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End of the Way of Saint James, the Portal of Glory

The Way to the Portal of Glory: The Christian Meaning of the Jacobean Pilgrimage

For many centuries’ pilgrims set out on the Jacobean Way in search of meaning to their lives. It is an answer to the questions that everyone asks themselves at some point in their lives. What is the deep meaning of my existence? Who or what can fulfil my yearning for happiness? Who in life shows me the way to follow? Is there life after this life?

The pilgrimage to the tomb of James the Greater carries a message. It teaches that answers the questions asked by the pilgrim. It is the testimony of the Apostle, who more than two thousand years ago personally lived day by day with Christ, the Son of God made man. The disciple of Jesus tells us that Christ is the beginning and the end of the universe, the axis of time and history.

The apostle Saint James testifies to every pilgrim to Compostela from all over the world that Christ is a presence that accompanies us here and now. And that Christ manifests himself to each person today in the same way as he did in life. Through petition, prayer and the company of those who follow him, he manifests himself to give their lives a sense of happiness.

The Pilgrims Route, and the Portal of Glory, represents an allegory of this Jacobean testimony. It is a message captured by the master Mateo in his sublime work, the summit of the Romanesque, located at the entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago, which houses the silver ark with the mortal remains of the apostle Saint James.

The way to the Portal of Glory

The Galician Félix Carbó, a scholar of the Portal of Glory, reminds us that the Romanesque, born in the year 1000. It was the first Western Christian sacred art, and it does not have technical perfection as its goal. In the art of the Middle Ages it was not so important to reflect reality, but rather the message to be transmitted.

Although the pilgrims of the Middle Ages did not know how to read or write, they were able to decipher the symbols of the Portal. It was erected between 1175 and 1188, and thanks to it, pilgrims could understand the truth they were seeking at the beginning of their long journey. “Christ is the only way by which man has the possibility of advancing towards full happiness”, summarises Carbó in his book. A hypothesis he shares with Saint Thomas, in Summa Theologiae, and Dante, in The Divine Comedy.

This scholar from Pontevedra also highlights the old greeting of the pilgrims when they meet on the Camino: “ultreia et suseia” – “Deus adjuvat nos”. We go further and higher. A greeting to which the pilgrims respond with the prayer: “God, help us”. May God help us to find the right Way beyond the appearances of life and with reason open to mystery.

Faith is not an irrational act, but on the contrary, it is the most reasonable action that a human being can find because it can be verified and experienced daily. There is nothing that emanates from Christ that does not pass through man’s humanity: his reason, his misery, his temptations, his sin and his impotence.

In the preliminary survey that pilgrims carry out to obtain La Compostela, once they have completed their pilgrimage to the city of Santiago, there is a broad common denominator. The reasons that have led many to undertake the Way are the same as those that motivated pilgrims of all times to start it: they have hit rock bottom in their lives. However, some are not fully aware of this reality.

The causes that have triggered the spark that gives rise to this vital turning point can be diverse. The death of a family member, the overcoming or not of a serious illness, a divorce or the weariness of a monotonous and unfulfilled life can be some of the many reasons. But what is more common is that something has triggered the need to turn their life around. Money, power, fame, sex, drugs, and other hedonistic temptations that the world offers them do not give them an answer that fully satisfies their longing for happiness.

The pilgrimage of life

The Way is a simile of the human being in the pilgrimage of his life, desperately searching for an answer that gives plenitude to his existence. This encounter with Christ on life’s journey is an awe-inspiring event, a love story that continues into eternity, provided it is nurtured in daily petition and prayer. Without both premises, it is not possible to verify the Christian proposal. Both petition and prayer are the points at which a person’s conscience begins to participate in the mystery of the One who created him.

“The Holy Spirit sustains our weakness because we do not even know what we ought to ask for in prayer, nor how we ought to ask it, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8,26). The ability to adhere to the Christian proposal is a gift of Grace. Christian meeting makes the sincere person aware of the disproportion between his strengths and the very terms of the proposal. It enables him to be conscious of the exceptional nature of the problem posed by such an announcement.

In his message, the apostle Saint James testifies that the mystery of Christ is revealed and presented in a companionship. He says that “companionship” is something that can be experienced. That Christ helps by accompanying you physically with the companionship he has put you in or is waiting for you. James recalls that the encounter with Christ made him grow, become great. It made him experience the closeness of a different, corresponding, persuasive, educational, creative human reality, which, in some way, had an impact on him. And so, he freely said: “I am going with them”, with Christ and with his Apostles.

James accepted the nudge towards that human reality he had encountered. Something had struck him, even if it was a breath. Christ also “works” with blows. The apostle James affirms that Christ is a presence. And, like yesterday, today and tomorrow, he accompanies through an encounter with a specific person among the followers of Christ. An encounter with a person who makes you perceive the new breath of a promise of life, of a Presence that corresponds to the original expectation of your heart.

Apostle Saint James says that it is this and no other company in which Christ has become a companion of your life and draws close to you on the way, girding you and sustaining you. The character of the company in which Christ has placed you is to remember, in whatever circumstances of life, that all is ultimately made of Christ.

The mystery of our lives is opened up to the light by following Christ, for He has said: “Without me, you can do nothing” (Jn,15,1-5).

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