Santiago de Compostela
I heard about this ancient Catholic pilgrimage site a while ago and had a desire to visit. It was about an hour drive from where we were staying on the coast. I had planned to attend mass at 9:00am and arrived with minutes to spare. Since Santiago de Compostela receives visitors from all over the world, I didn't realize that there would be multiple masses held in different parts of the cathedral at the same time. I ran to a small chapel where I heard singing, but discovered quickly that I had witnessed the tail-end of the German mass. Some of the people there asked me in German if I spoke German and I just shrugged. I asked the priest in Spanish where the Spanish mass was and he didn't know! Too hilarious. So I zipped out of there and thankfully found another chapel where they were holding mass in castellano.
It was a grand room with a dome four stories high and an ornate gold altar. Glass doors shielded it from the throng of visitors and a sign disallowed photography... so I was with people who were there to worship God, not take selfies. I came in while the priest was in the middle of the homily and he was encouraging parishioners to be faithful to God wherever the journey of life may take us. They had readings from the Old Testament, the gospels and Acts; a time of prayer; and a time for communion. After mass concluded I stayed to pray, and it was so special to have such a quiet, peaceful place to talk to God. Before I knew it another mass began! I decided to stick around and was happy to find that the presiding priest enunciated his words more than the last one had, which meant I better understood the homily this time around.
When I go to cathedrals, especially ones as ancient as Santiago de Compostela, I like to think about all the generations of people before me who have knelt there praying to God. It makes me think of Revelation 8:4 which talks about the incense along with the prayers of the saints that rise to him. God has been faithful to generations of people seeking him and he hears all our prayers.
I took a guided tour of the cathedral where we literally ascended to the roof, walking and standing on it as our tour guide explained the history of the place. I loved my tour guide's accent because it took me back to my days at the University of Washington, where I had a couple of young and hip Spanish teachers from Madrid and Barcelona who spoke like her. She explained that pilgrims would come west from the area near the Pyrenees and as a token of their journey, they received shells which they wore around their necks as a pendant. She explained that when pilgrims arrived they would, as a symbol of starting a new chapter of their lives having gone on this pilgrimage, would surrender their clothes to be burned and would receive new, white ones. She told us that regardless of social status, everyone received the same white clothes.
The cathedral museum had centuries' worth of religious art--sculptures, paintings and tapestries. Much of the depictions were of events occurring in the gospels and I enjoyed seeing the artist's interpretation and reflecting upon the story itself.
It was such a joy to experience God and worship him in Spain.
Towards the end of my trip I had one glorious, super-packed day in London. Someone from my home church had recommended going to visit St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which is Anglican (Church of England), so I attended their evening prayer service. St. James Cathedral in downtown Seattle is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, but I must say that St. Martin in the fields quite nearly surpasses it. Adherence to the Church of England is well on the decline (recent surveys show 15% of Britons identify as Anglican). Similar to the trends of mainline denominations in the U.S., most attendees were older adults, and though the cathedral was vast in size and had two stories worth of seating, I would say there were about 20 of us present.
A soprano soloist accompanied by a pianist sang some beautiful hymns. It was great. I love high church so much. The priest did readings from the Old Testament and gospels. She read the story of David and Saul when David was in the cave with him and could have taken his life. It was a poignant reminder that as tempting as it may be to take justice into our own hands, we must ultimately leave it in God's.
We had spent much of the day hustling to and fro in the city (we had walked for an hour or so downtown along the Thames, I got through about 1/6 of the National Gallery, we visited Daunt Books and survived the zoo that is Piccadilly Circus), so it was a great change of pace to be in a quiet, reflective space. I really liked being able to pray with other people, with the written-out prayers (we prayed the bolded text, just like we sometimes do at my home church), and to sing along with some hymns that I didn't know.
It was such a joy to experience God and worship him in England.
This is another of the many things I loved about travelling in England and Spain. More to come...