My walk into Santiago was on 18th May last year, however when I originally wrote this it was weeks later.
I set off from Rua the morning of 18th May so I’m aware that I’m writing this weeks later on 10th June. Despite that gap, I know that I haven’t forgotten a single minute of that walk. Setting off I knew that I would end my walk to Santiago that day rather than just getting closer.
Rua is 21km away from Santiago and I am glad I left that distance to do on the last day as it felt right to walk my usual distance and have a good chance at taking it all in and processing the experience before it would come to an end in Santiago. Some pilgrims choose to stay closer to Santiago on the last night so that they can arrive at the cathedral early and reserve their seat for the mass. Another advantage of arriving early is being able to get in the queue for your certificate before it gets too long.
As you walk along, there are many traditions that remind you that many have travelled this road before you. That day, maybe more than ever, my thoughts were with those previous pilgrims and I talked with other pilgrims about how previous pilgrims would have felt, what would they have done if they couldn’t communicate in a similar language and I wonder how they felt knowing that they would reach Santiago and then walk back home.
Lavacolla is a place with an interesting history. It literally means ‘wash private parts’ and this was the place where medieval pilgrims would wash ahead of arriving in Santiago. There is a stream if modern day pilgrims wish to also wash, however I didn’t see any taking advantage of this opportunity.
When you reach Monte de Gozo, you can see the cathedral spires in the distance. Medieval pilgrims fell to their knees, shouting in joy and breaking out into song. There was a tradition that pilgrims would race here from Lavacolla, with the first to arrive crowned “King”. There is a huge monument on the hill and also 2 statues of medieval pilgrims pointing the way down the hill.
As you keep walking, there are many who will continue to rush past you determined to get to the end goal, the destination of Santiago. Others just want it to be over and could see the end point ahead which seemed to keep moving further and further away.
As you wind your way through the streets towards the cathedral, the km markers disappear and you just have the final stretch to go. On the final descent down the steps leading to the cathedral square, bagpipes were playing and then just a few more steps you have made it to the cathedral square and can glance up to the statue of St James above the cathedral. Pilgrims celebrate in various ways, some sit down and allow their emotions to flow, some cheer and hug their fellow pilgrims whilst others miss the cathedral altogether and go to the pigrims office to collect their certificate.
I waited until the next morning to get my certificate, go inside the cathedral and have my word with St James. It was worth going to the pilgrim’s office at 6.45am the next morning ready for it to open at 8am. As I was amongst the first 10 pilgrims, I also received a voucher for a free lunch at the parador in the square which used to be the hospital for medieval pilgrims who were given lodgings and a free meal.
As I knew I would be continuing to Finisterre I didn’t attend a pilgrim’s mass this time as I wanted to do it right at the end of my Camino.
I did go to the pilgrim’s museum which was free that day and had so much information it was certainly worth the visit.
I spent 2 nights in Santiago and then started my journey to Finisterre which will be my next post.