Lights along the way

By Laurie

This morning we walked over the bridge, over the River Minho, into Spain.

The square in front of the cathedral in the historic town of Tui was crowded with hyped secondary school students and wet pilgrims.

Up, up, up we’d climbed along the old lanes, past enticing shops and homes with doors and windows ajar during a lull in the rain of recent days.

We have no time to pop into the little stores, and no energy to carry anything we might buy.

If you are walking the Camino Portugues, even if most of your gear is being transported between destinations, as ours is, you are still carrying your day pack over many kilometres.

The attraction of goods at markets or in the seductive shops of Tui are literally weighed up: do you love the thing you covet enough to carry it all day through the mud and the rain?

This weighing up makes such decisions easy.

I have yet to buy anything because I don’t want to carry it (except for bags of peanuts, bottles of water, and the odd boiled egg).

You can have your pilgrim’s compostela stamped for free at the cathedral, but it costs four Euros to tour the sacred spaces.

We ignored the little voice that urges you to hoof it along the camino, cutting such stops short or avoiding them altogether so you can clock up the k’s. That’s why we’re ‘the back mob’ and are the last to arrive at our nightly destinations.

Tui’s cathedral is worth exploring, with its many nooks, gardens, and grand architecture. But what caught my eye were the displays of votive candles.

I’m a sucker for a church candle.

Traditionally you pop a coin into the donation box and light one with a match, praying for someone or for an answer to something vexing.

Nowadays (in Spain, anyway) your coin ignites an LED candle. I light one and say a prayer for a friend, whose partner has died recently.

Then on we go, overnighting in O Porrino before pressing on for Arcade, where we will spend the night at the Hotel Duarte.

I am in the van with Antonio, catching up with work and preparing for an afternoon visit to Sanitas Vigo. While searching for the others, who we’re collecting from the camino to join us in the van, Ruth and I pop into the Church of Santiago to shelter from the grim rain.

Beneath the statue of the Madonna I put a Euro coin into the box containing several dozen red votives.

Because the cost of one candle is only 20 cents, a row of five candles fires up, casting a rosy glow onto the Virgin’s sculpted cheeks.

At the next votive box I slot a two Euro coin into the donativo slot in remembrance of the many people (alive and dead) I have been thinking of along the Camino Portugues.

Two rows of votives blaze to life like a string of fairy lights. 
I light candles in every votive box. I invite blessings for everyone I care about, and the world in general, until my coins are gone.
A small nun dressed in white appears at the doorway of the vestry. She beckons Ruth and I over. 

The nun has been cleaning massive, elaborately decorated pillar candles to set out in the church.

There is celestial music playing in the vestry.

She has a stamp in her hand for our compostelas, then graciously allows a photograph

Had we not been having time out from walking, had we not got lost while searching for the others, we would have missed our ‘camino moment’ in the little church.

I have learned that not every camino moment is about walking. And that you don’t have to walk every step of the camino to be a pilgrim.

Bill Bennett, our tour leader, who does walk every step of the camino, might say that’s a copout.

But he doesn’t have the prettiest stamp of the camino so far in his passport, from the little nun at the Parroquia De Santiago church of Redondela.