The Feast of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela
As with many stories from the Camino de Santiago this one starts in a pub, somewhere on the Primitivo Route in 2017. I had just crossed a long, cold, rainy mountain and hopped into the first pub I saw to warm up, dry off a bit, and hopefully grab a tasty, warm local cocktail.
I sat down at a table and saw the bartender put three beers up on the bar. I looked across to the group they were intended for, three pilgrims at a table in the back crammed into a corner. It seemed a lot easier for me to bring them their beers than for them to crawl out of their cozy corner to retrieve them, so I did.
They thanked me and that was that.
Fast forward four evenings. I was having dinner with two other pilgrims I had met on the way and one of them recognized some friends she had met earlier on the trail at another table. They invited all of us to join them and low and behold, wouldn’t you know it, it was the same group I had delivered beers to four days earlier. We gave each other a double take and a smile of recognition, and then settled into a night of lots of laughs.
They shared their story with me, which was fascinating. They were two brothers and a sister from Portugal who every year walk two weeks of a Camino and then end each walk by heading into Santiago by car or bus to attend the Feast of St. James. I had never heard of the “Feast”. They explained to me that the Feast of St. James is a big festival held every year in Santiago de Compostela on the 25th of July. They had been attending it for many, many years. They told amazing stories of this celebration throughout the course of the night.
They happened to had just finished their two weeks of walking and were leaving for Santiago the next day, so they asked if I wanted to join them. I could hop in their car and drive with them to Santiago for the weekend to experience the festival and then return to where I’d left off and start walking again. The perfect plan. It was really hard to say no to, so I didn’t
I had been to Santiago three years earlier after finishing my first Camino in 2014, the Camino Frances. But nothing I had experienced the first time prepared me for what I would experience this time.
The plazas around the Cathedral were now supporting large outdoor performance stages. Live music, and delicious outdoor food and drink stands were everywhere. Smaller venues were scattered all throughout the city, filling the entire town with the most beautiful sounds of music.
Every corner seemed to offer something new. Opera, whole orchestras, solo performers and enticing a cappella groups around every corner. DJ’s and live bands on the big stage and people from all over the world, most of whom walked many miles over many days to get here, celebrating the joy of life and the Feast of St. James together. More on the actual meaning of the Feast in another blog but for now I just wanted to somehow help you feel what the festival itself is like.
The festival lasts for a week with music every night all over town. Each night ends with beautiful fireworks exploding right over your head and framing this wonderful cathedral and everyone around you in warm caressing color. Amazing and inspiring all at the same time.
After the weekend I headed back to where I’d left off on the Primitivo. I walked into Santiago again two weeks later and straight into the Pilgrim mass.
This incredible city had morphed from an unbelievable, energetic festival back into the solemn holy place I remembered from my first visit. This was a valuable reminder for me. Just like this fabulous city, our lives go through changes as well. It morphs from time to time into things of a different type beauty. Once again, the Camino had taught me an important lesson of change and acceptance. I encourage all of you to one day walk a Camino, and if life happens to somehow arrange itself around the Feast of St. James for you, you will surely not regret it.
For me, I was unexpectedly led to an unforgettable weekend with my newfound pilgrim friends having a blast every moment. We are all still in touch and know one day we will meet again. At least I know where to find them every July 25th.
The March to Santiago is a 150 day journey of hope and healing. You will travel virtually along the Camino de Santiago and arrive in Santiago de Compostela just in time for the Feast of St. James. Sign up today to join us on this journey.