I managed to get myself to Santiago de Compostela on Ryan Air, which is always challenging. Santiago de Compostela is way up in the northwest corner of Spain, and is the end point for people that, for centuries, have been making pilgrimages from the Pyranees to this cathedral. They still do this, and one can see many people arriving with their walking sticks, good hiking shoes, and backpacks. That day a bagpiper was on hand to welcome the pilgrims. I remember some years ago reading a book by Shirley Maclaine, who made such a pilgrimage. I had enough trouble just finding my hostel, which sports a wonderful view of the cathedral. My hostel uses disposable sheets, pillow cases and towels—that’s a first. Think of the landfills!
The corpse of St. James, (Santiago the Apostol) was brought here in a stone boat and buried, then rediscovered in 813 AD by somebody following a star (!) The cathedral was begun in 1075, with further embellishments added as the centuries passed. It is a spectacular building and is chock-full of spectacular sculpture. The original façade, the Porto de Gloria, was covered with a more elaborate 18th century façade, luckily for us, as this protected the original Porto from the elements. Inside, one can still see the Porto that was sculpted by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. There is some scaffolding in the way, as it is under restoration—I suspect, continually. A sculpted portrait of Maestro Mateo is here, and used to be touched by all, as it would give the toucher some of Mateo’s genius. This flattened his nose, so now the sculpture is separated with a railing, but when I was there, a man jumped over the railing and touched it anyway. So it goes.
Inside the cathedral is the tomb of St. James, which one can go down some steps under the altar to visit. Then there is a 12th century statue of St. James on the altar. A line of visitors goes up steps within the altar to kiss the statue. It is very much a working church with several priests hearing confessions—with the languages they speak posted above them.
I found many lovely sculptures of various personages (I didn’t find out exactly who, but they are beautiful sculptures) throughout the cathedral. One I especially admired appeared to be a 12th or 13th century Madonna and Child with black (ebony?) skin. There was a tiny plaque on the base, which said something about ‘Tunisia’ but that was all I could read. I asked about it in the cathedral shop where they sold post cards and mementos, but she didn’t know which statue I was talking about and I didn’t see any postcards of it.
There is a huge incense burner hanging by ropes and pulleys that is manned by a number of priests—a hangover when pilgrims arrived that did not smell so sweet, having been on the road for weeks. There was a service while I was there for the ‘faithful,’ but since I didn’t think that included me, I didn’t stay.
The Cathedral Museum was a surprise—I’ve been to many but this one was over the top with gorgeous things. Unfortunately no photos were allowed—all right, I admit to sneaking two. One was the reconstituted Stone Choir by Maestro Mateo that was originally in the 12th century cathedral—so beautiful. Many stones are new, but there were enough original to be able to reconstruct it. The other was a lovely secular tapestry showing a fiesta. There were several wonderful carved statues of tableaux that were from the 13th and 14th centuries—like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I think I shall add Santiago de Compostela to my (very short) list of things that everybody should see someday.
The next morning I got a city bus to the bus station, and then a bus to Lugo, a town about 1½ hours away. This area—Galicia—is much ‘wetter’ than therest of Spain, and consequently much greener with more trees.
The Romans established Lucus Augusti in the 1st C. BCE, and built the walls in the 2nd C. Lugo has the best preserved Roman Walls in Spain and maybe in all the world. I get the idea that in the 18th century, they were so back-woodsy that they never tore them down, much to our joy, now. The whole perimeter is complete and I walked on top of the walls, sometimes 50’ high, for two km.
I flew back to Madrid and met the boys, who were returning from a week at a language camp, where they were volunteer ‘native English speakers.’ They had a really nice time and enjoyed all the ‘talking’ that they did, both with the Spanish kids and the other English speakers, who were from Ireland, Scotland, England and the USA. After getting them checked in at our hostel, we went to a nearby plaza where we were entertained by a girls’ rock band (special concert set-up) while Lorenzo had a hamburger, Marco had a Starbuck’s frappacino, and I had a beer. It had turned very hot in Madrid—reaching 100 degrees F.
The last two days in Madrid were spent sleeping—recovering from the camp experience—and visiting the Reina Sophia Art Museum. First we saw Picasso’s Guernica, and some other Picassos and Miros, and yes, I was reprimanded for taking a picture of the event.
The next day we went to the special showing on Salvatore Dali. That was especially fun to see. Lorenzo’s Spanish teacher had a poster of one of Dali’s paintings (with the watches slipping off surfaces), which was in the show, so Lorenzo and Marco have now seen the original.
Both days we had wonderful dinners at the same restaurant, and then spent some time getting ready to leave on Monday.
Today is Monday and we will take the metro to the airport and blast off for home. The trip was great, but we’re all ready to go home!