Arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

 It is with great satisfaction, considerable emotional upheaval, and deep gratitude that I have completed my Portugese  Camino.  


    

Last night, a period of lucid dreaming may have reflected movement along an inner path as well.  

    Two separate dream sequences occurred. The first took place at the Youngtown Inn, an actual place in the town I have lived in for the past 39 years. In dreamland, I was present at a service to commemorate the sudden death of a staff member from where I spent 25 years of my life (1977-2002) working at School Administrative District #5, or ” sad five”, as it was called. I was dressed as I am on this hike, wearing soiled, torn, ill fitting shorts, a worn blue shirt, and the boots. My friend for life, David H. was also there, sans beard, in a much more youthful form than the present. I only saw the back of his head. He was upset with my presentation, where the crowd was appropriately attired. I was also wearing ill-fitting knitted pink baby socks, which barely covered a couple of front toes. I was in a state of discomfort, shame really, about my lack of understanding of my ability to “fit in.” 


An additional dream had me walking on a green lawn in a small group through a village park in a much like my real life right here. I was not the main actor in the dream, but was one of a group following a man who was carrying some sort of mechanical device with short robotic arms. While he was holding it outstretched in front of him a gun appeared to morph from the end of one of the arms. At this point l became distressed that I would be complicit in an act of violence. Just at that moment a non participant entered the scene with one of those movie clipboards, and flipped the top and yelled “Cut” which conveyed to me that I was an actor in some sort in a movie. 

The rest of this most incredible day was just as ethereal and mythic. 


I was unaware that today, the festival of Saint John the Baptist was taking place. Unusual events occurred beginning at midnight last night. People in Galatia celebrate Saint John the Baptist Day by lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks. Some people dress as devils and carry pitchforks with fireworks attached to them. The costumed devils then set off the fireworks while dancing to drumbeats. We were unable to participate in last night’s activities because we were locked into the albergue at 10 PM. Several of us were interested in attending one of these ceremonies , which was held close to the albergue, but the manager would not bend the rules. We heard the explosions, which started exactly at midnight.  

Might there have been a connection between my dreaming and the activities honoring St. John the Baptist? 

     Earlier today, Our latest traveling companion, guide, and Spanish interpreter Maiike led us to a most unique little cafe adjacent to the cathedral.  


She made a phone call to the 76 year old proprietor, cook, and dishwasher in order to get us a little room for the night. Here is the view from our window.  


    Next, we attended the special pilgrim mass at noon. But before then, I decided to receive Confession as I wanted to be able to fully engage in the service and the sacrament of Communion. I am a lapsed Catholic who has not participated in church since my father, Chester Jamrog, died some twenty five years ago. I have my reasons for doing so, but that is another story.  
My decision to engage was influenced by some things the Irish Walking/ Talking Machine, David Rooney,  had shared with me. 


Confession in the Cathedral was facilitated by the fact that there were 6 confessionals manned by multilingual priests.


Each booth had a sign over it listing the languages that each priest was able to communicate in. There were two that could speak with me. I chose the younger, a decision influenced by Rooney’s advice.  
I was completely floored by my experience in that darkened booth. What was said to me by the young Spanish priest was far more than I expected. I was given absolution and then a penance that was nothing that I could have ever imagined. I was washed out, but at the same time felt uploaded.  

I went back to the room and picked up Marcia, who wanted to observe the Mass. When we got there at 11:45 AM there was no place left to sit and barely enough place to stand. The huge Cathedral was jammed, as there are approximately a thousand perigrinos a day who finish their Caminos during the summer. Normal tourists are there as well. There were a few rows of empty pews left in the very front of the church. 


 A group of perigrinos in identical police shirts  were filling them up. I asked a Cathedral security guard who understood English if there were any place left for Marcia and I. He walked up toward the altar, silently lifted a roped barricade, and pointed to two granite steps at the base of a massive column way up in the front that was as close to the altar as possible. We were stunned. 
      The service, including the mass, went on for an hour and a half, almost in Spanish. It was long but very special. Ten priests conducted the mass. I took Communion. And then at the end, we witnessed the ceremony of the ‘Botafumeiro’ the famous giant thurible.A ‘Botafumeiro’ has been used here since the Middle Ages, originally to clean the air when crowds of pilgrims having completed the Camino arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey and has been taking place at least since the 12th century. This particular Botafumeiro dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass, weighing 115 pounds when empty and up to 22 more when full of frankincense and glowing coals. 


Enter a crew of eight men, dressed in wine colored robes who were the professionals, one charged with lighting the botafumerio. The cathedral soon started to fill with the distinctive fragrance of frankincense.  According to Matthew’s Gospel in the Bible, the three Wise Men brought it as a gift to the infant Jesus. Gold: for a king. Frankincense: for God. Myrrh: to embalm Jesus’ body after death.

At the time, frankincense was a commodity that was worth its weight in gold.  Frankincense has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and for the first time is being taken seriously by medical science. 

The researchers were able to show what boswellic acids are responsible for the interference of the inflammation process. Frankincense is now identified as a one of a kind treatment for conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and atopic dermatitis. Studies also have also found anti-cancer properties along with the anti-inflammatory properties. It is now one of many natconsidered a treatment for could be reborn as a treatment for cancer

Researchers have validated that  boswellic acids in rank incense are responsible for the interference of the inflammation process. Frankincense is now identified as a one of a kind treatment for conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and atopic dermatitis. Studies also have also found anti-cancer properties along with the anti-inflammatory properties. The tree resin could also be reborn as an effective medical agent used to cure cancer.


Then one of the men initiated the swing as the rest got into position. Then they pulled downward with mega force on the two inch thick rope to create the soaring pendulum effect. The mass of glowing, billowing incense then travels at an astonishing speed on a double arc that results in the botafumerio almost reaching the ceilings some seventy feet high. 

Here is a YouTube video of the actual ceremony. 

 All this time an huge pipe organ is belting out towering expansive tones that are punctuated by the masterful Latin hymns sung at top volume by a very talented nun supported by a superb sound system. 

      Understand that Marcia and I are seated as close as the public is possible to the center of this action with the power emitted by this icon of immolation flying back and forth with astonishing speed. Many of the folks near us were as overwhelmed as I was to witness this very, very old ritual. 
Lest you think that life is 100 percent spiritual 24/7 around the cathedral here in Santiago, there is plenty of shifty work being done in the many alleys and doorways that surround the Church of God.  

In the morning , cleanup crews shovel down the roads before the street washing trucks wash the phlegm, cigarette butts and late night vomit and worse down the city’s aged sewer system. 
For example, they have the usual painted aluminum human beings that act like statues right outside the cathedral. There are plenty of beggars both sincere and fake plying their trade from their established slots .

Over the last couple of days that we were in Santiago we became familiar with some of these characters. I saw on of them come into the small café/bar just just below our room on a regular schedule to get himself a dram of the blasto. 

Our 76 year proprietress was busy cooking us up a mess of octopus, pork, bean salad, and roasted Padron peppers at around 9 pm. 


When she observed this same ne’er-do-well talking her very reserved adult son, who was tending bar, into shoveling out some cured olives on a plate she went through the freakin’ roof.  

She threw her spoon down and ran over there, screaming at the guy in Spanish, who immediately started high tailing it, but not before she gave the con man a swift and forceful boot in the ass out the door.  

Today truly was a day that could have come out of the pages of Chaucer; full of ritual, symbol, purpose, and real life, the ass kicking and all. 
 

About Tom Jamrog

I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, the Continental Divide Trail in 2013, the Camino Portugese (2016), and Newfoundland's East Coast Trail (2017) . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
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