The old town of Santiago is busy. Very busy. There is a lot going on. There is programme of organ recitals for the whole week and the street entertainment is amongst the best I have ever seen. The other evening outside of the massive Church of San Martin a family set up shop. Electric piano, drums, double bass, guitar and the mum on the violin completed a very special jazz quintet. The place rocked. It is hard to keep up with the variety of sounds and sights. One moment a group of singing nuns marched in line under my office window heading for the Cathedral. The next moment the skirl of the pipes squeezed out all other sounds as a multiple processions of Gallegos in national dress met in the great Cathedral square.
The queues for the Holy Door and the Cathedral have been unrelenting. People start to line up early in the morning and they are still doing that well into the evening. The Pilrgims´ Office has been frenetic at times. Last weekend was a local bank holiday weekend. It also combined with the major liturgical feast of the Assumption. Two great reasons for the City to celebrate. As if scenting a party pilgrims made their way in huge numbers to the City. On Saturday last we issued over 2,300 Compostelas. The staff got their heads down and almost everyone was happy when they doors closed at 9pm. All I could hear was the occasional “Siguente” or “Next ” as the ever patient pilgrims filed forward. Singing would break out in the queue from time to time to break the monotony of waiting for so long. Some very sweet scenes punctuated the day. “Next” went up the cry and a couple stepped forward. “Only one at a time please” my colleague said. “But we are finishing our honeymoon by getting our Compostelas”, they pleaded. Of course they were seen together with congratulations from everyone.
In they trailed. Pilgrims old and pilgrims young. “Am I the oldest today? ” Enquired Raul who at 82 had walked from Pamplona in 30 days. Assured that he certainly was he went off bearing his certificate with pride. Then there was young Gabriela who at 8 had walked step by step with her mum and dad from Oviedo. Sometimes there is disappointment. A young couple approached my desk and handed over three credenciales. I duly stamped the first two and wrote their compostelas and asked where their friend was holding up the third credencial which was full of sellos. That belongs to Petra they said looking down. I looked over and resting on the ground was a boxer dog. I explained that the Compostela is only issued to humans as a symbol of the spiritual journey. They weren´t convinced and went off really quite unhappy.
Those who have reached Santiago know the office well. It has a broad stone staircase which opens onto a dilapidated office. This is church property after all! The floor is old and is disintegrating. The legs of our chairs catch in the holes. When the place is full of pilgrims it can be bedlam.
This year sees the fruition of a project to extend the Pilgrims´Office. The intention was to create a better environment which would be more pleasant for every one. A new entrance/exit has been created one door down and pilgrims walk into a pleasant patio with a pergola before entering or leaving by a new staircase which leads to a broad stone corridor with vaulted ceilings where the new office has been formed. 10 or 12 staff can work here. The IT has been installed. It is cool and pleasant. This week we have been using it as overflow from the main office and I think it has made a huge difference. The plan is only to use this new place in winter when there are few pilgrims and to use it as overflow in the busy season. Opinions about the new office are mixed among my colleagues. We´ll see what the pilgrims think. All they want is not to wait too long for their compostela. So, I better stop writing this right now. “Next, please”.