Santiago III: The Revelator
“… until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.”
Calima they called it as I stepped onto the road for a better view, arena de la Sahara, sand in the sky. I looked and stared at the shaded sun, blackened as sackcloth of hair by the desert winds. The coppered heavens cooled the earth and darkened the sky, and my eyes were veiled from that light upon which we all depend for life and living. And I saw, and I understood the veil would soon be lifted, and the nuclear heat would necessarily return.
I would remember the calima the night that it happened, the night that he came. I am not sure I would believe this story even if I heard it from myself—but he told me to write it down, and I must obey.
He came to me at the end of the medieval world, when we finished the Camino. We began our pilgrimage two months prior, arriving at Madrid during the Saharan haze in March of 2022. Our lungs filled with sand that morning from the calima, and we spent the afternoon and evening cloistered indoors. Heavy rains flushed the sands the next day as we got to our starting point near Roncesvalles. We always knew we would walk the Camino. Our little one gave us the social excuse, the religious excuse, to take a few months off.
We had tried for nearly seven years. With only six days of life, all you can do is hold her in your arms and pray in the deepest gratitude for every hour given. Yet the pain never seems to fade: six days of infinite joy in creation, and a lifetime of grief lingering on each step into the morrow.
We took in as much of the Spanish countryside as we could. I had never felt closer to her, particularly as we reached the end. I took her hand as we passed through the northern arch to the echoed sounds of bagpipes and pilgrims triumphant. Some seven weeks of walking; we wept. To see the cathedral in the distance, then up close, knowing with your eyes and your heart that it’s real, feeling the stones with your hands and under your shoes and the lingering presence of pilgrims by the hundreds and by the centuries, and legends and myths and the miracles—it’s remarkably powerful.
We rested in the square and sat on the ground opposite the Cathedral’s powerful facade with our backs and packs to dry-mossed pillars of stone. The sun rose high, burning white hot above the square and we retreated into the Parador where we bathed and changed and walked south of the city for lunch at the Mercado de Boanerges.
That evening we took a tour of the Portico of Glory. We entered through the northern stairs and into the pale blue outer court. Dimmed lights shone along the stone-craft as the sun dipped low into the goldkissed hills of Galicia. I looked at the three arches individually, some ten cubits each, and breathed as blood coursed my heart in cosmic rhythm. I stood with my back to the large doors—wood made music, and they sung to me.
Our guide rehearsed the symbolism within the stonework: “at the center here is Santiago, or Saint James—James the great, son of Zebedee, brother to John, the Revelator, you know. Above him are the column capitals with the temptations of Christ, the Trinity, sí, sí. Here is God the Father,” he pointed. “Here he welcomes his son, the Christ-child in his arms and holds a closed book with his left hand.”
My wife looked up and saw the child in the sure arms of God, and in that babe of rock she could not but remember our lost Anastasia and wept in silence.
“The Cathedral can be quite overwhelming” said the guide. I pulled her into me and she kissed my arm. Her tears bled into the threads of my sleeve. The compassioned pull only found in love that suffers together.
The guide focused: “here the marble mullion upon which sits Santiago. Come now, let me see your hand.” He took my wife by the wrist and placed her right hand fingers into five inlets of smoothed rock at the base of the column and held it there. He turned his head level with hers and bore into her eyes. “I see these things mean something to you. This represents the stem of Jesse, the mortal genealogy of Christ.” He never broke his gaze, pouring music from one feeble soul into another, “millions upon millions have journeyed here to graft themselves into this stem, to be called the children of Christ.” He let go and stepped back, pointing above, “you endured the journey, and now with your hand grafted in you are tied to Christ’s divine genealogy, and can now live with him, and enter his presence.”
He pointed beyond the façade and upward toward the central figure of Christ. “And here the left arch representing the resurrection and saving through the messianic promise. You can see an angel helping the blessed pass into the glory here, wherein dwells Christ beyond death.” He walked us to the far end of the stonework, “and on this the third arch is a depiction of judgment, with devils on the left-hand of the keystone—which is Christ, see that head there—and angels on his right.” He pointed to the seven deadly sins in the figures consumed by demons all upon Solomonic columns raised above beasts gaping wide the mouth. He then walked us back to the central arch and noted the musicians surrounding the tympanum. I counted them out loud: “Twenty-four. Twenty-four men here. Any significance?”
