Friday, 17 April 2009

Pilgrim People Series - Susana Rio Vickes

A life in the day of Susana Rio Vickes
Administrator of the Archicofradía Universal del Apostól Santiago

Susana gets up early in the house she shares with her parents and sister near Santiago. She breakfasts quickly on hot milk poured over sweet biscuits. Although her home is only 20 minutes from her office it is in the countryside. The family keep chickens, rabbits and a pig. She smiles and says, “But they don’t have names, they are for the pot”.

Susana’s office is in the Plaza la Quintana which in summer is bursting with visitors. It can be an impromptu theatre during the day and a dance venue in the evening. The Plaza is bounded on one side by the Convent of San Pelayo home to Dominican cloistered nuns. On the other side are the walls of the Cathedral with the famous Holy Door.

This door is closed and bricked up at the conclusion of each Holy Year – the year in which the 25th July Feast of St James falls on a Sunday. It is only opened again to herald the start of the next Holy Year. The formula for working out when a Holy Year occurs is to add intervals of 11,6,5,6,5,11.... etc starting with the next Holy Year in 2010. So the next will be 2021, the next 2027 and so on.

All of the Spain watches the Puerta Santa being opened on live television and everyday visitors have their pictures taken at the Door.

Most visitors fail to notice the other door to the left of the Holy Door. This is the discreet entrance to the offices of the Archicofradía. Susana has been the Administrator for 5 years.

The Archicofradía is a religious organisation which aims to support the cause of St James. the pilgrimage to his shrine in Santiago and pilgrims themselves. Currently it has 2,145 members. The organisation has branches in many parts of Spain but is also beginning to flourish in Mexico, Venezuela and Chile.

The staff of the Pilgrims´Office is employed by the Archicofradía and members also provide guided tours and support for pilgrims in the main churches of Santiago such as the Iglesia de Sal, the Iglesia de Santa Clara or the Iglesia de San Roque. They have also developed this service along the Camino Francés in Galicia in churches including those at O Cebreiro, Sarria and Portomartin.

The Archicofradía is a religious organisation which aims to promote the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage. Susana recognises the benefits of having a well developed network of albergues run by local councils but her organisation also has ambitions to open more albergues which offer a simple Christian welcome. They have an eye to a number of disused rectories along pilgrim routes for this purpose in future.

Susana stresses that everyone interested in St James can apply to join the Archicofradía. Members receive a copy of the magazine Compostela which published twice per year. The annual subscription for that is 18 Euros.

New members may also have a medal presented to them on one of the three feast days of St James each year: 25th July, the Feast of his death, 23 May the Commemoration of the legendary appearance of St James in the Battle of Clarijo and 30th December the feast of the Transportation of St James’ body to Padrón. On these days members can site within the confines of the High Altar almost within reach of the Botefumeiro.

Susana has been doing this job for 5 years and she loves it. She is in the office from 9 – 3pm every day including Saturdays. She particularly welcomes pilgrims who come to visit whether members of the Archicofradía or not. She loves meeting pilgrims who put a lot back into the Camino, the volunteers who repaint the yellow arrows, the hospitaleras and hospitaleros and the other volunteers along the routes.

Today she has been visited by among others the new Abbott of the Oseira Monastery famous for its beauty and the past regular visits from Graham Green. The Monastery is situated on the Via de la Plata beyond Ourense and the Abbott is looking at how to improve facilities for pilgrims.

Susana leaves the office at 3pm and travels home for lunch with all of the family. They usually have three courses starting with soup. Susana’s favourite meal is fried eggs and chips. I asked her if she was sure she wasn’t Scottish!

Her spare time is filled with lots of hobbies: walking of course, both popular and classical music and dancing. Susana also reads a lot and is currently reading Un Hombre Llega y Dice by Nicole Krauss. She reads before she goes to sleep and she always dreams. Last night she dreamt that she was frantically searching through piles of paper in the office for a letter the Chairman had given her.

And her biggest wish? With the farthest away look imaginable she says rather sheepishly…”Amor”.


  1. for the sake of full disclosure, John: Are you a member of the archiconfradia? Tell us what we have to do to join up. How much are the dues?

  2. "Full disclosure" - Rebekah you are so...american! I joined to get the Magazine and paid 18 Euros!

  3. oh sorry ...and to join a simple application and a reference from either another member (I think it is one) or someone like the local Priest where you live - since essential it IS a religious organisation