Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Way of Sant Jordi

The spires of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela rose heavenwards in glory of God, propelled toward the stars by the devotion of the tens of thousands who walk hundreds of kilometres across Europe to pay their respects to Spain's patron saint, Santiago (Saint James). It was here that his remains were supposedly discovered by a shepherd in the ninth century and it was here that the armies of the Reconquista rallied under his banner to take Spain back from the Moors.

I walked toward the entrance, as if hypnotised. I had no thought in my head, save that of entering the church. And no devotee has ever had such reverence in his heart as I did  the moment I saw the pews inside. At last I could shrug my luggage off and sit down awhile.

I had about half a day for the city: I was to take the early-morning bus out from Fisterra, catch the night train to Madrid and then change for Barcelona. I was to leave my luggage at the lockers in the station and spend the day walking around the town. As Fate planned things, though (what with trouble waking up early and stuff), I ended up taking the afternoon bus out of Fisterra. Which, on the whole, turned out to be a good thing because I would soon find out that the train station at Santiago de Compostela does not, in fact, have lockers for keeping luggage.

On paper, I had just a backpack and a laptop bag. The trouble was, I'd packed too many clothes, and the backpack weighed a ton. Plus the laptop bag contained, apart from the laptop, about 6 books and plenty of odds and ends that wouldn't fit my backpack. (What was I thinking? In my one month there, I read all of three pages from the 6 books combined.) So, with no other option in sight (actually, I did have one other option, which was to sit in the railway station and read the books for the next 5 hours or so), I decided to walk to the cathedral. It was 2 kilometres away and you will have no trouble believing, I'm sure, that no pilgrim who'd walked 2000 kilometres suffered as much as I did. I could've taken the taxi, but it seemed sacrilegious to visit such a famous city and not walk even a little of it. On the whole, I now wish a little sacrilege had been involved.

And that is how, for the first time in more than a decade, I found myself sitting quietly inside a church with no inclination to be anywhere else. I did this "sitting quietly with no inclination to be anywhere else" business for more than half an hour. A new record. Perhaps this was all in God's Plan.

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