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Spanish Secrets: A Theatre Of Life

“Young men and women enter the square having spent weeks retracing ancient footpaths. All are weighed down with huge rucksacks containing life’s necessities for their temporary nomadic existence. Some are barely able to walk from self- inflicted injuries to tender feet…’’ Craig Briggs visits Santiago de Compostela, a place of pilgrimage.

There are certain activities in life that sometimes require the catalytic intervention of others to initiate one’s participation. This was undeniably true of our recent visit to the historic pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela.

Melanie and I have intended to go there since moving to this part of Spain over three and a half years ago. Until last week it was just one of many destinations we hadn’t got round to visiting.

The catalyst in this instance was my sister, Julie. She’d arrived from England last Thursday for a four-day break.

“If it’s not too much trouble, can we visit the cathedral in Santiago during my stay?’’ she’d asked.

We thought it would be no trouble at all.

Having met her at Santiago airport, we drove the 12 kilometres or so into the old historic part of the city. With the prime holiday season now behind us, we easily found car parking within comfortable walking distance of the famous cathedral.

The street leading to the cathedral was a wide paved causeway, fronted on one side by a grand palatial building and on the other by small shops. There were the usual tacky souvenir shops, commonly associated with such places of interest, but these were significantly low-key. I considered that having received visitors for close on 1,000 years, the city had accrued sufficient experience in such matters as tourism to strike the perfect balance.

The grandeur of the architecture on our approach did nothing to prepare us for the opulent splendour of the cathedral’s facade.

Twin bell towers topped with a crucifix dominated the skyline, both of which reached towards the heavens. A central shorter tower featuring numerous arched windows is cluttered with ornate sculptures.

It’s impossible to comprehend what 12th and 13th century pilgrims must have thought on seeing such a magnificent edifice. The clergy responsible for administering the faith and maintaining this surreal temple must have appeared like gods to their peasant pilgrims.

The cathedral is situated on one side of an enclosed cobbled square, Plaza del Obradoi (Work of Gold), and surrounded on all sides with historic buildings.
Opposite the cathedral is the Rajoy Palace, a huge and elegant neoclassical 18th century building. To one side are the colleges of Fonseca and San Jeronimo, both 15th century monasteries.

On the other side of the square was our immediate destination, Hospital Real. It was built in 1492 to house pilgrims. Having been beautifully renovated earlier this century, it now fulfils a similar role as the city’s Parador, albeit for more affluent pilgrims.

An outside terrace within the grounds of the Parador, has been decked with timber. Erected upon this is an open-fronted observation room. Built entirely of glass it accommodates elegant wrought iron tables and chairs. Roman blinds, billowing like the sails of an EastIndia Company tea clipper, run along the glass ceiling, shielding its transient audience from the burning sun.

Unbeknown to many, not only guests lodging at the Parador, but members of the general public can rest, enjoy a glass of cool wine or other beverage, nibble a delicious snack, and watch the unremitting performance of awestruck pilgrims.

To the distant echoes of a sole piper the theatre unfolds.

Young men and women enter the square having spent weeks retracing ancient footpaths. All are weighed down with huge rucksacks containing life’s necessities for their temporary nomadic existence. Some are barely able to walk from self- inflicted injuries to tender feet, sustained on their arduous quest.

In absolute contrast a luxury coach floats smoothly to a halt at the entrance to the Parador. A party of stereotypical Japanese tourists alight. In turn each departing passenger bows their head to the coach driver, standing to attention at the foot of the stairwell. Without so much as a glance at their monumental surroundings, they swiftly scuttle into the sanctuary of the Parador.

After two hours we continue on our tour, having witnessed a microcosm of humankind unfold before our very eyes in this theatre of life.

email address
craigandmel@msn.com


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