Chris is holed up in our hotel room, his laptop open, his left foot elevated above his heart. We have been catering in. The Galician cheese mongers in the Mercado de Abastos recognize me now, offering me recommendations and helping me with my deli counter Spanish.
Today is Palm Sunday. In the morning I make a solo pilgrimage to observe a Semana Santa procession in the Plaza de San Francisco. Tiny wildflowers, rooted along my path in the cracks and crevices of the stone city walls, reach toward the morning sun. A crowd forms in the plaza. The procession starts. Brotherhood members cloaked in white surge habits with yellow hoods, sashes and wristbands sway back and forth to droning bagpipes as they carry a float depicting Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
The procession makes its way through the medieval stone streets of Santiago de Compostela to the cathedral for the blessing of the palms ceremony, continuing a tradition dating back to 1215. In gestures of penance, some of the marchers walk barefoot. The crowd, carrying palms and olive branches, falls in behind the marchers and musicians. As I follow the procession, Chris slowly makes his way down the stairs from the third floor of our hotel and limps his way toward the cathedral alone; his own form of penance for a day of heavy walking on a sore heel in Madrid.
Later, after blessing the branches, as well as hundreds of individual children in the crowd, a friendly Archbishop with laughing eyes conducts mass in the cathedral. During the Prayer of the Faithful I channel my Catholic upbringing and pray for Chris’ foot to heal with Godspeed. At the conclusion of mass, attending preists stoke a beer keg-sized incense burner, suspended from a pulley in the center of the cathedral, and send it swinging with death-defying speed over the heads of the parishioners. The burner jerks in free-fall at the high ends of its arc with dramatic effect like a trapeze artist. Onlookers gasp audibly and take pictures with their cellphones. It takes all the reserve the congregation can muster not to applaud.
The church fills with aromatic smoke, a tradition started in earlier days to cover the stench from sweaty religious pilgrims who slept in the cathedral after hiking the Camino de Santiago. The majority of today’s pilgrims are dressed in moisture-wicking performance fabrics and armed with high-tech walking sticks. Souvenir stands on the festive streets of Santiago sell wooden staffs adorned with scallop shells. It this city of pedestrians, it seems at times that Chris is the only one without the aid of a prop.
On Monday Chris and I decide to stay in Santiago an extra day. In the morning we hold a slow, private procession from our hotel in the Plaza de San Martiño Pinario, past the cathedral, to the nearest full service pharmacy to purchase a medical crutch.
Celebrating Holy Week one step at a time,