I made it! Exactly one month after leaving St Jean Pied de Pont, I arrived outside the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela having completed the Camino Frances.
I had deliberately done extra miles on the previous day, so that I could arrive early on Saturday. Every pilgrim that completes at least the last 115 kilometres from Sarria to Santiago qualifies for a Compostela. To prove that you have done so, you must collect stamps in a ‘Credencial de Peregrino’: at least two per day from Sarria, and one per day before that. These can be obtained at albergues, churches, bars, restaurants and shops and sometimes, wayside stalls. On arrival in Santiago, it’s important to proceed as early as possible to the Pilgrim Office to book your place in the queue for a Compostela. I arrived there around 9.30am and was 390 in the queue. Thankfully, there is an online app by which you can check where the queue has got to so that you don’t have to stay there for hours!
I arrived alone outside the Cathedral, feeling quite emotional at the thought of the month-long journey and all that I had experienced. I had hoped for a few moments of quiet reflection, but the square was filled with people, music and the beginnings of a basketball tournament on temporary courts. There was a feeling of celebration, and I decided that I had better embrace the atmosphere. Within moments, I was embraced by members of my Camino family who had arrived the previous day: Darius, Blathnaid, Sabine, Christian. As the day went on, others arrived: Jess, Mack, Daniel, Mark, Theresia, Gill, Stephan and Annelie, Mauru, Bea, Katya, Daisy. In fact, I was so caught up in catching up that I nearly missed my slot to obtain my Compostela. I went running on sore feet down to the Pilgrim Office to find that the queue had reached 388. Just a few moments later and I would have missed my slot and had to rejoin the queue from the back; a wait of some hours!
During the rest of the day, I visited the tomb of St James inside the cathedral (currently closed for worship due to renovations), did a little shopping, found the Seminario Menor Albergue where I was staying for my last night, went to a Pilgrims’ Mass and enjoyed a quiet celebration meal with Theresia and Gill. The next day, I was able to catch up again with a few friends, before taking up the kind offer of a lift to the airport from the afore-mentioned well-known comedian/comic actor who was on the same flight home as me.
What now? After a month walking the Camino, it’s going to take a while to adapt to ‘normal’ life back at home. I’m not really ready to leave behind the Camino, and I’ve realised that I don’t have to. For me, the Camino is not so much about following the Way of St James as about following Jesus, who calls us all to follow him. He said, ‘Yo soy el camino’ – ‘I am the Way’ (John 14v6). I believe and hope and pray that walking the Camino will help me to follow Jesus better. Whether or not I ever return to the Camino de Santiago (and I hope I do!), the Camino continues with Jesus wherever I am.