Tag Archives: Saint James

The Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao

Spain-163234The cathedral is dedicated to Saint James the Great. It is originally from the 14th-15th century. Notice the shell over the door at the peak of the arch. This was on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.



The facade.

Eucharistic Chapel

Eucharistic Tower

Saint James

Western Gallery

The Main Altar in the Apse

Cathedral Square


Gazing Heavenward

Riding the Rail, Riding the Walls: Lucca, Pistoia, Prato

Wednesday, Sept. 9. Today we decided to roll three day trips into one. We left early to take the regional train to Lucca.

Lucca is a beautiful medieval city enclosed by a Renaissance wall. A Renaissance wall had to take the impact of more powerful weapons, so the stone is backed by earthen walls. The benefit for Lucca is that the wall has become a walking / running / biking trail that encircles the center of Lucca. We rented bikes and enjoyed circling the wall twice, and the traffic – foot and wheel – was brisk. When we entered Lucca we came to its cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. The cathedral was closed for visitors but was open for Mass, which we attended. From the outside it is impressive, with alternating dark and light horizontal stripes and series of blind arches supported by decorative columns. The story is that the architect had a contest for masons to each carve a column with the winner getting the commission for the whole church. The architect kept the columns and awarded no commission. True or not, each column is different.

Duomo (Cathedral) of Saint Martin of Tours. Lucca, Italy.

Duomo (Cathedral) of Saint Martin of Tours. Lucca, Italy.

Detail of doorway. Cathedral of Saint Martin of Tours.

Detail of doorway. Cathedral of Saint Martin of Tours.

Inside we were treated to a beautiful chapel at Mass

and after Mass we explored the main altar, the side altars and a free-standing marble shrine to the Sacro Volto (or Holy Face). The legend is that Joseph of Arimathea carved a crucifix but felt incapable of accurately carving the face of Jesus. He prayed for help, went to sleep, and in the morning the face had been miraculously completed.

Statue of Saint Martin of Tours. Cathedral. Lucca, Italy.

Statue of Saint Martin of Tours. Cathedral. Lucca, Italy.

We saw the church of Saint Ferdinand which had a spectacular mural in the front. This also had an impressive della Robbia image over the font.


Saint Ferdinand Church. Lucca, Italy.

Baptistery at St Ferdinand. Lucca, Italy.

Baptistery at St Ferdinand. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael is another impressive structure. It reflects the same striped exterior, blind arches and columns of the cathedral, even exceeding it, and has a wonderful altar and crucifix.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Saint Michael Church. Lucca, Italy.

Commercial area built ibto a Roman Amphitheater. Lucca, Italy.

Commercial area built ibto a Roman Amphitheater. Lucca, Italy.

We took the train, retracing our steps toward Florence but stopping in Pistoia. If the name reminds you of a small handgun it is with reason. The inhabitants had a reputation for violence, against one another and outsiders. They were innovative in all sorts of weapons, and invented the pistol. Luckily we did not have this experience.

Although a walled city the walls are over so much area that you do not get the feeling of being in a walled city. Our goal was two of the many churches there. We arrived in the afternoon to find the cathedral closed for siesta. We did find Saint Andrea church known for the carved pulpit portraying rather realistically the murder of the Holy Innocents. The outside was a simplified version of the striped churches we’d already seen today, but still beautiful. We doubled back and saw the cathedral dedicated to Saints Zenon and James (as in Santiago). It was open by then. The prize possession is an altar piece rendered in silver (literally a ton of silver) portraying scenes from the life of Saint James. Also a gorgeous crucifix. The doorway was decorated in della Robbia sculptures, common for this area.

Duomo (cathedral) dedicated to Saints Zenon and James. Pistoia, Italy.

Duomo (cathedral) dedicated to Saints Zenon and James. Pistoia, Italy.

Doorway detail of cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Doorway detail of cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Sanctuary of cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Sanctuary of cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Silver altar of Saint James. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Silver altar of Saint James. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Baptistery. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Baptistery. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Crucifix. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Crucifix. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Side Altar. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Side Altar. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Devotional image. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Devotional image. Cathedral. Pistoia, Italy.

Saint Andrea Church. Pistoia, Italy.

Saint Andrea Church. Pistoia, Italy.

