24th June 2014:
San Martin de Pinario really is an actual seminary and very grand. I smile to myself, nuns don’t have anything like the same start in life! I lunch at the Comedor Monumental, busy waiters, grand names for the menu selection, mediocre truth on the plates when they arrive. But the dining room is true to its name – monumental. A vast vaulted stone block ceiling makes it another cloister in appearance, a marvellous room.
Just after showering and donning my clean Macabi skirt and other top I did pop across to the Cathedral at midday, but the dense crowds overwhelm me and claustrophobia sends me scuttling back to San Martin de Pinario. I rue my failure to see the famous Botafumeiro, the world’s largest thurible that takes twelve men to swing in its vast arc across the nave; know it is only used on Feast Days and Holy Days now, but shrug off the once only opportunity with the consolation that I have had miracles all along the way – I am full.
I return later to the Cathedral, empty now but for the delicious swirls of incense still thickly veiling the altar, and look for the English chapel with its copy of Our Lady of Walsingham sitting on her Throne of Wisdom. A copy of course, from another copy, as she was with Our Lady of Glastonbury and every other Lady burned on the pyres of Smithfield at the Reformation. She’s a pretty statue, and very ‘English’, with none of the quirky authenticity of her mediaeval sisters I’ve met on my pilgrimage. I slide my prayer for England, once known throughout the world as Our Lady’s Dowry, a dedication of her uncle Joseph of Arimathea, under the grill; it continues its slide along the polished floor to stop underneath the statue.
I remain a few moments, then look for the crypt and the reliquary of Santiago; here I say a prayer and roll the walnut right along the floor. Done. I don’t walk up the ancient staircase to thank Santiago in his silver casing, yet. Something stops me. This day is a moment by moment time capsule and I must remain obedient to its shifts and suggestions.
I go on to San Francisco, love the simplicity of the nave as I walk down to the sacristy to collect my St Francis compostela. There are few of us; the attractive Brazilian couple in their pink clothes whom I met in Palas de Rei are here, he grins and says, you are that rare thing, an English Catholic! I have not met one before, and you are a woman and you walk alone, from Pamplona! He places his hand over his heart in wonder and we all burst out laughing.
My turn comes, I hand over my credencials; the old Franciscan friar sitting at the other end of the table smiles and blesses me in the name of St Francis while a woman writes my names and hands me my scroll. I try to tell the dear friar that it was because of St Francis when I was in Assisi that I walked the Camino in this, his 800th Anniversary Year. And I burst into tears. The Brazilian couple burst into tears. Everyone there gets teary! I go and sit on the front pew. The Brazilian couple join me, point out the amazing image of the triangle – the Holy Trinity – in the apex of the ceiling in which is an Eye, the Eye of God. I am amazed and amazement stops the teary moment just-like-that. The only other times I have seen this symbol is in Romania, in an Orthodox Church, and in Turkey, in an Islamic Mosque.
In the 1980’s on my Old Silk Road jaunt I had rescued a kitten in a wild little town named Sivas in the Kurdish region of Turkey and taken it into a café to give to the owner. He had a constant fount of hot milk for making salep (from orchid root) which seemed to me just what a kitten needed. The kindly man, who was a Kurd and proud of it, accepted his new charge happily. Muslims have a great affection for cats; Mohammed refused to disturb his favourite asleep on his robe, called for a knife when it was time for prayers, cut around the garment so as not to wake puss. Love the story. Back to my kitten and the Eye of God – the café owner said I had seen this hapless mite through the Eye of Allah, and pointed to the mosque, urging me to go and see for myself. It was a rare symbol to be in a mosque, and it would become the ubiquitous blue glass eye. My man also said he had nothing warm for the kitten to sleep on, tiles were cold, kitten was as too tiny to climb onto a chair, he wouldn’t be home until late, his home had no phone and he couldn’t call his wife to bring something warm. The kitten’s rescue began to assume the length of a shaggy dog story. Except that it was true. I watched the man’s gentleness as he held the tiny creature in the palm of his hand, placed it on the café counter to drink warm milk from a saucer. I scurried off to an antique carpet dealer, explained the plight. He produced the softest piece of antique kilim, looked at me quizzically for a moment, there had to be an exchange. I unfurled my hand in which was clutched what was left of my loose change, a pittance. He graciously accepted what I had, and told me I had seen the kitten’s need through the Eye of Allah. I was quite drawn by the Eye of Allah – and here it is above me.
I am quite silent. We three sit for a long time, listening to the sublime polyphonic music St Francis would have known. Now I feel something.
As an anti-dote to all this emotion I wander back along the street shops to look for earrings. Retail therapy will ground me, the purchase of earrings has a certain solemnity about it, must honour the epic pilgrimage. Scallop shells in lime green enamel and silver draw my attention, but not quite enough. Silver and black enamel make me pause, but not long enough.
I am drawn into a gay little trinket shop opposite the Seminary, playing zappy Galician folk songs and there! in the cabinet on the wall as I go in is ... a pair of poppy earrings! Poppy Peregrina! They are wondrous, wooden or something like that, painted red with the stamens needle-etched in black. They are so stunningly appropriate and so little price, I buy without a second’s delay, put them on at once. They look marvellous. Poppy Peregrina has been confirmed! I hurry back to my room, stow my San Francisco compostela safely with Santiago’s and realise I am just in time for the evening prayers in English over in the Cathedral.
Such earrings and I am complete, as it were, ready to bounce over to the Cathedral with a light heart, am only a minute late, squeeze past the squashed together chairs filled with pilgrims, find a seat at the front of the horseshoe layout, turn, sit down and hear a loud, Zoé! coming at me from two directions at once.
The meditative silence is shattered, thank heavens the prayers proper haven’t quite begun, and I see Ann on my left and Ela, her face alight with delight, calling, I’m so happy to see you! from the half-circle of chairs opposite me. I am thrilled too, we modify our excitement, prayers begin, we pray happily, listen to a few Camino chronicles and share a fitting silence together, united in our achievement.
Outside Ela hugs me hugely, tells me I am the one person she most wanted to meet again, she asked all along the Camino but no one could say where I was. You floated along, she said, to my astonishment. Floated! I puffed and wheezed and staggered and perfected the pilgrim’s lurch very early in the piece, no way could my perambulations be seen as floating!
She insisted it was how I looked. Ann had to leave, said we would meet tomorrow. Ela tells me Vanessa and John left for Finisterre yesterday and Christina should be back tomorrow. Ela was too tired to walk on, she took a day trip by bus to Finisterre and Muxia, recommended it for me. The other person she wanted to see again was Jüergen – but he’s here in Santiago I say. Alas I cannot say where, I do not know. We will pray for just another miracle. She walks over to the seminary with me, she is also staying there, and takes a wondrous photo of me with my poppy earrings, my red and white polka dot Alice band – which she hadn’t seen before, hoots of laughter at this – the ditto mnemonics on boots and backpack and stick ...
I am very very tired and very happy; it is the most perfect end to my first day in Santiago.