“Everything here is significant. These are the elders described in the Book of Revelation; we haven’t even started. But we have no time, there is no time.” He pointed quickly to fantastic animals, the twenty and four elders (as he called them), to their instruments and to many other references of Apocalipsis. “All this is the central theme of the Portico, the inevitability of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation, that sagrada visión en Patmos vio, que las estrellas midió.” I nodded my head.
The tour ended without warning, and we walked out to the cacophonous plaza, unable to thank our guide as we broke from the reverent quiet. Throughout that night and into the next day and week and month, and even now those revelatory scenes of stone course through my mind. A vast tapestry stained on the fleshy tables of my soul. The images and themes repeated in my mind without end; they troubled me. And they lingered as we continued through the medieval paths of old-town Santiago, like Paracelsian pilgrims turning the pages of the world with our feet.
Three nights after the Portico, my wife had a dream that would carry us one week further on our journey. She saw our baby as if a woman now of improbable beauty atop a mountain at Finisterre, looking out at the sea. She held in her hand two books of gold and silver hue and gave them to my wife with a kiss on each of her hands. She told her to open the books. The first overflowed with text and opened freely and she fanned through the pages of words she could never read; the second was of granite stone and she could not open it, yet it was lighter than the first. She gave both back to our daughter who held them together twine in one. She took the new book and opened it for my wife and revealed images and colors she had never before seen nor could ever describe, so she said, and kissed her cheek, pointing to the sea and she awoke.
That morning we determined to walk to the coast; we arrived at Finisterre the day that it happened.
As we arrived, the rain pulled back its pour and the hills sang green with rest, and we saw into the infinite expanse of peaceful blue at the end of the medieval world.
We stayed at the Hotel Naturaleza Mar da Ardora, walking distance from the beach. Most of my clothes were stained and filthy from the previous two months and I threw them away as the pilgrims of old. After a shared paella I put on a fresh white linen shirt, and we walked from our room and drew across the coastline. We pulled westward beyond the afternoon against the red glaze of sand and sun and into the evening up to the Miradoiro de Mar de Fóra and watched the impressionist skyline set into the sea. We held hands and I kissed her head, and she told me she loved me with a timbre I’d never before heard and will never hear again.
“Do you think we will ever have children?” she asked.
“What was that?”
“Will we ever have children?”
“What does your heart tell you?”
She gazed out at the sea for some time. “I can never tell the truth from my own desires.”
I put my hand just above her breast, “I know this heart. In this heart is a thousand lifetimes of motherhood waiting to be given to the world. Whether you mother a child given you by God or the many children abandoned by the world, including me, it will be the same, and I will love you forever because of it. And yes, I believe we will have children, one already brought us here, didn’t she?”
She wiped the corners of her eyes. “This is the place I saw in my dream. It’s beautiful, just like her.” She kissed my cheek and wrapped her arm around my neck and spoke with soft lipped love into my ear “we will have more.”
The sky waned Bruegel blue and the Galician rains crept in on the distant horizon. I hadn’t said much for some time and she asked what I thought about. I told her of those images at the Portico. I told her I wanted to stay a while on the beach and think. She nodded, and kissed my arm happier than normal, and let me walk her back to our room.
On my return to the beach I saw a small Bible in the hotel lobby and remembered my wife’s dream. I picked it up and headed to the Miradoiro above the shoreline. There I sat and listened to the sapphire moon rhythms of the ocean with the blues and blacks drifting to the lulled dreams of the sea.
The temperature was nearly perfect. No heat. No cold—perfect neutrality, perfect comfort. Not a bead of sweat, not a tinge of chill. Bodily equilibrium. Silence.
The night sky set into the dark and the stars fell like dew into their places. Despite the gathering storm, lingering off in the horizon, the night shone unusually clear in the Gallego heavens. I saw more stars that night than almost any other in my life. They reminded me of the unbelievable Lyrid meteor shower on the Camino only a few weeks before in April, how the stars did fall—like the Leonids, like a fig tree casting away untimely figs in a mighty wind. I stood to see the stars then climbed higher for a better view. It reminded me of something I thought I read in the Book of Revelation. I opened the Bible to look for it.
