Posts Tagged ‘Santiago de Compostela’

Thoughts and impressions of Santiago de Compostela

March 18, 2015

My initial thoughts, on arriving late at night, ugly, as that was the journey  from the airport.

But wandering around late at night in the old city I changed my mind.

More walking the streets today, even though closed.

I looked in Hotel Costa Vella where I would have stayed were it not closed for renovation. I had a chat with the architect.

Very cold on the streets even in the sun, and yet people are sitting outside.

it is easy to see why. Dire inside with TVs.

Even colder at night.

Luckily no rain.

Excellent soup en Restaurante Los Sobrinos del Padre, followed by tortella at Milonga´s .

Wandering around, the people are not very friendly. There are a lot of rough looking beggars on the streets, looking the worse for wear.

Monasterio de San Martín, now a museum, is a very impressive church and illustrates the wealth of the monasteries.

It is usual to see a wine shop, racks of wine. Far less usual to see similar selling bottles of beer.

Paradores de Hostales de Los Reyes Catolicos  was built for the poor and infirm, now a Parador.

In the evening and at night more people on the streets than during the day.

Friday evening a special mass in Catedral de Santiago where they swing the censor. Each day at midday, a special mass for the pilgrims who have walked El Camino de Santiago.

In contrast to Puerto de la Cruz, where spolit for choice to eat, Santiago de Compostela is not good for eating out, though there are exceptions.

Gambas a la plancha in Restaurante Los Sobrinos del Padre, where I had previously had soup, was not good, very salty.

Hamburger in A-Vaca, is the place to avoid. Not cooked, tasted disgusting, raw inside dripping blood, no apologies, and to add insult to injury, overcharged.

By contrast, O Paris pleasant ambience and staff, excellent soup and cake.

Several bookshops. In one bookshop the books in Galician only. The Cathedral book shop has a good selection, a second bookshop near Office for Pilgrims.  San Pablo Librería a wonderful bookshop. Emphasis on religion, El Camino de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela, the region, Catedral de Santiago. A large selection of books by Paulo Coelho, including a window display.

But not only San Pablo Librería, the cathedral shop and the pilgrims shop, also had Paulo Coelho books.

Further down the street, another bookshop, with interesting books to read in the window display, Paulo Coelho, Naomi Klein, like bookshops used to be, books you may wish to read, not hyped celebrity crap.

Alameda is a park, a wooded hillside,  tree-lined avenues, with views across to open countryside. More like England than Spain, with daffodils. The park even has a bandstand.

Santiago de Compostela en la noche

March 18, 2015
Santiago de Compostela en la noche

Santiago de Compostela en la noche

Santiago de Compostela is quite impressive at night.

No typical Spanish bars. Old, wood panelled, lined with bottles of wine.

Surprisingly open at midnight, as was a little corner shop, more a delicatessen.

Exposición “Os Portais” santiago de compostela July 2010

July 30, 2010

Exposición “Os Portais” Christina Oiticica, Paulo Coelho, Romero Britto, santiago de compostela July 2010

I was invited by Christina Oiticica to Os Portais. I regret to say I did not take up her invitation. I regret even more knowing that it coincided with the 25 July celebrations last Sunday in Santiago de Compostela.

When 25 July falls on a Sunday it is a Holy or Jubilee year. This year is one such year. This year more than 200,000 are expected to walk El Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela.

Also see

The Exposition ‘Os Portais’ – Work of Christina Oiticica and Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho on the Road to Santiago de Compostela

Camino de Santiago – Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

Camino de Santiago – Santiago de Compostela

July 26, 2010

El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, is a medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. At its height, a million pilgrims a year were walking the route. It then slowly fell into disuse. When Paulo Coelho undertook the pilgrimage in the 1980s, it had all but disappeared. Since the mid-1980s (The Pilgrimage was published 1987), there has been an exponential increase in pilgrims. 2010 is expected to see more than 200,000 pilgrims.

When July 25 falls on a Sunday it is a Jubilee or Holy Year. 2010 is a Jubilee or Holy Year. [see El Jubileo Compostelano Xacobeo 2010]

For those completing the pilgrimage, they have to create something to give thanks. For Petrus (Paulo Coelho’s guide) it was a painting, Paulo Coleho wrote The Alchemist , Catherine Ferguson gave two talks on the pilgrimage, Paul Tobey made this video and composed the music.

For Paulo Coelho, Catherine Ferguson, Paul Tobey who have walked the route and all those pilgrims walking or wishing to walk El Camino de Santiago.

