The Shadow Pilgrim

An accidental play of light projects a Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s perfect silhouette onto the cathedral wall.

Every night, in a corner underneath the baroque clock tower located in the Plaza de la Quintana, a hunched pilgrim can be seen. He stands life-sized and wears the traditional clothing of a religious pilgrim, which includes a cloak, a broad-brimmed hat, and a staff that is top-heavy with a gourd for water. The traditional scallop shell, which is the symbol of the pilgrim, is also present.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the pilgrim is not actually there. His image is merely a trick of the light, and an unintentional one at that. In reality, his body is the shadow cast by the lightning rod pillar in the corner of the cathedral, while his staff is the shadow of the support column of the Berenguela clock tower. Although the exterior of the cathedral features dozens of these lighting rods and hundreds of vertical supports, there is only one pilgrim.

The Legend

Legend has it that a local priest fell in love with a nun from the San Paio convent across the plaza. They met secretly every night by traveling through a secret passage under the Quintana stairs that connected the convent to the cathedral. The two lovers planned to run away together, and he promised to meet her in the plaza disguised as a pilgrim to conceal his identity. However, on the planned evening, he waited in the shadows, but she never showed up. Since then, he has been returning every night, hoping to see her.

Perfect Disguise

For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have been walking the well-worn route of the Camino de Santiago, from France to Santiago de Compostela. They come to seek blessings and forgiveness of sins from the body of the Apostle James, who is said to be buried in the cathedral. Santiago de Compostela has always been flooded with pilgrims, making it a perfect place to disguise oneself as a pilgrim.

According to medieval legends, the bones of St. James were discovered by a hermit in 813 AD, guided by a heavenly light known as the Campus Stellae, or the field of stars. This discovery was made in far Northern Spain, an improbable location given that most of Spain was under Islamic rule at the time. The bishop of that time proclaimed that the bones had arrived in 44 AD by an unmanned, rudderless boat following the decapitation of James in Palestine. A shrine was erected, followed by a church and finally a cathedral, and thus began the age-old tradition of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.

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