Monday, May 13, 2013

To the end of the Earth and back

Back before Christopher Columbus set sail for the new world and proved that world was in fact round, people thought that the world was flat. They made pilgrimages out to the end of the earth, and when they arrived, they would burn all of their clothes to signify a new beginning. To this day pilgrims still struggle out to this spot to gaze over the sea in the same place where hundreds of pilgrims have stood for hundreds of years.

Last weekend, I went to the End of the Earth, or in Gallego, Fisterre, or in Spanish, Finisterre. (It comes from Latin: Finis-terrae) It's the westernmost cape in Galicia that was thought for hundreds of years to be the end of the Earth. (Galicia an autonomous community in Spain that is right above Portugal.)

For some pilgrims, el camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, ends here. It is a religious pilgrimage that leads to Santiago de Compostela, but many pilgrims go beyond the city all the way to Finisterre. Last year living in LogroƱo I was really excited that it was a big stop on "el camino". Not that it isn't an important stop, but almost everywhere you visit in Europe has gold shells pointing the way.  My biggest surprise was when I saw them in Belgium! My friend's boyfriend did el camino last year, on a bike, from Antwerp to Santiago. But that's the spirit of the pilgrimage, walking from your front door all the way to the site.

Cape Finisterre (Cabo Fisterra) is just one of hundreds of little fingers of land that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean along the western coast of Galicia. There have been so many shipwrecks along this stretch of coast that it's called La Costa da Morte, or the "Coast of Death"

For most pilgrims, el camino ends in Santiago de Compostela, and this city is the reason it's called "the Way of St. James". According to tradition, the cathedral in Santiago houses the remains of the apostle St. James which were returned to Spain by boat after his beheading in Jerusalem . 

A cute little old man helped me discover this photo...showing me exactly where to stand. He told me he saw a photographer do it once! Since the discovery of St. James' body in the 8th century, pilgrims have been making their way across Europe either in a trickle, or in floods, to pay homage. We arrived just as the pilgrims' mass was ending at the cathedral. 

Seeing the inside of the cathedral now, it's hard to imagine hundreds of pilgrims using it as a campsite at the end of their journeys. Or maybe not so much of a campsite as an all out free-for-all including knife fights and orgies. The rope hanging down in the middle is used to hang the huge botafumeiro, or  the famous censer (the metal container used to burn incense) which is swung back and forth in front of the altar. Botafumeiro is a Galician word that means to expel smoke. Imagine the smell of the church in the middle ages with all of those pilgrims squished inside after months of journeying and sweating. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the botafumeiro but I've heard it's spectacular. 

The outside of the cathedral is breathtaking. Since it rains more often than not in Galicia (and the entire north of Spain) the intricate carvings on the cathedral are covered in moss and plants. We were *lucky* enough to visit while it was raining on and off. So we saw the city how it's "supposed" to be seen without getting soaked! 

This is a plaza that is right outside of the church. You can see the pilgrims gathered around after successfully completing their journey on el camino! 

More of the cathedral. It goes on for days! 

Our last view of the cathedral before heading out. We stopped by a tourist center to ask what cool little fishing or coastal villages were nearby. She told us that she only did tourism info inside of the city and that we should go look at the cathedral from this scenic point in the park. Maybe next time I go to Santiago it will be at the end of my own camino!


  1. This area of spain looks even dryer than Colorado, what is the elevation?

    1. The elevation is between 100 and 200 m above sea level. Also this autonomos community gets almost twice the amount of rain than the rest of Spain. :) We were very lucky to catch a day when it wasn't raining!

    2. For some reason I like the picture of the street with the woman in her yellow jacket? It's just such a contrast. The cathedral shot where the little old man told you to stand was cool too. Mom

  2. Cute hat. I like the rock tunnel. Mom