Santiago de Compostela

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.

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The Fordham peregrinos, all dressed up in front of the cathedral a day after completing the Camino!

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.

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View from the roof of the cathedral

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.

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A completed pilgrim’s passport, ready to get a compostela!

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.

-Allie Burns

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Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer

 

 

 

Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer