Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Santiago de Compostela

物の哀れ (mono no aware) (n.): literally "the pathos of things"; the bittersweet awareness of life's passing beauty. (Japanese)

Even though I really didn't walk the Camino, I still felt a connection with the peregrinos that did. I paid my dues, following the iconic yellow arrows and seashells across northern Spain, hitting almost every cathedral on my modified bus-Camino route and finishing with an intense sense of accomplishment in Santiago de Compostela. SDC's weather is a bit of a downer, as it sees the same amount of sun as Seattle and it's high is usually in the upper teens (Celsius, people. I'm trying to fit in) so my arrival wasn't quite the sun-drenched march of victory that I had anticipated but rather a cold and wet treck to an apartment on the top of a steep hill. These little presents from the universe keep me humble.

The Cathedral of Santiago is fantastic, although it was a rather different experience than the quiet communion with space that I have come to love. Rather, as the end of the Camino, Santiago Cathedral is a mess of ponchos and hiking backpacks, filled to the brim with exhausted but exhilarated pilgrims babbling in every language you can imagine and snapping photo after photo with omnipresent selfie-sticks. I visited the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela first as a tourist--I made the obligatory circuit through the ambulatory, visiting all the chapels and oohing at the impressive baroque main altar with everyone else. The Cathedral there is enormously popular, as it marks the end of the Camino de Santiago, and it is filled with elated pilgrims and all their hiking gear. It gets kind of loud in the church (the crowds are hushed periodically by guards patrolling around the perimeter) but when I visited the hum made the church feel alive and exciting.

The second time I came, however, was on completely different terms and the experience was transformed. I had received word from home that my youngest sister would be undergoing surgery , and I wanted to visit the chapel of the Sacred Sacrament to meditate and pray for her safety and a speedy recovery (she's recovering well!) As I pushed my way through the walking sticks and ponchos, the hum of the crowd was no longer exciting. It was disconcerting. The camera flashes capturing the monstrance I knelt before were distracting--couldn’t the visitors see that I was engaging with the Sacrament? I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl, and that my interaction with the Sacrament and my time of quiet prayer was being interfered with. I had the chance to see both sides of the interaction with sacred objects that exists in places of worship, and it was disconcerting and more than a little unsettling, to say the least.

Admittedly, the barely controlled chaos of Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral is something of an exception. In most places of worship, tourists and visitors are not even allowed inside the building during mass.As my flatmate pointed out, there are more churches in Santiago than people, so I had no shortage of places to visit in the endless drizzle. We even got two days of glorious sunshine, and I followed the sounds of singing and bagpipes to a massive circle of newly-arrived pilgrims dancing in the plaza next to the cathedral. Not too shabby at all.

Perhaps my own greatest sense of achievement derived from the day I visited Muxia, the second westernmost point on Spain's Costa de Muerte. I visited the Church of La Virgen de La Barca and reached the sea, finally collecting my own seashells to commemorate my pilgrimage to the ocean. Come to think of it, those shells are some of the most sacred things I own. I wonder if they'll ever make it into a museum someday.

No comments:

Post a Comment