After walking 311 kilometers from León to Santiago de Compostela in two weeks, finally arriving in Santiago was a surreal experience. Walking into the square in front of the beautiful Cathedral of St. James, we celebrated our achievement with our fellow pilgrims from Fordham and those we had met along the way. The city of Santiago de Compostela is legendarily the resting place of St. James, revealed to a local shepherd by a miraculous guiding light in 813. The cathedral was built upon the site where his remains were supposedly found, and is both the center of the medieval city and the ending point of the Camino. It has been repeatedly renovated since its construction, and now features a famous baroque façade facing out onto the main square, completed in the 1700s. Although this façade was partially covered in scaffolding during our visit, the cathedral was still a glorious sight to behold.
Once we had all arrived in Santiago, we attended a mass, where we were fortunate to be able to experience the Botafumiero, the largest censer in the world, which swings high above the worshippers at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Watching the enormous censer come improbably close to the ceiling of the cathedral was breathtaking, and one of the highlights of our time in Santiago. We also were able to take a tour of the roof of the cathedral, which provided absolutely stunning views of the city of Santiago, as well as an opportunity to see parts of a cathedral that usually are hidden from view. Some Fordham peregrinos thought that the view from the cathedral’s roof was the most beautiful one they saw during the whole Camino – it was a breathtaking vista, and an amazing way to cap off our walk.
In Santiago, pilgrims can receive their compostelas – certificates stating that they have walked at least 100 kilometers, as demonstrated by a completed pilgrim’s passport with stamps collected along the way. The compostela is given to any pilgrim who says they walked the Camino with at least a partially religious or spiritual motivation, and also is an indulgence, for Catholic pilgrims. A tip that many of us discovered is that large groups can fill out one form with all their information rather than wait on the long line, and return later in the day to pick up their completed compostelas from the pilgrim’s office. The compostela certificates are beautifully decorated and include a Latin version of your name, and for a few extra euros, come with a separate certificate stating how many miles you walked.
While Santiago was a beautiful city with lots of important medieval history, for many pilgrims the best part of the city is the simple experience of walking into it, turning into the courtyard and being greeted with celebrations and congratulations from all those who you have walked alongside. No matter what reason one chooses to walk the Camino, succeeding in reaching Santiago is a moment of pride, accomplishment and emotion.