Also see

Paulo Coelho on the Road to Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

July 14, 2010
poster at St Nicolas

poster at St Nicolas

‘These travellers were called pilgrims, and their symbol was the scallop shell.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘I looked up at the sky; the Milky Way spread across it, reflecting the immensity of the Road we would have to travel.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘We will come back changed. Of that I am certain. But, of course that is why you go on pilgrimage in the first place; to find the holy, stumble upon God in action, and be changed for ever by the experience.’ — Canon Trevor Dennis

Last week when Dr Catherine Ferguson talked of the history of the pilgrimage she showed a graph showing how the numbers of pilgrims had grown exponentially since the mid-1980s, a growth that coincided with the publication of The Pilgrimage by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. This week Catherine was to talk about the pilgrimage today and the modern day pilgrim, herself being one of the pilgrims having just returned from walking part of the walk.

Her talk was split into two halves, the first the practicalities of actually walking the route, the second what it meant to be a pilgrim.

Catherine made a grand entrance, dressed as she would be walking the route with her rucksack on her back. She then proceeded to empty her rucksack explaining what each item was for.

She managed to travel surprising light. A single change of clothing, water, minimalist medical kit, a banana (essential as you never knew when you would find food), water, books (the heaviest items), toilet paper (essential), torch, journal, camera, phone, charger for both, change of shoes, sleeping bag.

On her rucksack she had a scallop shell. The sign she was a pilgrim.

For the pilgrim it is not a rucksack or back pack, it is a mochillo, in which you carry your life’s possessions.

The medieval pilgrim would have wore a cape and a hat and carried a stick. Paulo Coelho provides an excellent description in The Pilgrimage, his journal of walking the Way of St James.

Every pilgrim has his credencial. This is essential as it is stamped en route and is required as proof that you have actually walked the route.

To obtain the compostela, you have to have walked the last 100km (or cycled the last 200km). This means the statistics on who has walked the route are not that sound, as they only count those who are awarded a compostela, those who walk that final 100km. Many walk different parts of the route, many do not make claim for the compostela.

way marker

way marker

The route is waymarked with yellow arrows and scallop shells. Though not always easy to find!

Don Elias Valiña Sampedro, a priest at O Cebreiro, did his 1967 Doctoral Thesis on the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Then it was but a memory he wrote ‘there survives only a remote memory of the Jacobean pilgrimage.’ He wrote and published a book on the route, Caminos a Compostela (1971). In 1972 just six pilgrims were awarded their compostela. Caminos a Compostela did not therefore have a major impact! It was then he decided, with the help of his family, to mark the route with yellow arrows. The route though you follow is your own personal route. This he started to do in 1973. He died in 1989.

The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho was published in Portuguese in 1987. An estimated in excess of 200,000 pilgrims are expected to walk the route in 2010, a Holy or Jubilee year when 25 July falls on a Sunday.

Places to stay are mixed and varied. Barns, churches private houses, monasteries, bars, church towers. Most of the places are fairly basic.

You are only allowed to stay one night, then you have to move on. This very much forces one to live in the here and now, for the moment, as how ever much you are enjoying it, it is not to be repeated, you have to move on.

Very much as Youth Hosteling used to be like up until the mid-1980s, when the YHA degenerated into a cheap chain of doss houses. You collected your hostel stamps at each hostel you stayed at, you had to arrive under your own steam, and could only stay a maximum of three nights.

When on a pilgrimage your requirements become very minimal: where will I sleep, find shelter, food and water? This is good for the soul. It reminds us how most of the world who subsist on less than a dollar a day have to survive.

You very quickly shed your socio-economic status. You are a lonely pilgrim on a route. What you see is what you get.

Eivind Luthen:

Liminality: to be a pilgrim is to opt out of one society and join another. To be a pilgrim is to tear away from the standard way of thinking. As a pilgrim you aim towards the unknown. In an age stamped by individualism and self-assertion the pilgrim dares towards humility: there is no class distinction on the way. People will take you for what you are, not what you represent.’

Why do we go on a pilgrimage? Ask a pilgrim and you are unlikely to get a straight answer.

The reasons for going on a pilgrimage are as many and varied and individual as the pilgrims on the pilgrimage: in memory of a much loved wife who has died, to forget finding the bodies of brutally killed neighbours, to leave behind crosses bearing the names of ones grandchildren. One lady brought along her harp and would give a recital whenever wherever. When Paulo Coelho undertook the pilgrimage it was to recover his sword.

It is the pilgrimage that is important not the destination. Paulo Coelho had to be reminded of this by his guide Petrus after spending several days walking around in circles.

