>Leaving the Sabastianos to their gilded lives, we set off to Santiago De Compostela – by train. There’s one RENFE service a day and it takes 12 hours. I devoured two books, listened to most of my ipod and had four different passengers sat next to me, only one of whom was sick all over themself. We passed through a landscape that went from lush, to parched – ooh look, an Osborne Bull – and eventually to green hills and swooping gorges spanned by elegant road bridges. Galicia.
In Santiago we hooked up with with Mrs TIW and our Spanish chum G who had both just completed a portion of the Camino Di Santiago – the pilgrimage sometimes described as the Catholic Hajj. Santiago’s glory is the Cathedral Of St James – which, basking in the golden light of that evening resembled nothing less than Angkor Wat
Over the next couple of days I attended the Camino mass twice, a moving experience even for a heathen like me. The Camino reaches its peak in summer, and the cathedral was crammed with pilgrims, many with muddy shoes, still wearing rucksacks and often in tears. The scallop shell – symbol of St James – was everywhere, hanging from walking sticks and bags and hats. Some of the people here had trekked or cycled from as far away as Sweden. One lad we met had taken three months to trudge from Southern Germany, eating nothing but boiled potatoes. The emotion in the air was almost tangible, particularly when the priests read out the towns that the walkers had started from.
The climax – if that’s the word – of the ceremony is the swinging of the Botafumeiro, the cathderal’s gigantic incese burner, the largest of its type in Europe. It takes eight red-robed men pulling on ropes to move it on its 70 metre arc, dangling from a surprisingly frail-looking pulley system. It swishes above the congregation with such force that it almost – but not quite – touches the nave ceilings either side of the Shrine Of St James, filling the entire cathedral with holy smoke. Our spud-eating Bavarian claimed that the original purpose of this was to mask the smell of the pilgrims in the days before showers and deodorant. Not surprisingly, accidents have happened – most notably when Catherine Of Aragon stopped off in Santiago on the way to marrying our own Henry VIII. On that occasion the rope failed and the burner flew out of a high window.