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1889: Iglesia de Santiago, Triacastela, Lugo, Spain
Iglesia de Santiago, Triacastela, Lugo, Spain
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Iglesia de Santiago (Church of St James), Triacastela, Lugo, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Lugo.
The building: The apse is probably Romanesque, but the rest of the church dates largely from the 18th century. The tower displays the three castles that appear on the village's coat of arms. The interior features a retablo over the main altar, and two side retablos, presumably formerly over side altars. The aisle between the pews is very broad; seating is almost an afterthought.
The church: A sagrario (tabernacle) dating from the 15th century is now in Compostela's Museo das Peregrinacións.
The neighbourhood: Triacastela marks the end of the most mountainous section of the pilgrimage road. Nothing remains of the three castles that gave the village its name. At the east end of this winding village, strung out along the Camino like many other pueblos of the region, the church is in a walled compound with cemetery, to the left and down a lane. Triacastela to Sarria via Samos is likely one of the finest walks on the planet – much like Middle Earth on a good day. The Benedictines of Samos, however, are a bunch of old coots in a huge and sterile mock-baroque church, redone when the monastery was rebuilt in Franco's time. It's best to just enjoy the walk.
The cast: Augusto Losada Lopez is the name I have in my notes.
The date & time: Wednesday, 14 October 2009, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Pilgrims' Mass.

How full was the building?
There were 18 in the small country church's single nave which could hold about 30 or so. Unlike most Camino churches, the majority of the congregation were pilgrims with perhaps only two or three locals.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I recognised several of the pilgrims from along the way, including two older Spanish couples, who managed to dress very formally and respectably out of their backpacks after a day of slugging over the hills of Lugo province.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was likely handmade locally, and by a carpenter sensitive to the likelihood that it would be occupied for long stretches. The bench was wide and the back at a most comfortable height, to permit if not to encourage lounging during long sermons.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most of the pilgrims there knew each other by sight from the exhausting hilly walk and repeated climbs out of O'Cebreiro and Vega de Valcarce.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The customary sign of the cross in Spanish.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, as is the custom.

What musical instruments were played?

Iglesia de Santiago, Triacastela, Lugo, Spain

Did anything distract you?
I was seated on the gospel side, about four rows from the front, and had a spooky side-altar retablo to my right that depicted a female saint about to take off into the ether. Then there was the cell phone – read on!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the usual novus ordo mass, overlaid with wandering commentary and discussion from the priest. He was one of the very few who deviated in any way from the set text, and addressed himself specifically to pilgrims. Several were singled out to provide readings, and we heard the epistle in Portuguese, German, French and Italian, as well as in Spanish.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 for coherence, 10 for relevance to the congregation. On average, 5.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pilgrimage: to walk in shadows so that we learn to walk in light. To see signs of humanity in our mistakes. To believe in love, not in fear. To believe freely. To fall so that we learn to rise. To see the signs around us and seek signs and directions from angels. To see angels where we do not expect to or want to. Finally, to seek help all the way along the road, so that we can learn to help others.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A strong feeling of comradeship and community, and enjoying the rest after a long day through rolling countryside.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The priest had led us all into a strong feeling of community through his words. He continued with the mass as usual, with the offertory, sursum corda and preface, sanctus and eucharistic prayer. But then, as he paused at the most solemn moment to pronounce the words of consecration, a cell phone rang. And rang. And rang! The priest looked around, hoping that the owner would turn it off. An Austrian pilgrim, sitting up front, was the miscreant, but the man was too embarrassed to own up to it. And so he let the cursed instrument continue to ring away from inside his pack. It kept on ringing. Eventually a Brazilian pilgrim got up, took the chirping pack, and walked it to the back of the church, where she athletically flung it through the open door. Blushing furiously, the Austrian ran out of the church to rescue it. A Spanish pilgrim remarked, audibly enough, that the devil had been cast from the temple. It has since been suggested to me that the devil can also be cast out of a cell phone by immersion in the holy water stoup. Alas, a precious moment and a rare mood had been broken and could not be recaptured.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. As I left, the Spaniards, ever proper, and I made eye contact. The Austrian pilgrim avoided us all. Two dashing Brazilian pilgrims laughed at the insanity of it all and invited me to dinner.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None, as usual, so I went with the Brazilians to a local restaurant and enjoyed some goat in port sauce (quite tasty). A very pleasant evening, even if I am still not certain if we had a language in common.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – While I liked the scale of the little building, the priest's intensity would likely wear on me after a while, but I would rate the service (aside from the cell phone) a 9/10, maybe even a 10/10.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The priest's intense desire that we focus on the spiritual and human rewards of pilgrimage and companionship amid sacrifice helped me remember that this was not a random stroll for one own's amusement.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How the devil, in the form of a cell phone, had been cast from the temple. Ever since then, I religiously turn mine off as I enter a church.

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