Friday, 22 August 2008

Moments of arrival

It was just a few moments away. I was supposed to be finding out what time the pilgrim’s office was open but I couldn’t resist a quick peek inside the cathedral. I just wanted to arrive, to be in the place we’d travelled so far to get to, without the kids or Kirstie, the boys fighting, having to watch the bikes, be photographed or explain where we had come from. Just me and the cathedral.

Outside in the Praza de Quintana, tourists chatted at shady café tables; watching mid-day pilgrims arrive, look heavenward and take in their first breath of arrival. Inside the cathedral, a swathe of humanity; standing, sitting, pushing and jostling in the gloom of golden granite, struggling to get a glimpse of the high altar and the shining glory of the tomb of St James. A human collage of creed and colour adorned with rucksacks, sticks, sleeping mats, scallop, sunglasses and cameras, filling aisle, nave and pew. All welcome here.

Up on the altar, priests concluded the rituals of the daily Pilgrim’s Mass, the organ swelling, bass notes lingering in the spaces around crowd and congregation. But even the breath of this mighty music could not blow away the most powerful punch of all, not the bitter sweet scent of incense burning in the giant botfumario but the intoxicating perfume of a thousand sweaty pilgrims (myself included) giving thanks for their safe arrival. Welcome to Santiago.