On October 20, 2021, I finally reached the ultimate goal of the Portuguese Camino: the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.
According to tradition, Saint James the Apostle is buried underneath the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. After his remains were (supposedly) discovered in the ninth century, a shrine was constructed on the site. This building was later converted to a magnificent Romanesque cathedral with Baroque and Gothic flourishes.
Pilgrims have been coming to this location since the Early Middle Ages along various routes throughout Europe. Many walk for religious reasons and to pay homage to Saint James. Catholics who walk the Camino in a Holy Year are eligible for a Plenary Indulgence (an absolution of sins).
As I approached Santiago, I was looking forward to finally reaching my final destination after walking for 16 days. I missed my husband Daniel and couldn’t wait to see him… and to take a long hot bath.
I was also excited to finally see the famous Catedral de Santiago de Compostela for myself. This building has drawn so many people to it over the past thousand years in a show of their religious devotion.
While I am not a particularly religious person, I do consider myself a spiritual one. I find peace and comfort in nature and get a little depressed when I don’t spend enough time outdoors. I enjoy walking long distances on foot as I find it to be a calming and meditative experience.
So I was curious to see what my arrival in Santiago de Compostela would feel like. Would I have some kind of spiritual revelation? Would it change my life as so many other pilgrims have claimed?
I guess I was about to find out.
My Last Morning on the Camino
I began my last morning on the Portuguese Camino before dark. After my scare with bed bugs on the Camino the previous night, I wasn’t in the mood to hang around my lodging for very long.
Soon the sky began to lighten and puffy clouds glowed with reflected sunlight. Then the sun popped out from beyond the horizon and lit up the sky.
As I strolled along country lanes and through rural communities, I enjoyed my last morning of solitude. I couldn’t have asked for a better final day on the Camino.
Before long, I reached the small town of O Milladoiro. This village is only 7.5 km (4.6 miles) from Santiago de Compostela and the last possible stopping point before reaching the end of the Camino.
One of the highlights in Milladoiro is the Capilla de Santa Maria Magdalena, a small chapel that dates back to the 10th century. It was closed when I went by but I got a nice photo from the outside.
The town is also home to some nice restaurants and a large grocery store. I stopped for a small breakfast at O Camiño, a cafe for pilgrims. Then I popped into the store for some supplies to deal with exposure to bed bugs (groan).
Thus fortified, I was ready to face the final leg of my journey.
The Outskirts of Santiago de Compostela
As I approached Santiago de Compostela, the countryside slowly disappeared and was replaced with highways and buildings. I walked under some highway underpasses and bridges and through various suburban neighborhoods.
Before long, I was in the middle of a big city with cars and people all around me.
I headed to the center of town where the Cathedral was located on the top of a hill. After a first glimpse of the Cathedral near Milladoiro, I hadn’t been able to see it due to the number of tall buildings in the city.
But, eventually, the Cathedral towers came into view as I rounded a curve in the road. I was only a few minutes away and would soon arrive at my final destination!
Arrival in Santiago de Compostela
As I walked into the giant plaza in front of the Cathedral, the first thing I noticed was the pilgrims. Peregrinos with hiking sticks and backpacks were spread out all over the square. Some were standing and some were kneeling, while others hugged one another and kissed the ground.
At first I was surprised by the number of pilgrims as I hadn’t seen nearly that many other people along the Camino Portugués. But then I remembered that many Camino paths lead to Santiago de Compostela besides the Portuguese one. These pilgrims had walked from various points all over Europe to visit this holy place.
I stood at the edge of the square and gazed up at the Cathedral. After a moment, I realized that I was crying. Tears fell down my cheeks and dripped off my nose.
I couldn’t believe I had finally made it! After so many obstacles and issues had delayed my journey, I was starting to think I would never achieve this goal.
It was such a good feeling to finally complete my pilgrimage and check this item off my bucket list at last.
But I was sad too. I would miss the simplicity of walking each day and the beautiful countryside of the Iberian Peninsula.
A Happy Reunion
After a few moments by myself, I made my way to the other side of the square where Daniel was waiting for me. He had traveled from Porto to Santiago to greet me at the end of my journey.
It was *really* nice to see him after being separated for 16 days. We have been traveling for two years now and have spent pretty much every day together. While we obviously enjoy eachother’s company, it was nice to have some time apart too. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually missed my husband and it was a great feeling to be reunited again.
Daniel and I planned to stay in Santiago for a few days so that we could explore the city together. My next (and final) blog post will share details of our stay in the city along with our tour of the Santiago Cathedral and my Compostela certificate.
Portuguese Camino Stats
Date: Wednesday, October 20
Starting Location: Somewhere between Pontecesures and Santiago de Compostela
Ending Location: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Stamps Collected Today
- Previous journal entry: Portuguese Camino Day 15: Bed Bugs on the Camino
For more information about my pilgrimage along the Camino Portugués, visit my Portuguese Camino web page.