The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela housing the tomb of St James had been on my bucket list of places to visit for a long time. Ideally I’d like to walk there along the Way of St James, a pilgrim trail, that I’ve learnt has multiple routes across Europe. Back in 2019 when we travelled through Galicia we stopped in the city and trudged up a big hill to the cathedral. But alas it was undergoing a major renovation. A darkened interior was shrouded in plastic. The peace was disturbed by men drilling and hammering. The mighty monument wasn’t at its best. Never mind though, the town is a beautiful place for wandering… and eating! It’s a place that deserves repeated visits.
So this year we returned to Santiago de Compostela. We needed some clean bedding so stayed at a paid aire with a launderette on the outskirts of the city. The lovely owner gave us a map was very keen to show us where we needed to catch a bus. It only cost a Euro each way. ‘Has the cathedral been done up now?’ I asked Ton. His eyes lit up and he did that thing where he moved his fingers to his mouth and made a kissing gesture. ‘It is beautiful. As a child I used to visit and the stone was dark because of the charcoal that they burn. Now it has all been cleaned even on the outside of the building.’
Wow! What a building and such an incredible atmosphere. We visited on the St John’s Day, a public holiday in Galicia. It was very much a working church. When we arrived hundreds of pilgrims and worshippers were waiting for mass to start. Others cued outside several of the chapels waiting for their confessions to be heard. I suggested that Hot Stuff might join them as he probably had bad stuff to get off his chest but he declined my kind offer. When the service started us tourists were oiked out so to preserve the cathedral as a place of worship. Fair dues. Luckily we’d had time for a good wander around by then.
And of course, now the cathedral has been restored, it didn’t disappoint in terms of the massive amounts of bling Those important Roman Catholic edifices are rarely understated. I loved the gilded organ adorned with pink angels. And the massive incense burner that I’ve since learned is the biggest in the world. My favourite place was el Capilla del Pilar, a dark and brooding chapel that seemed full of mystery. It had an inlaid stone floor and unrestored trompe-d’oeils painted on the wall. It had the air of a place that Dan Brown would be very interested in!