It is said that in the year 1214, St. Francis of Assisi made a pilgrimage from Italy to Santiago de Compostela to visit the grave and Church of St. James (Santiago), known as “the one whom Jesus loved.” It had already been a Catholic pilgrimage route for 400 years, so St. Francis was just following along in so many other footsteps. This city is one of the world’s top five pilgrimage sites. People walk the “Camino de Santiago” for many miles, and celebrate when they arrive – most restaurants serve a Pilgrim’s Meal, simple but hearty meals made from ancient recipes. Many people have t-shirts outlining the route they took to walk here, and most of them have walking sticks in hand as they approach the cathedral. A friend of ours hiked 100 miles several years ago on the Camino.
In the beginning of the 9th century, a hermit found a grave that was later proclaimed to be that of St. James, and pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit and honor the tomb. The site also became a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam invaders, who destroyed the city at the end of the 10th century, only to have the Spaniards rebuilt it in the following century. Thus, it is not only an important religious site, but an important historical site as well.
So…today, Monday, October 7. The streets, plazas, churches, cafes, restaurants, and shops were just jammed with tourists! It was surprising to us to see so many visitors on a Monday in October. There were lots of tour groups, as well. Our first two photos had to be the Cathedral, which dominates its plaza, but the plaza has other huge, impressive, old structures, as well. In fact, the entire Casco Historico (historic Old Town) has so many churches, towers, spires, bells, monasteries, convents, and decorative buildings that our eyes were spinning! It is one of the most amazing cities we have seen…and is NOT a world capital, just a city in northwest Spain. It is magnificent. You might wonder why the second photo looks so…incomplete. We were disappointed that the entire inside of the cathedral is under reconstruction. It was all scaffolding and paint and cleaning. So we are only sharing one photo of one area in the church that could be seen.
Photos 3-10 are from the Monastery of St. Martin Pinario, which is just behind the cathedral. Pretty magnificent, huh? This current building dates to the 1500s, and after the exterior, you can see the ornate, gold main altar followed by one of the colorful doors, then one of several side altars, original choir stalls from the cathedral, and one of the many domes we photographed today. There is a museum inside the building, but not very much commentary. The strange man and the two dressed nuns were on display. Oddly enough, there was also an extensive collection of taxidermy animals from around the world. They were creepy, and we simply don’t know why they were in a museum in a monastery with a magnificent church!
After that are three photos of pretty Alameda Park, at the end of the Old Town. Then, from the winding, narrow cobblestone streets are a few photos, including a machine dressed as a pilgrim holding a staff that imprints a medallion for 3 euros, followed by a shop window filled with (small, wooden) pilgrims for sale! Then there is a small courtyard where we took a break, and we commented on how, just sitting there, we could see church towers along with a fountain, flowers, and a cafe. Across the street was the elaborate arched facade in the next photo, followed by what the charming courtyard housed.
The Silver Woman had been standing on a pedestal, waiting for photos and donations, but she came to sit down and take a smoking break. There are still many more people smoking around the world than in the US, but we have found fewer Europeans smoking than on our previous trips. The man costumed as a pilgrim has next to him the famous Santiago Botafumeiro, a replica of the cathedral’s incense burner that takes eight people to carry when it is used for Mass! After him is the beautiful stained glass hanging from a small bakery that says, “Bread is the Staff of Life.” Then there are various buildings and closeups of architectural details, along with a composite of domes that we saw today that Mike put together.
Following the four domes are three photos of the Church of St. Francis, San Francisco. The first of the three is the old Benedictine “refectory” (dining hall) adjoining the church. It is now a great restaurant (and boutique hotel), BUT the restaurant serves pilgrim meals and traditional meals from the days of its occupancy by monks. Each meal, the menu notes, is “served with bread and water.” They weren’t kidding….a bottle of premium water and luscious bread. The 3-course lunch menu was a true bargain, 21 euros for a starter, main dish, and dessert trio, each a generous portion and just delicious. The menu follows the photo of the restaurant. We tried white asparagus (a regional delicacy), sautéed vegetables, Benedictine cod, stewed veal jaws, and all three desserts came as tasters on a single plate.
On to the modern! The last seven photos are from the City of Culture. The city has built a complex at the edge of town with rolling, undulating buildings on rolling, undulating hills that include a museum, music hall, library, literary walk, canteen, a forest, a lake, and a very modern playground. There are great lawns to walk on and beautiful sights from the top of the mountain. The project has run into some funding problems, but it was fun to walk and discover and try to figure it all out. We even partially walked up the sloping wall of the first building…as everyone did! We thought the object in the last photo was just a fun sculpture until we drew closer and discovered that it had both form and function. It is a children’s tube slide! Very imaginative and creative, a good example of what architects can do when allowed to dream.