Our third city was Prato. Another walled, medieval city.

Atop the walls of Lucca. Italy.

Atop the walls of Lucca. Italy.

St. James the Apostle – A Camino Reflection

Father Mattingly wrote the following Reflection.

Santiago is Spanish for St. James the Greater, apostle of Jesus and son of Zebedee. By tradition his remains are interred in the crypt of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

There are three images of St. James on the camino and, indeed, in all of Spain: St. James as apostle, as pilgrim and a Matamoros (or killer of the Moors). It is this last image that is more controversial and the image I want to address.

St. James as Matamoros is portrayed in images with Santiago on a horse wielding a sword. Most time on the ground around him, taking the force of the sword, are Moors (adherents to Islam). The image has become distasteful to some people not only because it portrays a saint being violent but because it would seem to project Muslims in a negative light. In the cathedral in Santiago flowers have been placed around the statue so that you can see St. James and his horse but not the Moors below him.

The objection to this image seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the context. The action portrayed of is not one of aggression but defense. St. James arises under this title at a time when the Moors were conquering Spain. The Moors came as warriors, putting the Christians to the sword and decimating the churches and the Christian culture of the Spaniards. It is said that in a battle when Christian troops were greatly outnumbered, a heavenly warrior on a white horse fought the Moorish soldiers leading the outnumbered Christians to a decisive victory that turned the tide and lead to the reclaiming of Spain.

I would suggest that there is value in reclaiming St. James if not as “Matamoros” as Defender of Christians. The recent events around the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), their threats to bring their terror to other countries as well as other extremist groups that arise – often focusing on Christians – suggests to me the need to revive the notion of St. James as our heavenly defender. In no way do I want to see a stance of aggressive violence toward Muslims, yet it may come to a point where Christians will have to defend ourselves from attack, from any source. This image proves that we have a right to defend ourselves from such aggression, indeed a duty. We also have a saint to which we can appeal.

Through the intercession of St. James, may Christians be protected from all forms of violence against us.

Santiago, defender of Christians… Pray for us.

Camino Day 31, Santiago… Last day

Day 31. Thursday, September 25, 2014.

Santiago… Last day.

When we got up this morning most of the pilgrims in the albergue were already gone. After breakfast we dropped our backpacks at the hotel where we would spend our last night and went to the cathedral where concelebrated the 10:30 am English Mass.

We were early and explored the cathedral. We had bought Saint James medals and wanted to touch them to the statue that pilgrims traditionally hug on their arrival, as a sign of reverence. We prayed at the tomb of the saint for the protection of Christians throughout the world, especially those suffering persecution.

The English Mass was more intimate than the pilgrims’ Mass we attended the last two days, but we packed the chapel that is reserved for the Mass. The priest, from England, who has volunteered three months to minister to English speaking pilgrims in Santiago. All in attendance were invited to tell people where they were from and if they had made the Camino. We were happy to see many pilgrims who had walked the Camino with us.


After Mass we had lunch at a parador restaurant, an elegant state run restaurant in a historic building. They offered a pilgrim menu which was by far the best we’ve had.

We checked in to our hotel which is humble but seems luxurious after sleeping in albergues for a month. We had no idea how we missed real sheets and towels! We rested and toured the cathedral museum and cathedral with an audio guide. It helped bring together the architectural development over the centuries of the cathedral from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to baroque.




Sep25-8     Sep25-3     Sep25-1

We were able to see Romanesque statuary that had been discovered in the ongoing renovation, reliquaries and antique liturgical vessels, and rooms of tapestries. After the museum the tour continued to the cathedral from the perspective of a medieval pilgrim. It emphasized for us the design of the cathedral to receive pilgrims. We got a better sense of the theology which celebrated welcome, love, conversion and salvation.

On emerging from the cathedral we happened on an orchestra concert just beginning to start in one of the plazas. What a wonderful way to conclude our Camino!


This is our last entry from Spain, however we will continue to reflect on this adventure. It has meant a lot to share this Camino with you.

We’ll close with a blessing used at Mass today marking an end of a pilgrimage:

Father we ask your blessing on us,
Pilgrims who have come to venerate the tomb of your apostle Santiago.
As you kept us safe on our Camino way
May You keep us safe on our journey home.
And inspired by our experience hers
May we live out the values of the gospel
As our pilgrimage through life continues.
We ask Saint James to intercede for us
As we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
Your Son and our Redeemer, Amen.

