This post follows on from the previous post – the first stages of our trip. We then spent four days in Santiago de Compostela, getting to know the city, and a day travelling out to Cape Finisterre and Muxia.
We arrived mid-afternoon, the Cathedral was bathed in sunlight, the huge square in front of it was full of pilgrims- lying in the ground, sitting by their bicycles – alone, or in groups. I have to say one would get a bit fed up with the pilgrims after a bit. Few seemed to be doing the exercise as a test of faith – there were large groups of young people presumably on an adventure holiday, and from the size of the packs, I suspect many had not walked a long way… They’d mill through the streets in loud, shouting groups. Not what you want.
We had a lovely little apartment – Room Pedra in the Rue de Hortas in the Old Town. It looked out over former vegetable gardens – the ‘hortas’ in the road name, but was just a few yards from the main square. Battleaxe would totally recommend.
Tom came and found us and we shared meals and drinks, but of course he has to work, so we spent much time wandering round the city on our own, quietly recovering from our long drive. We had not realised that the cathedral is virtually closed during 2019, for renovation. We were not that bothered to be honest – there are plenty more cathedrals to see. However, we did follow the line of pilgrims all filing behind the main altar to the shrine of St James. You are supposed to embrace his effigy, but we just patted his scallop shell for luck. Then you go down into a crypt and view the decorated silver casket that is supposed to contain his remains. This is the high point of the pilgrims’ endeavour…
So, what is going on here? It is unlikely that the legends that lead to the veneration of this city as the Catholic Church’s third most holy place have a word of truth in them… it is probable that James the disciple of Christ never visited Spain at all, never mind being buried in Santiago…. here is a blog post that explains it all, to save me going into it. But who can explain faith… but as I said above, I think many modern pilgrims view it as an adventure holiday, a gap year exercise, or as a personal test… like friends of mine do those Tough Mudder things….
Worse, St James is also known as the ‘Moor Slayer’. Apparently he appeared in a vision to someone who was fighting some crusading battle who then miraculously slew 5000 Moors… There are numbers of Moor slaying statues and paintings around the city. I didn’t notice any non-white people doing the pilgrimage…. See also El Cid from Burgos, who will appear in my next post. Another Moor slayer…
Anyway, once you got away from the pilgrim hordes, the city was very attractive, lovely old buildings including lots of very ornate monasteries, very open..we liked it. You can see views of the cathedral from all over…
One day, Tom, Philosopher and me drove out to the coast. First, we went to Muxia, one of the places where pilgrims finish their walks, which I had seen on a film called ‘The Way’ – a rather sentimental thing starring Martin Sheen. Battleaxe is always interested in these spiritual sites – most have pagan roots which have been handily overlain with Christian stories. Muxia was a prominent pagan sanctuary, but is now apparently the place where the Virgin Mary landed in a stone boat (eh?) to support St James. Well, whatever it is, it is spectacular and well worth a visit, with a little church right on the shore, huge rocks and boiling Atlantic waves.
Finisterre, or Fisterre in Spanish, is even more steeped in legend. Here’s a bit about it. Modern-day pilgims come here, and some still burn their walking clothes and boots – a symbolic end to their pilgrimage, but its history goes much further back… We learn that the Romans christened the place Finis Terra- the end of the world. But why…. even with the naked eye it is possible to see headlands that stick out into the sea further than Cape Finisterre… The site was a great pagan sanctuary – where the sun sank into the dark sea – into the Otherworld. The headland is also the home of the Celtic crone goddess – Orcabella. All very mystic for a Battleaxe…
These days, the place is a bit like Land’s End in Cornwall – a tourist trap. We arrived at the same time as two tour buses, but managed to outpace the hordes by climbing down the rocks to the very end of the headland. We had lunch at a nice restaurant by the harbour in the nearby little town of Fisterre.
Then we drove on to try to see the waterfalls at Ezaro, nearby. Here’s a bit about it. Unfortunately, the falls are part of a hyro-electric plant, and the path was closed due to worls at the plant. Instead, we took the car up an incredibly steep hill to a view point with fantastic views,
and then had to head back to Santiago on a narrow roadway across the top of a dam…. I say ‘had to’, chose to, more like it! Here is a photo of the dam from the internet….
One thing to mention – the wild flowers were just beautiful – in fact, the countryside was fantastic….
Anyway, our next post will deal with the last part of the trip – from Santiago via Lugo, Leon and Burgos to Santander.