The Canadians had the inside track; Danny and his two sons knew with certainty that the Botafumerio would be swung, was always swung, at the pilgrim Mass on Sunday. Now I cannot vouch for whether or not it is swung every Sunday but I certainly wasnt going to miss out on the opportunity on my plate to see the famous thurbile, to inhale the fragrant richness of the incense and finally to be fumigated.
It had been a long night of pilgrim stories from hostelry to hostelry on Rua Franco that culminated in an evangelic pitch to a couple of English guys who were drawn to our raucous little knot of celebrating pilgrims. Curious to know about the pilgrimmage, the best way to do it, the logistics of it, what to be careful of and how to plan for all eventualities. Thirsty for spiritual adventure by way of the known, they had travelled to Santiago to do a reccie but were likely going to leave more perplexed not less. They had all the hallmarks of comfortable living and safe jobs; shiny watches, pristine outdoor gear. They stood out like sore thumbs in this town; neither weather washed pilgrim or native Galician. They didnt really want to be weekend tourists but neither were they ready to put on their packs and walk beyond the city walls. Our answers were at best illusive; everyone has to do the pilgrimmage their own way, the only way to do is to do it, no amount of talking is going to make it easier. It is a choice, a decision. We did our best to encourage James and James – or was it Matt and Matt? Who knows they may be out there now but that weekend they had already decided to refuse the call by way of a flight back to Blighty.
And then it was Sunday. A long night of elation was rendered a morning of bleary sloth. On a walking day I would have had 12km or more under my belt by noon but this morning I was lucky to be showered and to have brushed my furry mouth. So to the Cathedral and Mass for the second day running. Saturday’s pilgrimmage Mass had been relaxed, easy, communal. Today was taut, busy and crowded; more like sardines in a can. The Botafumerio was definitely ready for action. I skulked around the crowds to find a viewing spot. I should have been earlier but nonetheless I managed to catch some shots and video of this solid manifestation of magic. Made of an alloy of brass and bronze, plated in silver the thurbile stands at 1.6 meters and weighs in at around 80 kg. It swings to a height of 21 meters in an arch of 65 meters it takes 8 red robed tiraboleiros to master the flight of holy missile designed to scatter gun magic dust to transform the inkiness of sin, sickness and dirt into the shiny purified souls. Twas a grand show of pomp and circumstance rounded off with more socialising with the latest tranche of pilgrims to arrive in town before retiring to a civilised lunch of dainty portions at Cervantes Vinoteca before wandering the streets in the quiet of holy rest, admiring classic cars and naughty graffiti.
The afternoon was time for contemplation. Although Santiago is a place where people land and ground themselves solidly very quickly they move on; it is not a place for hanging around. Many of Friday and Saturday’s pilgrims had already left heading back home or on to Fisterra. I was beginning to feel the Monday morning pull of my rucksack and the call to the sea. I reluctantly checked out of the comforting arms of Hostel Campanas de San Juan and signed into Mundoalbergue. I could have been lured into staying just a little bit longer by the expanse of the double bunk I was allocated but not by the squeaky gloss of the waterproof mattress protector. That and the 10am curfew had me primed to leave Santiago behind me and walk the Camino Fisterra to the end of the known world.