Monday 1 July 2013

Reflections on Santiago

In a recent edition of the town and parish magazine, Your Berkhamsted, I read an article by Kate Perera, Singing in Santiago, which evoked my own thoughts of the city.

I made my own very special pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the year 2000, researching my family tree. My maternal grandparents were from Galicia and I had been told that my grandmother left Santiago in the early 1900s after a double tragedy and settled in Liverpool, where she met my sea-farer grandfather and where my mother was born. I knew very little of my grandmother’s life in Spain except for anecdotes passed down through my mother – my grandfather had died before I was born and my grandmother didn’t speak English – so I went to Santiago with no information but a great deal of hope.

The Museo del Monasterio San Martin Pinario was crucial to my search. This magnificent building also houses the church archives for Santiago and it was here in June 2000 that I met the young priest – by an incredible coincidence also from Liverpool – who was to prove invaluable in my search for my roots.

Kate’s mention of the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, also brought back memories. This is now a sumptuously and historically furnished parador, where my husband and I were lucky enough to spend one night a couple of years ago. In my grandmother’s day it was the hospital for Santiago, with its own chapel, and during our stay I was able to lay my hands on a physical piece of my family history. It still makes me weep to remember the story behind it.

And so to Santiago’s magnificent catedral; I remember the first time I traversed its wide aisles before climbing the steps behind the high altar to touch the statue of St James. I am not a Roman Catholic, unlike my ancestors, but during a pilgrim’s mass on that first visit I had the unforgettable sensation of a distinct link with the past. On a later visit, I was also lucky enough to be present on a holy day when the botafumeiro was swung; the one now in use is a replica as the original was stolen by Napoleon’s troops!

Kate’s article made me feel nostalgic; it has been two years since my last visit to Santiago and I must return soon. Since my first visit 13 years ago, I have unearthed more information about my grandmother and her – my – family than I ever thought possible. And it is only now that I fully understand what a brave woman she was. I hope she would have been pleased that I’ve visited her city; when I walk the streets she walked as a young girl I feel that I’m taking her home. I also hope she would be pleased that I’ve recently been interviewed about my search for my roots in the Galician newspaper La Voz de Galicia.

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