Wednesday morning dawned bright and crisp in the private little village outside Lisbon. The boys and young men of the Georgia Boy Choir were once again greeted with a sack of warm, fresh bread to go with their breakfast. Sadly, this was their last day to wake in such a fashion. Adventure was calling, and they had to answer. They said goodbye to their tiny town and headed north up the coast of Portugal toward the northeastern corner of Spain. Their ultimate destination before nightfall was the city of Santiago de Compostela.
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Situated about halfway is the ancient city of Porto, source of all of the port wine in the world. The entourage stopped here and toured one of the famous wineries, learning about the fascinating process and the industry of winemaking. After a delicious lunch at an outdoor café, they boarded a boat and took a cruise up and down the River Douro, taking in the beautiful scenery of Porto before reentering Spain and completing their pilgrimage to Santiago.
On Thursday, the intrepid young singers enjoyed touring the city of Santiago de Compostela and its famous cathedral where they were to perform later that evening. Santiago is famous as one of the most significant destinations in all of Christendom. The magnificent cathedral is built on the site where the Apostle James was buried, and annually tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world travel, mostly by foot, to visit the holy site. Hours before the evening mass began, the church was already full with people waiting to get a seat. The Georgia Boy Choir filled the sanctuary with the glorious sound of George Talbot’s setting of Psalm 150 as the celebrants entered and processed to the altar. Their singing of the plainsong Missa de Angelis added meaning and beauty to the entire service. When they sang John Stainer’s “God So Loved the World” during communion their were quite a few worshippers wiping tears from their eyes.
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At the conclusion of the mass a remarkable tradition took place: the famed Botafumeiro of Santiago. An enormous silver thurible (incense burner) weighing more than 100 pounds that had been suspended above the altar was lowered and lit. As the odiferous smoke began to fill the room, one of the priests pulled it back and let it go allowing it to swing freely across the transept of the church. A group of eight more priests began to pull on the other end of the rope that connected it to the ceiling by a pulley. As they did so, the container full of flaming incense began to swing higher and higher, eventually nearly touching the ceiling of the church, and reaching a speed of more than 50 miles per hour! The boys in the choir were on the very front row as the thurible sailed directly over their heads. They were in awe as this spectacle unfolded.
After the service the resident choir of the cathedral, the Escolania de Santiago de Compostela shared a brief concert with the boys from Georgia. The Escolania sang first and were really quite an excellent Choir. It was a delight to hear them sing. The Georgia Boy Choir followed and the huge crowd of listeners was effusive in their applause. The strength and power of the boys’ voices blended magnificently with the massive organ, yet even when they sang quietly a capella, their ethereal sound filled the entire room. It was a splendid concert. At the celebratory meal that followed, the Choir’s wonderful tour guide, Theresa presented each boy with his own pilgrim’s shell as well as with a certificate conferring upon him the title of Pilgrim of el Camino de Santiago. It was a touching gesture which the boys greatly appreciated.
Friday was a well-deserved day off from singing. The 34 boys and young men traveled by bus to Cape Finisterre, a cliff-sided peninsula that in ancient times was thought to be the very edge of the world. The blue skies and rolling clouds, mixed with the pounding surf and cool wind were invigorating. The young travelers had so much fun imagining that they had reached the end of the world, but were grateful to realize that home still lies on the other side of that ocean.
Until next time,
The 2016 Georgia Boy Choir Spain and Portugal Tour Team
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