Please pray for our safe journey home.

Camino Day 30, Santiago, Rest Day

Day 30. Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Santiago…Rest day.

We stayed in bed until about nine before packing up our backpacks and going out for coffee. Although we planned to stay in the same albergue we had to clear our things and recheck in after 1:00 pm. We are not thrilled with the albergue, but it is in a great location and we could not get a hotel room until tomorrow night.

We explored the area taking note of restaurants and shops. There were a number of churches that we visited. We also came upon a market which we enjoyed seeing. But the best was yet to come.


We went to the cathedral to concelebrate the pilgrims’ Mass at noon. There were 14 priests at the Mass and it was a great feeling to be welcomed and given vestments and be part of this great experience again, this time from the altar. When pilgrims arrive and “hug the saint” it is from a hallway behind the main altar. Throughout the mass arriving pilgrims were walking behind the main altar, visible only through a grill, and we could see their hands embracing the saint during the Mass. Father John and I were asked to distribute Holy Communion. We were moved by the devotion of so many people. About 1,000 people attend the pilgrims Mass each day. Again, the botafumeiro was used and we had a bird’s eye view as it swung through the transepts, but we had been told no cameras! It was great after Mass to see more familiar faces of pilgrims we had walked with along the way, some only arriving today.


Two Irish sisters from Galway have become good friends and we invited them to join us for lunch. We ate at an outdoor cafe and through lunch kept welcoming more friends from the Camino who happened by. The women recommended a bus tour that goes around the city, so we got a better idea of the city.

We also took a rooftop tour of the cathedral. It was exciting to climb the 100+ stairs to the roof. It was a beautiful day and we had incredible views from the roof, as you can see from photos in this post.

Father John, in the hat, taking in the rooftop view.

Father Mattingly and I ready to see the city of Santiago from the roof of the Cathedral.







The day passed quickly and after dinner we are about to go to bed. In the albergue light are out at 10:00 pm sharp.

We are happy to see our bodies already recovering after one day off the trail. Perhaps we will be fully recovered by the time we arrive home. If you are wondering about the beards you will have to wait and see this weekend!

Santiago at Last, Part 2

Day 29. September 23, 2014 (continued).


After our last post we walked to Saint Francis Church to obtain our second Compostela. This is the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis of Assisi making the Compostela and special certificates are being issued. We are thrilled to receive one.

It was an incredible church with a beautiful reredos.

The adjoining convent has been developed into a four star hotel whose proceeds help support the Franciscans in their worldwide missions. It was impressive.

Our real objective this evening was to get to the cathedral to “hug the saint.” Mission accomplished. There is a staircase behind the main altar which leads to the bust of Saint James which presides over the cathdral. Traditionally pilgrims have been invited to embrace this bust as a sign of veneration and petition. No photographs where allowed and absolute silence was maintained making it a solemn moment. We also descended to the tomb of Saint James where we offered a prayer at his tomb. The hall of glory which contains an image of Saint James on a pillar originally greeted pilgrims who could put their hands into the carvings of the pillar. This is no longer allowed. This was a very moving experience for both of us and we were glad we did it after we had some food and rest.

We ended tonight with dinner at an outdoor cafe near the cathedral. We ate looking forward to two days of enjoying Santiago at a restful pace.







Day 29. Tuesday, September 23, 2014.
Feast of St. Pius of Pietrelcina
We were so excited last night that it was hard to sleep. We were up and ready to go about a hour earlier than we had planned, so it was dark for the first hour of the last leg of our Camino. We stopped for breakfast and captured the moment with a photo.

We looked forward to the Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy), where pilgrims saw their first glimpse of the cathedral of Santiago. We were disappointed that there is no longer a view due to urban sprawl. There is only a monument whose artistic merit escaped us. We prayed morning prayer on the mount.

We continued on the remaining 4.5K down the mountain, through the city, to the cathedral square. We met a number of pilgrims on the way. It was about 11:15am when we arrived. We stopped to take pictures and orient ourselves to the area.
There is a pilgrims’ Mass every day at 12:00 noon. We had said it was not important to attend the Mass when we arrived, but when it became a possibility we moved heaven earth to do it, finding our hostal to deposit our bags and rushing back to the cathedral for Mass.

