Today our walk was only about 3 miles in length; a few in our group opted not to use their walking poles, but Kris shared one of hers with me for which I was glad as some of the hills were quite steep.
Within thirty minutes, we had crossed the railroad overpass bridge and were by the traffic roundabout with a large monument to some of the more famous pilgrims who made the Camino: Jan Van Eyck, St. Francis, and St. John Paul II. We paused to take a few photos and proceeded, you guessed it, uphill into the city. The odd thing about today was that all of us were walking quite fast; I know that deep down, I was anxious to catch my first glimpse of the Cathedral.
Ignacio told us that the route to the cathedral would be very clearly marked, and he was not wrong. It seemed to take a long time before we finally caught a glimpse of one of the Cathedral towers. Within fifteen minutes of our sighting the tower, we were at our first checkpoint, much to the amazement of Ignacio.
Arriving early afforded us some time to view the Cathedral before the Pilgrims’ Mass at noon. Our group had reserved seats on the left transept of the Cathedral, but Ignacio suggested it would be best if we were in our places by 11:00. The crowds were quite large and the Cathedral filled to capacity quickly. The security personnel were firm but pleasant to people who were trying to find any spot in which to sit.
The Liturgy began (in Spanish, of course) and there were several greetings of various pilgrimage groups, ours was mentioned among them. There were some people who were seated in the Sanctuary–I don’t know who they knew to receive that privilege, but more power to them. One of their group read something to the priest prior t the priest giving his homily.
I was braced for seeing the magnificent censer, the Botafumiero being used in the liturgy, but was surprised when it was not used prior to the washing of the hands in the Preparation of the Gifts ritual. Ignacio did not seem concerned, and then it dawned on me that in order to safely use the Botafumiero the aisles have to be cleared and the preparation and execution of swinging the censer would distract from the flow of the liturgy. I guessed that they would probably use it after Holy Communion, and I was not disappointed.
During the final oration, two men, dressed in special capes adorned with the Cross of St. James, entered the Sanctuary. One had what looked like a cast iron skillet with lit charcoal in it. Within moments, the botofumiero was lowered into place and like clockwork, these men assisted the celebrant in loading the censer. Below is a description of the swinging of the botafumiero courtesy of the Galician Tourist Bureau’s website:
The Botafumiero hangs on a rope from the centre of the transept, and it is nudged from vertical by being pushed. As it swings like a pendulum, eight men (called tiraboleiros) let out rope at the apex of the swing and pull on it at the lowest point. This amplifies the incensory’s oscillation swinging it to 21 meters up in the top of the vault, in a 65-metre arc along the transept from the Azabachería to the Praterias doorways. It passes along at floor level at a speed of 68 km/h, leaving behind it a fine trail of smoke and a fragrance of incense.
As the other tiraboleiros pulled on the ropes the censer began its unbelievable arc through the two transepts of the Cathedral. I was probably less than three feet from it and I could hear the “whoosh” was it swung by. The tiraboleiros handle the censer with such grace and elegance, it’s a wonder to behold. Soon, the sanctuary was filled with clouds of incense as sunlight filtered through the windows. A magnificent closing to our Pilgrims’ Liturgy.
After Mass, Ignacio went to the Pilgrim’s Office and collected our certificates, called compostelas, that attest to our completion of the camino. He passed them to us with great dignity and fanfare. Tonight, we celebrate a farewell dinner, and we have a surprise.