Pictured below is the magnificent Cathedral in Santiago de la Compostela which is at the end of “The Way of Saint James”. It is currently under restoration but still stands commandingly over the city of Santiago in northern Spain. Since medieval times pilgrims have been making their way to this church to worship. This cathedral is the resting place of the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, and the writer of the New Testament book of James. He was an early Christian leader that led the church in Jerusalem. History has it that he came to Spain and preached the gospel, and then returned to Jerusalem where he was martyred. His body was said to have been taken by boat back to Spain and his bones later discovered in Santiago. Pilgrims or Pelegrinos walk, bike or ride on horseback along The Way towards Santiago from France, and Portugal.
What is it that causes someone to want to journey with nothing but what they can carry on their backs for hundreds and hundreds of miles? From what I have read and those I’ve talked to the reasons vary. Some walk for religious reasons, personal reflection, the physical challenge, the companionship, etc. One pelegrino I talked to in Burgos said, “It is amazing to discover how much you really do not need each day. It is a welcome relief to step away from all our technology, busyness, jobs and commitments. You can take time to focus on internal thinking, light, air, steps, communication and the landscape surrounding you.” Since you do not know how far you will walk in a day, each night you need to find accommodations in an alberque- or a hostel for pilgrims. A good deal of trust in God is required as you set out with only the final destination determined and each day open to experience.
Psalm 84:5 says “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” I used this verse earlier in the year when I made my way to Jerusalem, but it also fits here. There is much to be gained by going on a pilgrimage. This time I went on a tour and visited the “high” points, yet I do hope to walk part of The Way of Saint James myself in the future.
The cathedral is amazingly beautiful and takes your breath away. The incense burner is swung now at selected masses but in medieval times it was swung daily. The pilgrims were a smelly and sweaty lot that came and filled the sanctuary. The swinging of the incense burner is vividly seen in the movie “The Way” by Martin Sheen and Emilio Esteves. It is a touching movie that they made in honor of their ancestors that had come from that region of Spain and gives a good portrayal of walking The Way.
In Santiago,the beauty of the altar reminds me that as rich as it seems it is nothing to compare with what awaits us in the presence of God. Ezekiel’s shares his vision of God and his glory in Ezekiel 1:26-28a, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like a glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. John also had a vision of the throne room of God in Revelation 4:2-3 “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” In both visions the writers were trying to describe godly things and places with earthly words and images. Our finite minds cannot truly conceive that which we will one day experience in the presence of Almighty God. I love visiting beautiful cathedrals for as magnificent as they seem they only give me a mere glimpse of what I will see in heaven.
When I was in the cathedral late on a Sunday evening, I witnessed a group of teenagers getting their picture taken before the altar. They had finished walking The Way, had their certificates and were filled with joy. They broke into song and the music of their joy was a sweet incense to the Lord and a testament to their perseverance and trust in God as they completed their journey. (Some of them are pictured in the last photo.)
Where are you journeying with God? Do you consider each day a journey with God or is he just something to be considered on Sundays? Walking with God requires faith and trust, hard as that seems, it is the surest way to get where we are going. The end of our journey is heaven and eternity with God.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6