way for pious, religious reasons. He said in answer that 96% ask for the religious certificate. Yesterday, Friday, they had welcomed 1136 pilgrims. It is amazing to think of those numbers arriving each day and almost all of them in response to faith.
He took me to the Sacristy and Gareth, who was reading the First Reading at the Mass, Sister Joyce and I were told what to do and where to sit. We were given seats within the rails in front of the altar. It was such an amazing privilege, I can hardly describe how it felt.
When I first met Johnnie he explained that the Dean was unable to be at the Mass, but he handed me a lovely letter of greeting from him and then I was presented by the head of the Pilgrim Office with a wonderful bronze medal from the Cathedral. The President of the Mass could not have been kinder in his welcome and in what he said. For the first time he preached in five languages, starting with English. Music during the Mass took us home – ‘I vow to thee my country’ at the Offertory and ‘He who would valiant be’ at the end of the Mass were played on the organ. They had thought of everything.
After the reading of the Gospel, Sister Joyce and I went to the microphone and I delivered the Southwark Invocation to the Apostle. I put the text in this morning’s blog. Sister Joyce then handed over the incense from Mucknell Abbey.
After communion – and that took some time as the Cathedral was packed – the men came forward who swing the Botafumeiro. We were thrilled when the President took our box of incense and emptied it into the rather large boat and then he and the concelebrating priests spooned the incense on to the coals. The thurible was raised and swung over our heads into both transepts. It is an impressive sight and the smoke filled the Cathedral, as did the smell of the incense. The thurible was introduced to cleanse the Cathedral of the smell of the pilgrims. Now that we smell sweeter it represented our prayers of thanksgiving rising with the smoke to heaven.
The cantor of the Mass was Sister Maria Asuncion. Sister Joyce and she embraced after the service; in fact the Peace was a very emotional moment, here, together, with all these pilgrims before the shrine of the Holy Apostle Santiago. I hope I never forget the joy of this morning.