Beggars and the botafumiero

4th June 2014

Relief that We Made It

The day after arriving in Santiago after completing the Camino is one of relief. A day where there is no longer a concern that you might not make it. You have made it.

Connecting with Others

Pilgrims are easily recognized by their dress. Socks with sandals, quick dry trousers and hiking hats. And so it is that when you are sitting having a beer or cup of tea you strike up conversation with total strangers at the next table or who happen to walk past.

‘Where are you from?’, ‘When did you get in?’, ‘Where did you start?’ and ‘How long did it take?’ Suddenly there is a common bond. One couple behind us started clapping as a few peregrinos walked past with their backpacks. They had just arrived. I joined in. The feeling in Santiago yesterday is one I hope not to forget.

The Botafumiero

The Botafumiero

We slept in for the first time in weeks. I suddenly remembered that I wanted to attend the pilgrims mass and needed to get going. Being Monday it was not likely that the botafumiero would swing – that happens on Fridays and Sundays. Unless of course someone or a group paid for it.

I believe the going rate is €500. However just in case, I arrived over an hour before the service and sat in the second pew to the side of the altar.

Watching and Waiting

I spent my waiting time watching pilgrims jostle for seats – some who had just arrived in Santiago and still had their backpacks on had to leave and find a storage place for their bags before returning.

A constant stream of tourists wandered about the Cathedral taking photos – mostly of the botafumiero. A nun came in at 11:45 and outlined the service and practiced with the congregation hymns that would be used. What a beautiful voice -with no accompaniment.

The service was in Spanish but I got the gist of some of it. Being asked to shake the hands of those near to me was special  -they were all pilgrims and like me had walked some or all of the Camino.

The Botafumiero will swing Today

When a group of burgundy robed men walked in it became clear that we were in for a treat. A man walked past me carrying a longish pole with a plate sized shallow bowl filled with hot coals (never in Australia -they were 15cm from my leg! ). The coals were placed in the botafumiero ( which is suspended from the ceiling) and incense added.

The botafumiero was pulled back and released. The group of men pulled on ropes to get it swinging -what a spectacle. It’s no wonder that they leave it til last. They’d never get the congregation quiet again.  Woosh Woosh right over my head. What power. High up to the ceiling of the Cathedral and down again barely missing the barrier where the altar is. Woosh Woosh, I could see the flames inside as they sped through the air.

The Botafumiero in Action

In action

The Botafumiero in Action


I wasn’t going to take photos but couldn’t help myself.


With large cities come beggars. In Pamplona, Leon and Burgos we came across a couple of people down on their luck. With the poor economy in Spain and homelessness a problem I was happy to give these men something.

In Santiago however begging seems to have become a business. Women kneel on a cushion for long periods of time, their covered heads bowed, and their arms outstretched holding a plastic cup. The cynic in me says this posture is to tug at the heartstrings of pilgrims and other devout people visiting this city. I remember struggling (internally) with these women last time I was here.

And then there are the hippies busking – in one instance he juggled while she approached passers by in what could only have been a substance altered state.

We are approached

While Bronek and I were having a quiet meal outside at the end of the day, a  man wearing a dirty, heavy, brown great coat approached a table two down from us. He almost leaned over the table towards the two men facing him. He stared at them with pleading brown eyes while holding a sign.  They ignored him as most do in that situation. And still he stood there.

I noticed the words ‘comer’and ‘niños’ on his sign. He wanted money for food and something about two children. Not able to take it anymore and knowing that we would be approached soon, I got up and asked him if he wanted a boccadillo. In my experience some beggars don’t really want money for food. But he answered in the affirmative.

When I asked the waiter for a queso and chorizo boccadillo for the man in the great coat, the man came forward telling the waiter ‘carne’ (meat). He waited patiently sitting against the wall opposite us while we continued our meal and sipping our wine. He put the foil covered boccadillo in a deep pocket,  thanked me with a penetrating look and hobbled away. I struggle so much with the inequality in this world.

Rural Spain

Rural Spain

We Keep on Walking

Bronek is not too well. Sore throat, stuffy head and nose – so he struggled with the 22km today. There was a steep climb over 2.5km which really took it out of us. But it’s lovely to be back walking through villages, over stone bridges and along farm roads.

Spanish Farm Cottage

Farm Cottage

Bridge in Spain

Old Bridge

Only three more days of walking.

Next Post: Which Way



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