Jen’s Fitness Forum
We arrived at Santiago de Compostela on Saturday morning accompanied by a French couple we’d been walking with for several days. It was incredible how rapidly the four of us turned into great friends, and I felt happy to be sharing such a special moment with them.
As we entered the city, grey storm clouds opened to reveal patches of bright blue sky. The situation and intensified color from the natural lighting made me imagine that we were part of a story. Each step felt important, and I held in my heart all pilgrims past and future.
We reserved the last two double rooms in a 300- year-old family-ran pension that’d been handed down for three generations. It was in the heart of the old city and we could see the cathedral from our balcony window. The church bell struck eleven. We left our things and headed to the cathedral for pilgrim’s Mass.
Hundreds of people crowded the magnificent church. Service would begin in forty minutes and the pews were already filling up. The atmosphere was almost concert-like, but through flashing cameras and souvenirs I felt the vibration. With my eyes closed I reflected on the past thirty-three days. We had made it. After traveling with our homes on our backs for over 500 miles we were at our destination, that at times seemed like it’d never arrive, and at others, like it’d come too soon.
Mass began at noon sharp. Priests and bishops from different parts of the world led the service, and at the end a group of Spanish monks swung the thurible (an impressively large metal vessel suspended from chains that is filled with incense). The spectacular experience filled me with emotion that touched the deepest part of my soul.
After Mass, one of the priests announced that a vigil exclusively for pilgrims would be held that night. We spent the day walking around Compostela, bumping into many friends we’d made during our long journey. They were the same people, yet their smiles were broader, their loads seemed lighter, and they all had a certain sparkle of deeper understanding in their eyes. They had changed, grown, and liberated themselves of something that’d been weighing on them.
We arrived early for the vigil. Evening Mass was still in session, so we decided to visit Saint James’ remains under the altar. The four of us tiptoed down a short, narrow staircase. The tight space, which was packed with tourists earlier in the day, was now vacant. We formed a semicircle around the tomb and listened to the priest lead communion above us. When it came time to offer a sign of peace, I said a special prayer for our loved ones.
We exited the tomb as the service ended and made our way to an intimate group of pilgrims that had gathered. The evening crowd cleared, and the priest guided us through the impressive, candlelit structure explaining historical details with a clarity and emotion that allowed me to visualize the events as if they were happening in front of me. At the end of the vigil we congregated on the altar to reflect and pray as a group. It was an extraordinary moment in my life. I was in exactly the right place at the right time, and all at once, the lessons of the Way flooded my being. I felt peace, balance and understanding.