Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rainy rooftop tour of cathedral best way to see Santiago

The day looked quite threatening with a dark, cloud-covered sky. We decided to do indoor things, with our first stop the Santiago Cathedral Museum housed in a vast building next to the cathedral. Here we saw how starting from a tomb, a cathedral was built and how a city grew around it. The museum's collection includes important archaeological exhibits, sculpture, painting, precious metalwork, tapestries, rugs, liturgical robes, ceramics and furniture. It is also home to the library, with its priceless volumes, numerous documents of paramount importance to the history of Galicia and, above all, to the Church in Santiago. The museum exhibits are arranged over various rooms. My favourite was the collection of tapestries with designs by Rubens, Bayeu and Goya. One of the rooms is dedicated to Goya himself, with twelve tapestries on display from the Royal Santa Bárbara Factory in Madrid. Two of them are the only ones of their kind.

After lunch we visited the archaeological excavations in the church’s subsoil. In these narrow spaces, previously accessible only to researchers, we saw the remains of what are supposed to be Roman baths as well as a Roman cemetery and a Suevian necropolis with dozens of tombs, complete with skeletons, as well as gravestones 13 to 19 centuries old. Unfortunately, the tour is only given in Spanish but the guide did translate some of the information for us. It was quite cold and damp in this spot underneath the cathedral; however it did warm our hearts, when the guide asked us if we were archeologists.

The last tour of the day for us was the roof of the cathedral. We had to meet for the English speaking tour at 6 o'clock. We came well prepared since the skies had opened and it was bucketing down. After waiting for a short while to see if the rain would let up — it didn't — we were on our way. We climbed up to the gallery overlooking the cathedral to admire a row of gigantes, the huge  papier mâché figures black, white and Asian paraded in many festivals in Spain. Someone mounts the gigantes on their shoulders and carries them through the town. Of course you can't see anything of the person under the gigantes. They represent lords and ladies or just regular townspeople. Gigantes of an old lady and a man smoking a horrible looking pipe are used to threaten misbehaving children.

We looked up at the many stonemasons' marks on the walls. Each stonemason would make his mark, where he had worked. The best stonemason's marks are the ones that are still etched deeply in the stone today.

Our climb continued and finally we arrived on the roof. The sensation of the wind and rain on our  faces, this elevated vantage point, the view… it left us speechless. It was easy to walk along the terraced granite roof, which wasn't slippery at all. First we looked out at the square where the pilgrims arrived. It was pretty empty in the rain. The bells are all automated today but we did see where the bell ringers lived right up until the 1960s, close to the bells so they could run across the roof to the tower at the bishop's bidding.

Most of the other people on the tour were Irish so they weren't too bothered by the heavy rain. I must admit it was lots of fun being up there in the bad weather. It was pointed out to is that the huge chimneys we saw on some of the houses we looked out on indicated the importance of the occupants. In the 1800s a huge, ornate facade, 1800 metres long and 3 metres wide was built in front to cover up the houses of the poor. Who wanted to look at them?

We looked across at a huge nunnery; nuns enter and are never allowed out again. Even today there is a slot, through which you put your money and receive back some St. James cake made by the nuns. There is a story of a pilgrim's shadow that can be seen at night on the bell tower. It is said that he is looking across at the nunnery that houses his lost love.

As we were leaving the rainy roof we looked up at the little gargoyles and religious figures but there tucked in the corner, almost out of sight, was a bare bottom. This was the mason's way of getting back at the church official that hadn't yet paid him.

Back in the church we stopped to listen to a nun singing a solo but now we were trapped in a mass and couldn't get out. There was a huge, immovable bar across the front door of the cathedral. This was the second time today this had happened. Fortunately, we still had our museum tickets so made our escape through the cathedral museum.

Back at the hotel we weren't surprised to see that we were soaked through. After a quick dry off, we went down to the hotel's cafeteria, which wasn't a cafeteria at all but a nice restaurant, to mingle with all the other guests watching the World Cup. A good ending to a busy day.

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