For medieval man it was simple. It was good for the soul. It reduced time in purgatory. It could be a penance for a crime committed. When Paulo Coelho walked the Way of Saint James it was as a penance.

You were required to leave a will. If you were away a year and a day your wife could re-marry. It offered an easy way, maybe the only way, to get rid of your wife bar killing her.

There is stunning scenery and whose soul could not be uplifted.

On some days Catherine hardly noticed the landscape she was walking through. On those days she prayed.

The pilgrimage is not only a physical journey, it is also an inner journey, a spiritual journey. Those who undertake the pilgrimage come back changed.

The pilgrimage is a personal journey, that is why it is important that you do it on your own.

Halfway through Catherine became dispirited, she wanted to give up. Her eye was then caught by a poster for a monastery. It was a place she had always wished to visit and so she took a two day sabbatical from her pilgrimage and went off on a detour. She was glad she did. Beautiful cloisters, a beautiful service. One of the monks who befriended her was surprised to find she was there from England. She went off walking. The next day, about to catch the bus and return to her pilgrimage, the same monk from the previous day asked her why she was there. She said the beautiful architecture, the service, the singing. The monk said no, it was not beautiful, only God was beautiful. He blessed her and sent her on her way.

John Brierley (from The Route to Compostela):

‘The true temple is not a structure at all. Its true holiness lies at the inner altar around which the structure is built – yet the real beauty of the inner temple cannot be seen with the physical eye. An emphasis on beautiful structures can be a sign of unwillingness to exercise spiritual vision. As we walk through the landscape temple that is the camino and through the towns and cities spread out along the way, we pass some of the most physically striking religious buildings to be found anywhere in the world. But let us not confuse the messenger with the message and also help each other to search out that elusive inner altar.’

In answer to a question, Catherine said one fanatical young man who was expressing his own personal opinion thought that non-Catholics should not participate in Mass. He was not Spanish and did not in any way represent the experience of walking the route. Catherine actually could because she had been given a personal dispensation by the Catholic church.

I reminded of The Witch of Portobello where Athena is barred from taking Mass because she is divorced. She walks out and curses the church. The rules of the church being more important than grace. Paulo Coelho has Jesus looking in thinking he would not be welcome either.

I am also reminded of a scene in The Idiot described by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace . Jesus returns to earth at the time of the Inquisition. An old cardinal spots and recognises Jesus for who He is and orders His arrest and imprisonment. Visiting Jesus in his cell he tells Him that he will have to be executed a second time as the Church has had to spend the last millennium undoing all the harm he caused. [see The Grand Inquisitor]

Jesus dismissal of the Pharisees also comes to mind.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The Church of England discusses the exclusion or not of women and gays. To do so is to exclude more than half of the population!

Jesus welcomed everyone. He mixed with all stratas of society. No one was excluded!

Desmond Tutu (from a sermon at the Chapel of King’s College, London):

‘When Jesus spoke of being lifted up on the cross he said “I, if I be lifted up will draw..” – he didn’t say “I will draw some” – he said “I, if I be lifted up will draw ALL – draw all to me to hold them” all of us drawn into the divine embrace that excludes no-one – black, yellow, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, male, female, young, old, gay, lesbian, so-called straight – yes it IS radical. All, all, ALL belong – Arafat, Sharon, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, George Bush, Tony Blair, Palestinian, Israeli, Jew, Arab, Protestant, Catholic – all, ALL, all belong in this family.’

Whenever and wherever Catherine participated in Mass. It was a multicultural experience. Everyone was welcome and it was an uplifting experience. The official figures underestimate the multinational aspect of the pilgrimage, at least from Catherine’s personal observation.

Catherine described a lovely example of synchronicity. An absolute must for her to stay was San Nicolas, once belonging to the Knights Templar. She arrived only to find it was full. She walked off down the road and rested on a bridge to consider her options. A car pulled up and the driver asked where she wished to go. He said he would take her. He then offered her a stay at San Nicolas, it was he who ran it. There she met an Australian lady who she had met a few days previously. This lady had been on a pilgrimage to Walsingham. She showed her pictures of candles and the names inscribed. One was what Catherine had left with the name of her daughter Lucy! Another of the pilgrims was coming to work in the hospital in Guildford!

Talking to Catherine I explained why I was there. That I had walked to Loseley Park for the Celebrating Surrey Festival and had seen the poster at St Nicolas for the talks. Oh you must come to my talk on the Loseley Manuscripts she said. She then went on to tell me that the family were buried in the chapel at St Nicolas which was currently being restored.

The talk was preceded by Mass followed by eats and drinks. Catherine generously provided the wine and the food. Red wine from the region, though not the white (though Paulo Coelho would dismissively say white is not wine).