The cathedral is undergoing renovation so it took us a few minutes to figure out which door to use. The pews were packed so we had to stand in the transept with a partial view of the sanctuary. The gospel was about Jesus saying “Whoever hears my word and acts on it is mother and brother and sister to me.” It was powerful to hear this proclaimed in the midst of the cathedral packed with pilgrims. We were treated to a blessing by the butofumerio, the monstrous thurible attached to the ceiling of the cathedral which almost touches the ceiling in its arc when it is hoisted in the air and swung by eight men through the transepts of the church. You could see the fiery coals as the smoke billowed throughout the church. We plan to concelebrate the Mass tomorrow.

Sep23-8   Sep23-9   Sep23-10   Sep23-11

Ironically, in our excitement and exhaustion we forgot all about hugging the statue of the saint (Santiago). We plan to rectify this as soon as possible.

After Mass we rushed to the pilgrims’ office to show our credentials and receive our Compostela. We received it after a two hours wait in line.

Sep23-13   Sep23-16-sm   Sep23-12



Sep23-14   Sep23-15

We were exhausted and tired and rushed to eat and then to take a nap. We are getting a second wind as we write this closing line.

Camino Day 28, Pedrouzo

Day 28. Monday, September 22, 2014. Pedrouzo.  18K to Santiago.

It is obvious that we have hiked out of summer and into fall. The mornings are cooler and we no longer face the relentless heat under the scorching sun. This morning we could see our breath as we started out. Mist laid in the valleys. The noonday temperatures were comfortable.

There is decidedly a new energy as we near Santiago. The pilgrims seem more relaxed. The thunderstorm couldn’t dampen the spirits of pilgrims at the little tavern last night. This morning there were no pushed departures with people bumping around in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, waking everyone. At the rest stops we call out to the various groups of pilgrims passing by, people who have become familiar to us over these weeks. They greet us as well. There are few strangers at this stage of the journey.

The scenery is beautiful as ever, but we have become familiar with the meadows and hedgerows, the groves of eucalyptus trees with their fragrant aroma, the small stone churches with their double bell towers, the ups and downs of the rutted paths. We were grateful that the rain of last night had passed into a fine morning but the storm had left mud and puddles. At times there was no avoiding muddying our boots.

We stop often along the way, partly to savor the time we time we have left and partly to fill the remaining spaces in our pilgrim’s passports with sellos (stamped seals) they give. Two sellos are required per day in Galicia to attain the Compostela that acknowledges the completion of our pilgrimage.

It was a relatively short and easy hike to Pedrouzo. We arrived before lunch. We didn’t want to press it too much today. We want our last leg of the journey to be enough to challenge us but not enough that we will be exhausted when we arrive.

We talked along the way about how crazy we are to have taken on this journey. What possessed us to spend these four weeks pounding the trail, sleeping in bunk beds in rooms full of people we didn’t know, risking blisters and bug bites and back spasms? It has been a crazy adventure but we have been undeniably blessed.
We wonder how it will be when we see Santiago… first from the Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy) where we catch our first glimpse from a distance, then as we join other pilgrims in the final kilometers to the city. There is a pilgrims’ Mass at the cathedral at noon but we are not sure we will make it tomorrow. We look forward to two full days to savor Santiago and to venerate the tomb of St. James.






Treasures of Samos Monastery in Galicia

Samos, in Galicia, is home to a quaint city and a large, impressive Benedictine monastery. Fourteen monks are in residence there. More information about the history of Samos is here at Wikipedia. We took a tour of the monastery including the cloister, church and sacristy, and a hallway with murals depicting scenes from the life of St. Benedict. This was the highlight of the day. Enjoy this folio of pictures of the monastery. You can click the smaller pictures for larger versions. Here are exteriors, interiors, and some of the monastery’s treatures, including… musical mermaids.





Closer view of bell tower

Closer view of the clock tower.




Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica (praying) in the thunderstorm.

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica (praying) in the thunderstorm. You can read about the thunderstorm incident here: http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-scholastica/




Detail of a manuscript page. Knotwork, flowers, and mermaids, each with a viola da gamba or some violin-like instrument.

Saint James

Saint James