Imagine a cathedral full of people, pilgrims, from all over the world that have spent weeks or months walking. And back in the day, with limited to no access to water for washing up…
To clean the air when these crowds of pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey, the Cathedral used a giant censer or thurible, the ‘Botafumeiro’. The 62kg censer swings through the air dispensing clouds of incense. The ‘Botafumeiro’ forms an impressive 65-metre long arched trajectory along the cathedral for around minute and a half, sometimes reaching 68km per hour and suspended at 20 meters above the ground; it is pulled by 8 men (‘tiraboleiros’) using a complex mechanism of ropes and pulleys.
This censer dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass. It is not swung during every mass but rather on Sunday 12:30pm mass, special occasions or if someone pays the 400€ donation.
An enormous swinging lump of silver is not without its disasters. It is said that the first one was when Princess Catherine of Aragon visited in 1499. Whilst being swung, the rope that held the Botafumeiro snapped and the giant piece of metal flew out of the cathedral through a window. Supposedly, no one was injured by the censer.
The second incident is said to have been in July 1937 when the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed and hot coals toppled onto the floor.
The current operation of the ‘Botafumeiro’ is to attach its ropes with sturdy sailor’s knots which means that pilgrims, tourists and church goers can be at ease when watching this amazing spectacle.
The river in Lavacolla is the last one before Santiago de Compostela, only 10.3 kilometers away. There are many theories in relation to the origin of this place. One of the stories states that the name Lavacolla comes from the fact that pilgrims in the Middle Ages used this river to wash up and thus arrive clean in Santiago.
Walking Galicia through the Camino de Santiago gives the opportunity to see endemic vegetation and trees like chestnut and oaks trees. They contrast with the introduced Australian species of the eucaliptus. Much like the heated debate that has been foregoing for years in the Spanish country. Eucaliptus was introduced on the XIX century and since then it has adapted and spread to the Galician soil. The controversy is between the paper industry and the ecologists fighting for better forestal planning as this foreign species threatens to kill this beauty.
The most famous of the trails to Santiago de Compostela is the French way which starts in St. Jean de Pied du Port and expands 800kms.
The French way comes in to Melide through the village of Santa María do Leboreiro. In the Calixtinus Code of the XII century, it appears as Campus Leporarius, which means “field of hares”.
Along the way, yellow arrows and scallop shells mark the turns, paths and direction of the Camino. The signs can be seen everywhere: on sidewalks, walls, trees, rocks and tile dotted throughout the routes.
It has been more than a thousand years, that pilgrims have walked the many kilometers and many ways that lead to Santiago de Compostela, seeking penance, forgiveness, solitude, enlightenment, and some, adventure.
The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way). This shell is commonly found in the shores of Galicia and often pilgrims wear or attach them to backpacks to show that they are walkers on the trail. The origins of this tradition is uncertain. Some say it was given to the early pilgrims to prove they had reached Santiago de Compostela. Others say that additionally it was given to pilgrims for their walk back home to be used as a drinking device in lakes, rivers, waterfalls.
Whatever its beginings, all pilgrims use it nowadays and are easily identifiable than the hundreds of tourists in this area of the world.