"Do you think the Botafmeiro will swing today?" she asks. The famous silver incense burner is already suspended above the altar. "Yes, there it is" I point it out to her. The nun with the beautiful voice sings the responses required of the congregation. The mass begins. I look up at the cathedral, water stains, ancient mason signs in the columns, stained glass windows.
This is truly a 'pilgrim' cathedral. It is one of the few medieval churches that was never an abbey. How different from Rome - from St Peter's - which is not warm or welcoming. As pilgrims in 2006 we were not allowed into St Peter's because our arms were not covered. Here, pilgrims of all ages, in shorts, t-shirts, boots and sandals, with backpacks leaning against the ancient pillars, cram the aisles and sit on the flagstones. It has always been like this. When communion is over the men in maroon grab the large wheel with the ropes attached and start swinging the botafumeiro higher and higher. It looks smaller than I remember it from 2002. This is a replica and is not the 80kg silver thurible that we saw 7 years ago. It still elicits gasps from the congregation as it almost touches the ceiling. After mass we throng out of the cathedral back into the sunshine.
"We did our best to keep up the warm tradition of San Roque" I tell her.
"The pilgrims won't forget" she says. "I hope to see you back again one day".
I hope so too - I'm already feeling nostalgic.
Santiago is crowded. There are many groups of young people (it has a huge university and it is holidays) lolling about on all the steps around the cathedral. The narrow streets are filled with pilgrims, tourists and a few stoic residents who have to negotiate their way through the milling crowds. There are beggars, some with dogs, buskers playing guitar or flute, there are singers, harmonising troubadours in traditional La Tuna tights and tunics. Santiago is truly medieval. I don't imagine it looked too different 700 years ago with its myriad of tiny alleys, cobbled or grey granite streets, overhanging balconies, alleys and arches.