Thursday, 28 October 2010

Santiago de Compostela (or "hug an apostle")

The little gap in blogging occurred because Zero and I were away for a little holiday. Our choice of Santiago de Compostela had, at the time we were booking flights, as much to do with the fact that the cost of the flight to Santiago was turning out rather lower than that to our other possible destinations. Subsequently, we realised that it is a Holy Year in Santiago (we have 14 days left to get to confession for that plenary indulgence) and that Pope Benedict will be visiting the city ten days after us (he chose to follow us when we went to Assissi two years ago, too).

The poster above was displayed at the entrance to the Holy Door of the Cathedral, through which one enters as part of the celebration of the Holy Year. It gives access to the steps behind the statue of St James over the high altar of the Cathedral, and to the tomb of the apostle in the crypt below the high altar. The pilgrimage custom is to embrace the statue of the apostle and then visit the crypt to pray at the tomb.

This clip at Romereports, about Pope Benedict's forthcoming visit, gives some idea of what is involved in the pilgrimage to the Cathedral and gives a brief glimpse of "hugging the apostle".

It was quite impressive to see how seriously the Holy Year and the pilgrimage are being taken in Santiago. So far as we could tell, there was a continuous stream of pilgrims making their way to "hug the apostle and visit the tomb" all day long. At peak times, the queue extended round two sides of the square outside the Holy Door, but at other times it extended only within the door itself. Whilst there was clearly an element of tourism among those making their visit, the atmosphere was nevertheless very reverent and prayerful.

The Cathedral hosts four pilgrimage Masses each day, two in the morning and two in the evening. The impression we gained is that these Masses attract a full congregation each time, with a special pilgrimage group offering a testimony of faith before the homily at the principle morning and evening Mass. The Cathedral manages them very well, to maintain an environment of silence and prayerfulness despite the nature of the Cathedral as in part being a tourist attraction. There is also daily Eucharistic Adoration in one of the side chapels. For the prayerful visitor this is something that, perhaps without explicitly intending that it should be so, is very welcoming and of which we availed ourselves on two occasions.

[During our visit, a lot of restoration work was taking place in the Cathedral, with some parts inaccessible or partly hidden by scaffolding.This meant that not all the displayed information about where things were turned out to be quite accurate.]

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