Friday, October 2, 2009 - Porto to Santiago de Compostela

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October 4th 2009
Published: October 4th 2009
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A relatively easy travel day, but long on interest.

We drove almost straight up the coast from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. We had been advised by our friends Alan and Sue to visit Holy Bom Jesus near Braga in Portugal. We could not remember what was there, so we e-mailed them and Alan (typically) told us of the opportunity for a meal on top of a small mountain reached by a cablecar, and Sue told us of pilgrims going up on their knees. It was too early to eat, and we weren't going anywhere on our knees, so we bypassed it. By lunchtime, we were in Cambados, a lovely and picturesque seaside town in the Galicia region of Spain. Our drive took us through rolling hills with various types of forestation, and the usual vineyards and olive trees, although much less of the latter than previously seen.

Cambados was a somewhat unexpected meal treat. Chuck and Lucie had seen it in an On the Road segment with Mario Batagli, Gwyneth Paltrow, and others. After looking around the town a little bit, we went to Casa Pinto for lunch. It is nothing special to see, just a small restaurant with about 8 tables, covered with paper tablecloths. The menu was all in Spanish/Galician, but we were kindly provided with a small piece of paper given the equivalents in several languages. There was no discussion of manner of preparation for any of the possibilities. They were simply listed - cockles, octopus, razor clams, longostinos, etc. (I can't begin to tell you the Spanish/Galician names). We started with a plate of longostinos (like small lobsters without significant claws), then cockles (small clams), octopus, and finally razor clams. All were simply steamed or cooked in broth, served without any accompaniments. All were simply delicious. Accompanied by a bottle of a simple Galician alboriño, it made for a wonderful repast.

Then it was on to Santiago de Compostela and its famous cathedral. St . James the Apostle is reputedly buried in the cathedral. Reportedly, a series of miraculous happenings (think of angels, a decapitated guy sailing a boat without rudder, a massive rock enclosing him upon arrival in Iberia) resulted in his remains being deposited in Santiago de Compostela. The city remains a place of pilgrimage, with the most hearty pilgrims walking the last 100 km into town and thus receiving the Compostela award.

The St. James legend is problematic at the very least, since there is no real evidence that he ever got to Iberia and he was definitely beheaded at the orders of (or perhaps personally by) Herod Agrippa I in the Holy Land in 44 CE. Some scholars think that the remains in SDC are actually those of Priscillian, the first heretic to be executed, and that the James legend was put in place as a cover-up. Nonetheless, Leo XIII accepted the remains as being the authentic remains of James in an edict of 1884 (though some think that was just a lot of Papal Bull). Part of the legend states that James was visited by the Virgin Mary standing on a pillar (now in the cathedral at SDC), who told him to return to the Holy Land. In view of subsequent events (his becoming the first martyred saint), if confirmed this legend would be one of the few recorded instances of Mary or any saint giving someone REALLY BAD ADVICE.

But the Way of St. James continues to be a popular pilgrimage throughout western Europe, with over 100,00 people per year completing it. An early text on alchemy suggests that it is a metaphor for a method of making the Philosopher’s Stone. St. James, at any rate, became the patron saint of Spain. His symbol is the scallop shell (coquille St. Jacques, anyone?) and his name can also be derived as Jacques, Jacob, and Iago (I’m not going there).

The cathedral contains a very large censor called th "Botafumeiro", suspended by a pulley mechanism, which for at least 700 years has dispensed large clouds of incense when it swings back and forth across the church, loaded with 40 kg of charcoal and incense.

Behind the altar is a statue of San Mateo. Legend has it that striking your head against it three times brings good luck, but most pilgrims mistakenly choose the more accessible statue of Hercules with less predictable results.

Finishing the day with dinner in the bowels of the hotel cellar, we slept to get ready for the drive to Bilbao.


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