November 4, 2015
Post-Camino Day 1
Final Camino odds ‘n ends
Today we wrapped up the business of completing the Camino.
First, we got our Compostelas from the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, which is run by the Catedral de Santiago and is the only organization that can issue Compostelas. The Compostela is a certificate that peregrinos receive for completing the Camino, and in order to get the Compostela, you have to walk the last 100 km (60 miles) without interruption. If you’ve watched the movie The Way, you would have seen the moment that Martin Sheen and the other characters receive their Compostelas. Our experience was similar. We approached a counter where multiple officials were welcoming peregrinos, and we gave our credentials to a very nice gentleman who filled out a certificate with our names and the date that we completed the Camino. He even wrote Dale’s given name, Larry, in Latin and apologized for the fact that there was no Latin translation for Cheri!
One aspect of the experience was a bit different. We had heard from other peregrinos that the officials would ask us to state our reason for completing the Camino. One’s motivation might be for religious, spiritual, cultural, or health purposes. The only peregrinos who receive the “official” Compostela, versus a certificate of completion, are the ones who state they walked the Camino for religious purposes (especially to visit the tomb of St. James). The official Compostela includes an image of St. James and is supposedly more decorative. Strangely enough, the gentleman who issued us the Compostela didn’t asked us any questions; he just issued us a document, written in Latin, so we don’t know what it says or whether it’s a true Compostela or a certificate of completion, but honestly I don’t care. The certificates we received are quite pretty, and the act of obtaining them brought closure to a very special experience. I started to cry after he congratulated us and handed us our certificates. It was just such a lovely moment.
We then explored Old Town, which is Santiago’s beautifully preserved medieval city center, and at noon we went to the Pilgrims’ Mass, held every day to honor the peregrinos arriving in Santiago. The service was in Spanish, and since we’re not Catholic we were pretty lost. It wasn’t particularly meaningful to us, so I’ll admit that we left about halfway through.
The cathedral is impressive:
James the Apostle, Patron Saint of Spain, introduced Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula, but upon his return to Jerusalem in 44 AD he was beheaded by King Herod. Legend holds that his remains were returned to Galicia and buried there, but as Roman persecution of Christians intensified, his followers had to flee and the location of his tomb was lost.
A hermit named Pelagius rediscovered the tomb in 814 AD after seeing mysterious lights in the night sky that led him to its location. King Alfonso II of Asturias, believing this to be a miracle, ordered that a chapel be built on this site, and the Camino was born. The first church was built in the ninth century with a larger one soon to follow. The church was destroyed by Muslim invaders, but St. James’ remains were left undisturbed. After Christianity was restored to Galicia, construction of the present church began (in 1075). Throughout the centuries, it has been expanded upon to become the marvel that it is today.
The cathedral is situated in Old Town, the entire area of which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Aftermath of the Camino
Today we’ve had mixed feelings about the end of the Camino: we’re both happy to stop walking but sad that it’s over. We hiked for 5 weeks, through four beautiful regions of northern Spain. The trail took us along breathtaking Atlantic coastline as well as through forests, mountains, rural villages, and lush farms with no shortage of animals (ponies!). In total we walked 428 miles (685 kilometers) of Camino del Norte. Life revolved around the routines of the trail: (trying to) get up early, wrapping our belongings in plastic bags in case it rained, packing our backpacks, finding a cafe and having breakfast and cafe con leche, and then walking for many hours until we reached the place where we would sleep for the night. With the exception of two rest days, this was our life. It was so simple and yet sometimes so hard as well.
We’ve both had some significant personal revelations during the hike. I’ve shared a few of those already, and I plan to share more in in the future, once we’ve had time to process everything. But the lessons are coming in handy already, especially as we deal with the changes that lay ahead, including saying goodbye to our dear friend, Detlef, with whom we hiked for over a week.
This morning Detlef caught a bus to Porto, Portugal, where he’ll start the Portuguese Camino (he’s addicted). As we’ve seen multiple times on the walk, it’s amazing how quickly you can become attached to someone, and spending a week on the Camino with a person is the equivalent of spending months with them in “real” life. We were dreading the goodbye, and this, on top of the strangeness of suddenly being done with the routines of the trail, was almost too much. I felt very sad all morning.
But then I was reminded of a lesson that has come up over and over again over the past few weeks—just let go.
I was holding on too tightly to the Camino experience, afraid that if I let go and let it end, it would somehow be lost to me. It might be as if it never existed. But by letting go, I can appreciate how special the Camino was while also accepting that everything changes, moments are constantly passing, events are continuously beginning and ending, and if you try to hold onto them, the squeezing and grasping will only cause you pain. The trick is to feel only gratitude for the experiences we’ve had while also letting them float into the past. And if we let it, the Camino will always continue, just in different ways. It sounds cliched, but it’s oh-so-true.
Now Dale and I start a new Camino. Soon we’ll be back in the United States, and we’ll be examining what we want to do next. We still don’t know for sure, but we’re going to do our best to apply the lessons we’ve learned on the Camino while sorting everything out. I’ll keep you posted!