Monday morning dawned as we approached Vigo, Spain, still on the western coast of the Iberian peninsula, north of Lisbon. The day is to be sunny and warm and sunrise is beautiful, as it always is at sea, on a clear and promising day.
Our plan for the day was to travel on a Holland America excursion, transportation only, to Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St James, the Apostle. His remains are buried there and it is the destination of the Camino, a 500 mile pilgrimage across the northern border of Spain with France. Pilgrims have made this walk for centuries, and although there are other caminos from other origins in Spain and Portugal, and throughout Europe to this site, this route dates to the early 800’s. St. James made this walk himself as a missionary from the Holy Land to the northwest corner of Spain, which at that time, was the end of the known world. The route became so popular that in 1130 a French monk named Aimery Picaud chronicled his journey, and included tips on where to stay, the best way to get from place to place, and how to pack light (and use a money belt). Called the “Codex Calixtinus” (Latin for Camino Through the Back Door) it was the world’s first guidebook (and you thought Rick Steves had a novel idea).
Our plan was altered when Judy announced she was still worn out from the two days in Lisbon, and would be unable to make the trek. This destination was to be one of the planned highlights of our cruise and one of the reasons we chose this itinerary. We have at least three Jims in our lives battling through serious medical issues, and our “modified Camino” was to pray in this Cathedral of St James for the success of their fight. Judy decided to stay on board while I made the journey and completed our petition for our friends. I’m sure I will not be the first to complete the Camino utilizing a bus!
After a hour and a half bus ride, I started my Camino with the Cathedral in sight.
The interior is filled with pilgrims and visitors from everywhere and I arrived just minutes before the Cathedral was closed to all, except those who would be attending the noon Mass. The Cathedral is not the most ornate, nor the largest we have visited, but knowing it’s history and significance as a religious destination, it has a draw all its own. Mass was in Spanish, but was concelebrated by priests from Italy, Germany, U.K. and the U.S., each of whom added prayers in their own language.
Right of center in the close-up picture above is the Botafumeiro, a huge silver-plated incense burner weighing 120 pounds, suspended from the ceiling. At the conclusion of Mass, six men in red robes, called tiraboleiros, pull on the rope suspended from the ceiling attachment and cause the Botafumeiro to swing in a wide arc, left to right in the wide cross arms of the cathedral, spewing its sweet-smelling smoke. The tradition had its origin when pilgrims, having completed their 500 mile journey, needed the incense to counteract the stench acquired during so many days on the road.
Note in the photo above, the rope can be seen bisecting the pillar to the left in front of the altar. In its full arc, the rope would be completely out of the picture. It is not done daily, and I considered it a good omen that we were able to witness this unusual custom.
The ride back to Vigo was an opportunity to enjoy the countryside of northwest Spain, which is usually cold and rainy. The day was mild and sunny and Spain is indeed a beautiful country.
As we neared Vigo, we encountered a most unusual site.
These are man-made oyster beds in the bay. I believe I prefer the natural beauty of the oyster beds in South Carolina.
We arrived back at the Rotterdam by 4P, in plenty of time for our 5P departure. Mission accomplished. Our petitions on behalf of our friends have been sent and heard.