Friday morning I woke up in my “garret SRO” room and knew I had to move house. My pack and boots were still sopping wet and they told me at the reception desk that the heat was off until November 1st. OK.
I went on Booking.com, then went out in the neighborhood looking for the hotels on the site. I asked a jewelry store owner for directions and she suggested a hotel a little further on. They were super friendly when I arrived, more like my favorite albergues, and they have radiators that are in use!
After checking in with all my wet worldly goods, I headed back to the Cathedral where I planned to spend most of the day: the 12:00 mass, (the Butafumiero, the giant incense burner, was scheduled to swing) and then the museum and roof tour. I still felt keyed up.
At 11:30 I was fortunate to find a seat on the aisle in the transept, and waited for the 12:00 Pilgrim’s Mass to begin.
The Butafumiero is a giant incense burner made of silver that hangs from a rope attached to a pulley system above the altar. It takes a crew of men to make the Butafumiero fly. You can see the knot of ropes attached to a pillar at the crossing when it is set up for the Mass.
I felt regret that I had not arrived right then, before the Mass, like many people around sitting near me. One of my tasks of the journey is to let go of regrets, and be less hard on myself for things, for not doing things perfectly. I let it go. Like the rest of the journey, this was my Camino, with twists and particularity. It was ok.
A nun led us in singing the responses before the Mass began. There were announcements in multiple languages for silence, and that NO PHOTOS or MOBILE use during the service.
The Mass began, all in Spanish of course, but I found, through familiarity with the liturgy, and perhaps a new comprehension of Spanish that I understood a lot of it.
There was a familiar and touching moment when one of the priests moved into place to read the Gospel and he was pulled back by another priest to allow a Deacon to proclaim it. At that moment, I wanted to be with them, at the altar. But I let that thought go, too, because it felt like I was where I was supposed to be, receiving.
Then there was a Sermon. A real 20 minute sermon! And I swear I understood most of it. It was about the power of the Camino to transform us into the image of Christ. He is not an idea in our heads we’re supposed to “believe” in, but a person who is there with us. The trials and joys, the friendships of the Camino are a metaphor for life. Through them we can know Christ.
St. James knew Jesus and took the Gospel here to Galicia, and we are called to take the message back into our lives.
At the end of your Camino here in Santiago you may take home souvenirs, but the the most important one is being closer to Christ.
I looked around and noticed that I saw at least 6 or 7 people I’d walked with. Tears. People in flip flops and sandals with socks. Pilgrims. Were here together in Santiago. More tears.
At that moment, I arrived.
I felt such weepy joy shuffling shoulder to shoulder with the crowds of pilgrims to receive Communion.
I have never seen a church, let alone a cathedral, so full. It was standing room only. Like an unwashed Easter.
After the Blessing, the Butafumiero crew came out in their maroon cassocks and untied the massive ropes, and it was lowered so the incense and coals could go in. Then the “captain” of the crew signaled for it to go up above his head, he grasped the bottom of it and gave it a mighty swing towards us.
The men yanked the rope down and up, and it began to fly higher and higher over our heads and then back across the other side of the transept. Each time it swung away from us I could see the red hot coals glowing through the slots in its side. It almost touched the ceiling above my head!
Joy, pure joy, awe, amazement. So this is why I came. Not to see this spectacle, but to feel this warm opening in my heart, and the Spirit moving among the people, and within me, such love.
Of course, the crowd (me, too) whipped out their phones and took photos, but that seemed authentic to our time, as much as the extreme stinkiness (which was the origin of the Burafumiero) of our medieval friends must have been. Like them, we’re a little uncouth and worn around the edges. And that’s one of the fruits of the Camino. We’re more real.
The Butafumiero took its last pendulum swing and the “captain” caught it, and pivoted around with it on his heel, a fine Spanish flourish, like he was the Matador and the incense burner was the bull. Massive waves of applause!
As the baroque organ played, we began to move, waves of people, towards the opposite side door on the Plaza de Quintana.
Suddenly I saw Lisa and Harold, from Quebec! Lisa and fell into each other’s arms and sobbed. She was someone who I’d talked with for hours on the Camino, very quiet and unassuming, from a tiny town in Quebec.
She said, “so this is what it’s all about, at the end of our lives it’s going to be like this, it’s all going to make sense, our crazy lives, and it will be so beautiful!!”
Yes. It will.
We met Eric and Vi, from Bristol, Linda from Hong Kong, and her Austrian friend, on the Plaza, and found a “free buffet” of 9e for a spontaneous lunch. And there was a salad bar and broccoli!