I arrived in Santiago de Compostela at about 8 in the morning.  Within an hour I was out in the street making wrong turns and accidentally making interesting discoveries.  To be fair, though, when you have no plan and no map, accidents and wrong turns are pretty much all you’re left with.  Or maybe they aren’t wrong turns and accidents.  Maybe they are the right place at the right time.  At least that is the way it seemed to me today.

As I neared the city center a bicyclist asked me if I knew where he could find the Santiago Cathedral.  At the time all I could tell him was “no.”  If he had asked me a few hours later I would have had quite a different story to tell.  As I passed the many buildings that line a large avenue near the east end of Santiago I came upon a clearing.  It was a small cement plaza with a few benches.  On the other side was a one lane street with houses and shops.  Above the street I could see the top of a cathedral.  I figured that this must be the famed Santiago Cathedral so I decided to get my energy up before making my visit.  I stopped and ate more of my bread and cheese from the shop in Granada, accompanied by a tin of fish that I was hesitant about eating at first.  It wasn’t so much that I was against fish, or fish in tins.  The problem was that my Spanish is far from perfect and sometimes that leads to confusion.  When I first saw this tin of “caballa” I thought “how strange that they have onions in tins with oil.  Then I remembered that “cebolla” is onion, not “caballa.”  This realization prompted a bit of horror inside me when I thought of what this word really meant.  Within a few seconds, though, I remembered that the word for horse was actually “caballo.”  What a relief that was.

So I enjoyed my little meal and headed for the domed cathedral.  As I walked the grounds below the cathedral I came across something that promised to be entertaining.  Inside four high stone walls were three mazes constructed of six foot flowering hedge bushes.  I entered the first one and before long I was right back where I had started.  I kept on, though, and found the center of the maze.  Today was shaping up to be quite a productive day.  I mean, it was not even noon and I had already solved a life-size maze with two more to go and the promise of more adventure ahead.  So after solving the final maze this is how I felt…

Since I had such incredible momentum building I figured I would be a fool to slow down.  I rushed to the top of the hill towards the cathedral.  When I tried to enter the building I was vexed.  There was no building.  It was a facade of a cathedral with a slab of cement for an interior.  I walked down the street and came at the building from the other side with the same results.  Then I went back to the entrance of the skeleton cathedral and used the lookout point to scout the city.  I quickly surmised that the building I was standing in front of was no the cathedral.  Off to the west, partially hidden by the buildings of the city center, was a much grander cathedral.

I took off for the Santiago Cathedral with the quickness of a man who knows that his time here is short.  I went up and down street after street until I was poured out into a plaza.  The plaza was on the back side of the cathedral but it was enough to make me stop in my tracks.  I immediately took a seat on one of the steps and sat staring at this for a while as I tried to think of how I could describe it.  I wrote about a page and a half in my journal but I still think that this picture probably gets the point across better than my words…

So as I finished writing I became very anxious to see what the front of this cathedral looked like.  I took a little walk around the plaza and tried to circle the cathedral.  I had to go down more stairs and through another plaza to reach the public square that housed the Santiago Cathedral’s main entrance.  Along the square were buildings that would have made a proud showing anywhere else but when stacked alongside this behemoth of  balance and beauty even the town hall, museum, university, and palace that fill out the square appear comparatively tiny and plain.  I could barely find the words to describe the extreme rear of this monumental cathedral and when faced with the task of describing the main facade I fall flat on my face (which I nearly did as I entered the square).  In fact, the edifice is of such magnitude that even my camera fails to capture the whole of it but here is my best attempt…

Here is a little closer look at the facade that took over fifty years to build on the site where Saint James the Apostle is believed to be buried…

I took numerous laps around the open “praza” (Galician for “plaza”) looking at the cathedral and assisting people who desired to have their photo taken in front of the spectacle.  After I felt that I had enjoyed it quite thoroughly I decided to go inside.

As I entered the silent but nave I noticed the many chapels and devotions to the “Cult of Christ.”  Then a church organ began.  Then things got really weird.  There was a rock or something hanging from the ceiling in front of the chapel that was pouring out smoke.  Next thing I knew I looked up and this was happening… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsneJ8bc5m0

Then the  strange ritual concluded like this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CC7v45i2gUU

This strange ritual is known as the Botafumeiro.  It only occurs during special holidays and for groups who have made the famous pilgrimage to the cathedral.  The “rock” is actually known as a thurible.  It is a brass vessel that holds 80 kilograms of incense and charcoal.  This ceremony began at the cathedral about one thousand years ago and continues to be one of the more popular attractions at the church.  Here are some of the other interior attractions…

   This is the Tomb of Saint James.

Well, there is a little more to tell but after two hours of sleep on the bus platform it is now time to get back out there and do some more adventuring.  I am excited to be heading to Monforte de Lemos tomorrow morning and I am sure that it will bring many more adventures to share.  Until then…

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