Meeting St James In Santiago


ram2We decided to take a trip into the historic town of Santiago, which is a pilgrimage destination for Catholics. Although only about 50k from Caraminal, the coach journey went via all major towns around the Ria de Arosa, giving us our first real glimpse of Galician countryside away from the sea. Having said this we never really left the coastline until the final part of the journey.

ram3On the way I noted that almost anyone with a garden grew their own fruit and vegetables, specifically maize (which grows everywhere). I’m not talking allotment patch here, I mean their entire garden. I don’t know whether this is for personal consumption or to sell at the local market to supplement their income.

Santiago sits on a big hill with the bus stop at the very top. As we walked into town via the tight cobbled streets the church spires dominate the skyline, reminding me very much of Florence. As we walk down into the centre so the streets became more and more busy with tourists and genuine pilgrims.

ram4I was surprised that the majority of tourists in Santiago were Spanish. Santiago is one of Europe’s primary religious destinations, second only to The Vatican, yet we overheard no other language other than Spanish, save for an American couple arguing over whether they should go shopping or have a cup of coffee. That said, the streets are packed. The genuine pilgrims don well worn walking sticks and walking boots. The tourists buy their novelty walking sticks from the stall outside Santiago Cathedral, along with t-shirts, plastic Jesus statuettes and other gifts which one would only seriously consider buying as a joke.

ram5This sharp contrast between those visiting Santiago on a genuine religious quest and those here to take photos is even more apparent once one steps inside Santiago Cathedral. The first thing that strikes the visitor is the huge queue for the Sepulchre of St James the Apostle, which stretches around two sides of the building. The Sepulchre sits in the centre of the church underneath a typically ornate alter. With the hanging candelabras and glitzy gold leaf statues, it is no wonder that there are queues of tourists armed with cameras blocking each others view.

What makes this all very sad is that behind them are genuine worshippers, who are sitting quietly behind all this commotion. This distinct contrast is quite sad, but I was one of those jostling for prime photo position so I’d be a hypocrite to berate the tourists for being sacrilegious. Besides, I don’t think they were. I just felt sorry for those who had come to the cathedral for some peaceful reflection and worship because they weren’t going to get it.




After this we decided to split up and regroup a couple of hours later. A pleasant but tiring walk round the narrow streets, we met back up outside the cathedral. I asked Conny how he had spent his last 2 hours and it turns out he had just sat in the same spot we had left him in. “These f***ing tourists. I just hate the way they’re so predictable and boring. They’re so sad. Why have we come to this town to look at some boring buildings? What’s the point?” Woah there boy! Something was amiss here, but I wasn’t going to get involved in this one!


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