GEORGE BORROW'S VIEW OF SANTIAGO ['ST. JAMES'] IN THE EARLY 1830s

 

Saint James stands on a pleasant level amidst mountains:  the most extraordinary of these is a conical hill, called the Pico Sacro, or Sacred Peak, connected with which are many wonderful legends.  A beautiful old town is Saint James, containing about twenty thousand inhabitants.  Time has been when, with the single exception of Rome, it was the most celebrated resort of pilgrims in the world; its cathedral being said to contain the bones of Saint James the elder, the child of the thunder, who, according to the legend of the Romish church, first preached the Gospel in Spain.  Its glory, however, as a place of pilgrimage is rapidly passing away.

 

The cathedral, though a work of various periods, and exhibiting various styles of architecture, is a majestic venerable pile, in every respect calculated to excite awe and admiration; indeed, it is almost impossible to walk its long dusky aisles, and hear the solemn music and the noble chanting, and inhale the incense of the mighty censers, which are at times swung so high by machinery as to smite the vaulted roof, whilst gigantic tapers glitter here and there amongst the gloom, from the shrine of many a saint, before which the worshippers are kneeling, breathing forth their prayers and petitions for help, love, and mercy, and entertain a doubt that we are treading the floor of a house where God delighteth to dwell. Yet the Lord is distant from that house; he hears not, he sees not, or if he do, it is with anger.  What availeth that solemn music, that noble chanting, that incense of sweet savour?  What availeth kneeling before that grand altar of silver, surmounted by that figure with its silver hat and breast-plate, the emblem of one who, though an apostle and confessor, was at best an unprofitable servant?  What availeth hoping for remission of sin by trusting in the merits of one who possessed none, or by paying homage to others who were born and nurtured in sin, and who alone, by the exercise of a lively faith granted from above, could hope to preserve themselves from the wrath of the Almighty?

 

Rise from your knees, ye children of Compostella, or if ye bend, let it be to the Almighty alone, and no longer on the eve of your patron's day address him in the following strain, however sublime it may sound:

 

"Thou shield of that faith which in Spain we revere,

Thou scourge of each foeman who dares to draw near;

Whom the Son of that God who the elements tames,

Called child of the thunder, immortal Saint James!

 

"From the blessed asylum of glory intense,

Upon us thy sovereign influence dispense;

And list to the praises our gratitude aims

To offer up worthily, mighty Saint James.

 

"To thee fervent thanks Spain shall ever outpour;

In thy name though she glory, she glories yet more

In thy thrice-hallowed corse, which the sanctuary claims

Of high Compostella, O, blessed Saint James.

 

"When heathen impiety, loathsome and dread,

With a chaos of darkness our Spain overspread,

Thou wast the first light which dispell'd with its flames

The hell-born obscurity, glorious Saint James!

 

"And when terrible wars had nigh wasted our force,

All bright 'midst the battle we saw thee on horse,

Fierce scattering the hosts, whom their fury proclaims

To be warriors of Islam, victorious Saint James.

 

"Beneath thy direction, stretch'd prone at thy feet,

With hearts low and humble, this day we intreat

Thou wilt strengthen the hope which enlivens our frames,

The hope of thy favour and presence, Saint James.

 

"Then praise to the Son and the Father above,

And to that Holy Spirit which springs from their love;

To that bright emanation whose vividness shames

The sun's burst of splendour, and praise to Saint James."