On leaving, Father Andrew (if it be he) thanked me for coming. No I said, it is I who should be thanking you for hosting such a wonderful talk and Catherine for giving it. Father Andrew has a blog Heart to Heart.

In discussing her personal experience of the pilgrimage Catherine radiated an aura of spirituality and belief that you would not find in most churches in a month of Sundays. It was a pleasure and honour to hear her speak.

After completing the pilgrimage you have to contribute or create something. Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist, many of his books have their roots somewhere along the Way to Saint James. His guide Petrus painted ‘a beautiful, immense picture’ that depicted all that had happened to him. Dr Catherine Ferguson gave two wonderful talks!

Synchronicity: A couple of days later I walked past Holy Trinity Church at the top of the High Street in Guildford and saw a large poster outside calling for equality of women in the church. Well done Holy Trinity! Late that night listening to the midnight news I heard that the Vatican had changed Church Law to make the attempted ordination of women a grave crime! Methinks the endemic sexual abuse within the Church is a grave crime, aided and abetted by cover-ups, more concerned with the tarnished reputation of the Church than the pain and suffering of the victims. It is not though a grave crime under Church Law to not report these sex crimes to the civil authorities.

Synchronicity: A few days after writing and publishing I learnt from Paulo Coelho that he has a street named after him in Santiago de Compostela, Rua Paulo Coelho. His comment was in response to a suggestion that Santiago de Compostela erects a statue in his honour for popularizing the pilgrimage.

Also see

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

The Pilgrimage

Carolena’s Quest for the Sword

Tourists to Pilgrims

Cantigas de Santa Maria

Pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba

Cantigas de Santa Maria

July 13, 2010

manuscript illumination

manuscript illumination


The Cantigas de Santa Maria (“Canticles of Holy Mary”) are manuscripts written in Galician-Portuguese with musical notation during the reign of Alfonso X El Sabio (1221-1284). Many have beautiful illustrations. These songs from the Middle Ages are beautiful haunting music, akin to that written by Hildegard von Bingen.

manuscript illumination

manuscript illumination


It is an absolute must to hear the music performed by early music groups performed on instruments of the period. The illustrations provide a unique insight into the world of the performers and the instruments they used.

The Cantigas are often categorised as “Moorish-Andalusian”, due to the Arabic influence.

Three of the manuscripts are in Spain (two at the Monastery of Escorial and one in Madrid) and one in Florence in Italy.

Galicia is where Santiago de Compostela is located. The destination of the Way of St James, El Camino de Santiago, one of the most important of the medieval pilgrimages.

Special thanks to my good friend Roman who has a habit of drawing my attention to excellent music.

also see

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

July 7, 2010
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela at St Nicolas Church

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela at St Nicolas Church

‘We are all pilgrims in search of the unknown.’ — Paulo Coelho

I was walking back from a day out at Celebrating Surrey Festival at Loseley Park, had stopped off for a much needed drink at the White House on the banks of the River Way in Guildford when as I left my eye was caught by a poster at St Nicolas Church on two talks on Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

So here I was, Tuesday evening a week later, at St Nicolas Church, or, to be more precise, the associated Parish Centre, for a talk by Dr Catherine Ferguson entitled The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela. The first of two talks, the second the following week entitled Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today.

The Way of Saint James (el Camino de Santiago) is a medieval pilgrims route that had fallen into disuse and was little known, until two decades ago Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho was obliged to walk the route as a penance by his master J for having the arrogance to believe he was worthy of receiving a sword. An account of which he gives in The Pilgrimage.

There were three important medieval pilgrimages, the route to Rome, the route to Jerusalem and the Way of Saint James.

The first pilgrimages were to the Holy Land, not to venerate a few sacred remains or for the experience of the pilgrimage itself, but to see where it happened.

Constantine decided to mark the important places of Christendom, he did this by building huge churches.

Constantinople lacked any relics of Saints. They were then allowed a body from the catacombs in Rome. This started a free-for-all in Holy Relics. No church could be established without its Holy Relic being entombed within the altar. Private collectors wanted their bones too.

Saint James was one of the Apostles. He took up the call from Jesus and gave up his life as a fisherman. He was beheaded in 44AD by order of King Herod Agrippa, the first of the Apostles to be executed. He is believed to have preached in Spain, but herein lies a problem, as he was already reported as dead.

His sarcophagus floated ashore in Spain at what is now Santiago de Compostela. Somewhat difficult for a marble sarcophagus, but it was aided by angels so that explains that then. The Bishop of the day said it was indeed the relics of Saint James, official approval had been granted, word spread, pilgrims arrived and Santiago de Compostela has never looked back.

