one of the more striking scenes in “The Way” is when the motley group of peregrinos arrive at the Catedral de Santiago. in turn, each of the peregrinos enters the Cathedral by way of the middle doors in the Pórtico da Gloria, past the Tree of Jesse, which is grooved from hundreds of years and hundreds of thousands of peregrinos placing their hand on the carving to acknowledge and express their devotion.
the Pórtico da Gloria was erected between 1168 and 1188 under the direction of Maestro Mateo in a Romanesque style. in order to construct it, he had to build up from the basement to create an adequate “porch” for a narthex. Ferdinand II of León provided the funds for the project, a sum of money every year for twenty years. in addition to the intricate stonework, at some point during the 12th century the work was polychromed and then repainted during the 17th century; traces of color remain today.
the entire Pórtico depicts the Last Judgement, though each architectural element has its own theme. the left door illustrates themes from the Old Testament and Judaism, as precursors to Christianity; the central door focuses on the resurrection of Jesus and features an array of musical instruments and musicians; stonework on the right door proclaims the “promise of the future;” depictions on the door jams of the central door represent a holy kingdom on earth.
at the top of the middle pillar is Santiago, holding a scroll proclaiming “Misit me Dominus” (the Lord sent me) — acknowledgement that Santiago de Compostela is watched over by a higher, divine power. (for more on that, may I recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Rifles, which not only depicts the terrain we covered but also discusses a siege and liberation of Santiago during the Napoleonic wars.) beneath Santiago is the Tree of Jesse, outlining the family heritage of Jesus. Maestro Mateo’s work greeted weary peregrinos to the Catedral for nearly six centuries before the now resplendent facade facing the Praza do Obradoiro was completed in 1750 and enclosed the porch
in “The Way,” the more religious of Sheen’s companions, the Dutchman Joost, approaches the central pillar on his knees, penitently, before placing his hand where so many faithful had done before. there are finger holes worn into the carving where the fingers of hundreds of thousands of peregrinos have placed their hands. it’s not unlike the stairs in Old Main at Knox though, I must confess, more awe-inducing. we couldn’t follow that example — the pillar is now guarded by metal fences that keep you well back from the Tree of Jesse, as well as away from the self-portrait Maestro Mateo carved of himself on the other side of the pillar, kneeling in prayer looking up towards the altar. tradition held that those who knocked heads with the Maestro’s statue would benefit from his genius; students would often visit the Catedral in advance of exams for a different kind of preparation.