I didn’t get up today till 9:30. It was lovely to lie in and to rest and then to spend the day mooching about. Santiago is a beautiful city, and today the sun was shining and as I sat in a couple of cafes drinking several very delicious coffees (oh, why can’t we get coffee like this in England) I watched the world go by, particularly the next stream of pilgrims arriving.
I forgot to mention that at the Eucharist last night in the cathedral they swung the mighty and famous thurible known in Spanish as a botofumerio. It is one of the things that the Cathedral is famous for, but you don’t always get to see it in action. I was fortunate. I wondered whether it would just be a piece of exotic spectacle, but actually it was done beautifully and prayerfully. After we had all receive communion, the six or seven men that are needed swing the thing came out; a tray of burning coals was placed in the thurible; the priest blessed incense and then the thurible started to be swung, pulled on ropes and swinging north/south across the transepts of the cathedral. I was sitting in the front row of the south transept, so it came directly over my head and startlingly close. But while all this was happening music played and a nun with a beautiful voice who had led the singing throughout the liturgy, led us again in a beautiful devotional chorus. It really felt like an offering of prayer and thanksgiving, and my prayers of thanksgiving rose with the incense.
There is a lovely passage in one of Douglas Coupland’s books where he talks about the simple and childlike pleasure of walking along the beach collecting beautiful shells and stones. He says – and here I am quoting from memory –
“The more I look, the more I realise all the stones are beautiful.”
If someone were to ask me what I have learnt on this pilgrimage, that would be my reply: I have learned that all the stones are beautiful. I have walked on so many beautiful pathways. I have walked along the beach and I’ve walked on mountain trails. I have seen the beauty of the dawn nearly every day. I have eaten many lovely meals. I have had lots of delicious cups of coffee. I have rarely enjoyed a cold beer at the end of the day as much as I have after walking 25 or 30 km in the sun.
I have seen many beautiful views of the sea and have spent days gazing upon beautiful mountains. I have crossed many beautiful rivers, and stood on many bridges and marvelled at the waters beneath me, whether they were tiny little streams running off the mountains or the mighty estuary I crossed when I walked from Asturias into Galicia. I have seen fig trees and lemon trees, and walnut and chestnut trees. I have seen many beautiful birds of prey. I have watched flocks of swallows and sparrows. I have had a beautiful little robin as a companion while I said my prayers. I have met some very beautiful people and received some astonishing hospitality. Even today, walking around the little streets of the medieval city, one of the loveliest things was when Alberto, from Spain, who I’ve hardly spoken to but exchanged greetings with most days for the past two weeks as we walked the way together, greeted me on the street like we were long lost friends. And of course we are; though in our case we have found friendship on the Camino, living and walking alongside each other for a few weeks. All the stones are beautiful. That’s what I have rediscovered.
What else have I learnt?
Well, I’ve learned how to hand wash my clothes and dry them successfully by attaching them to the back of my rucksack. I’ve learnt how to get dressed and pack in the dark without putting my shirt on back to front. I’ve learned to cope with cacophonous snoring. I’ve learned a little bit of Spanish. I’ve learned that there will be somewhere to sleep each night, and usually somewhere to eat; and that anyway, being a little bit hungry from time to time is no bad thing. I’ve learned how to trust. I’ve learned how to be thankful.
So this is the last of these reflections. Thank you for reading them and joining in my journey. From now on, if you want to know what I eat each day you’re going to have to find out by other means. But for the record, lunch today was a delicious tortilla, and dinner was Galician bean and cabbage soup followed by sea bass. And, of course, a cortada to finish.
In the past month I’ve scraped a lot of barnacles from my hull, and that has done me good. However, they will quickly re-attach themselves unless I learn to keep moving. So I am left with a question rather than an answer:
can life be lived as pilgrimage?