The importance of this event cannot be overstated. The centres of Christianity were Rome and Constantinople and Jerusalem to the East. A centre had now been established in Western Europe.

Its timing was most fortunate. The Spanish Christian Kingdoms were under attack from the Moors who occupied all of the South of Spain. Under St James, the Spanish pushed the Moors back.

Pilgrims came from all over Europe. They needed to be fed and watered and housed and hospitalized, shoes were needed for their feet. Cluny Monks established monasteries along the route.

One of the factors that determined the medieval pilgrim to make the pilgrimage was that it reduced the time spent in Purgatory.

There was not one route. Strictly speaking the route was from your door to Santiago de Compostela. Four routes became the recognized routes as these were easiest to defend. The pilgrims followed old Roman roads, crossed old Roman bridges. The Cluny Monks built bridges.

Cluny Abbey was an independent Benedictine Order. The Abbey controlled or established 314 monasteries. Its power rivalled that of Rome. The Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Unlike today, when pilgrims walk the route and then fly home, the medieval pilgrims walked there and back, that is they walked the route both ways. This led to cultural interchange along the route.

The Pilgrimage led to major cultural shifts in Europe, 1100 was a watershed. Before 1100 churches were squat buildings, the figures slight reliefs. After 1100, within a period of only 40 years, we had graceful Romanesque churches, realistic carved figures, on the women detail of their lace, on the men detail of their chain mail.

One of the innovations brought back from the pilgrimage was the apse at the end of a church. Pilgrims could walk in through a side door, around the relics, and out through an opposite door without disturbing the congregation in the main body of the church.

Medieval man walking the route had to learn his place in life. Images of man being tormented in Hell. On arrival, the Pilgrims would pass through a portal where only figures in heaven were depicted.

On the front of Lincoln Cathedral can be seen the same images of hell.

At its height, a million pilgrims a year were walking the route. It slowly fell into disuse, the buildings fell into disrepair and were looted for their stone. Wars in Europe were one cause for the disruption of the Pilgrimage, as was disease.

From the mid-1980s the numbers undertaking the pilgrimage has shown an exponential increase. This coincides with the publication of The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho which was published in 1987. The numbers show sharp increase on Holy Years, when 25 July falls on a Sunday.

In 1985 690 pilgrims completed the Pilgrimage. In 1995 there was 19,821, then in 2005 there was 93,921. These are only the pilgrims that asked for and received a Compostela, the stamped certificate that shows you have completed the route. More than 200,000 are expected for 2010, a Holy Year. Holy or Jubilee Years are when 25 July falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

A Pilgrim’s Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela each day at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.

This increase in pilgrims is not unique to this pilgrimage. Strange in what is seen as an increasingly secular society. Could this be because people are walking away from the Church, but still seek the spiritual? If nothing else this would explain the popularity of Paulo Coelho. Do the Eden People at one end of the religious spectrum have a greater pull than the Catholic Church at the other?

This phenomena is not restricted to medieval pilgrimages. Many ‘pilgrims’, are following the trail blazed by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.

French priest Aymeric Picaud who walked the route in 1123 recorded his travels and experiences in five books Codex Calixtinus. It is still accurate today!

A very interesting talk, a very inspiring speaker. This was the third season of summer talks at St Nicolas by Dr Catherine Ferguson. Catherine Ferguson has walked el Camino de Santiago twice. She has just completed the pilgrimage this summer and her knees still ached!

The talk was preceded by Mass and refreshments. Later a few of us went for a drink. Before doing so I presented Dr Catherine Ferguson with a copy of The Pilgrimage to thank her for such an excellent and inspiring talk.

Next week: Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today and the impact it has on present day pilgrims.

Fr Andrew who took the Mass (if it be he), has a blog Heart to Heart, where he shares his thoughts with fellow Christians. But sadly in reality an apology for the Catholic Church and all its ills. St Nicolas is in all but name a Catholic Church, even though it comes under the Diocese of Guildford.

Synchronicity: Walking back from Celebrating Surrey Festival, I saw a poster at St Nicolas Church for these talks. The evening before I clicked on Suzie who had commented on the festival. She was packing her rucksack to walk this route!

Synchronicity: The evening before the talk I listened to A History of the World in a Hundred Objects on BBC Radio 4. The subject was a relic held in the British Museum, A Thorn from the Crown of Thorns!

Also see

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

The Pilgrimage

Carolena’s Quest for the Sword

Pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba

Tourists to Pilgrims


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