I read at chapter one under the starry silver and didn’t stop until the end. The text drew me in more than scripture ever had. I read as if seeing the vision for myself, as if I were the author. Things once hidden became terribly clear in my mind, others less so, and I looked above as the sky seemed to unfurl as a black canvas scroll onto which I could project the images of white and red and black and pale horses driving angels and demons from battle into peace and peace into battle. I could see the seven angels and the seven horns and a dragon, and a woman with child and I loved her; I could see it all, and all as one whole. I drank in the words.
I read into the night not aware of time slipping away. I read and reread and came again to chapter eight, verse three. I stopped and a strange scent rose from off the beach. Smoke climbed faint through the air to the top of the hill, perfuming the breeze with myrrh and cassia and spikenard. My eyes followed the smoke down the hill to a man burning herbs and branches in a tall brazen fire. He stood beside a horse of edenic camellia white.
I looked down at him and he up at me. The fire burned to its peak and he walked regally along the sand and up the hill my way. My heart beat to the blood-dance of the fire. He wore a refined suit of wool, white with buttons running the length of his torso and up into the collar and a fresh white shirt beneath; his raven hair waved long and slick and clean to the back of his head, and his cheeks shined skinsmooth atop a strong jaw. He came closer and his handsome eyes beamed brilliant blue in the dimmed light of night, like the central burn of a flame; his shoes were the color of brass and refracted the moonlight cresting in the horizon. He greeted me by name and asked if I knew the time.
I looked at my watch, “it’s nearly midnight.”
He held his gaze to me, “what is the exact time?”
I turned back to my wrist, “it’s exactly 11:48, twelve minutes to midnight.”
He nodded and held his gaze, a strong soul pouring music into a feeble one, “half hour is almost up.” He stared off into the horizon where thick lightning stroked the distant sky, and the roll of thunder drew in soft and subtle warnings. I stood and he came closer.
“That storm’s nearly made its way here, wouldn’t you say? It’s like the rain is already falling on my head,” and he extended his hand. I shook it. Peace in the soft warmth of his heavy grip. We spoke together in English, and he asked why I was there. “The Camino de Santiago. My wife and I just finished today here at Finisterre. We weren’t planning to make it out this far. Have you walked the Camino?”
“I have made many pilgrimages to many places.”
“But you’ve been to Santiago de Compostela, of course?”
He nodded, smiling, “the city of James.”
In his smile I thought of James the man, not James the myth or the saint or even the apostle. I felt love for him. “I wonder what James would have thought about all this, hundreds of thousands, millions of pilgrims, millions, walking in his name, venerating his remains. What an honor!”
He held his smile and gazed on the black horizon in yearning, “Ya’aqov. He would have wanted these people worshiping Christ alone. That I know.” Then he turned to me and pointed and asked what I read.
“The Bible. Well, the Book of Revelation.”
“That is good. And what do you make of it?”
I paused, and saw the blue of his eyes beaming. “Tonight it reads more like a dream, one that tells you things you don’t have the words to even understand.”
“Yes. That is good. What questions do you have?”
“Yes, what questions do you have?”
In this moment, neither my mind nor my heart registered the strangeness of it all and I continued the conversation with immense freedom, like a child confiding in his oldest brother: “What do you know about this in chapter four, verse six where it says: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. What is the meaning of these beasts?”
“These are expressions used to describe heaven, the paradise of God, and the happiness of all his creations: men, beasts, creeping things, the fowls of the air.” Then he spoke as if quoting scripture: “that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual.”
“What is the symbolism in the book that John sees with seven seals?”
“It is a representation of all living things, containing the mysteries of God and the hidden secrets of his economy during the seven thousand years of this temporal existence.”
“But what are the seals?”
“Each seal contains what you might call one thousand years of history: so the first will house the first thousand, the second, the second thousand and so forth.”
“And if we live on that timeline, where are we now?”
“I’d suggest you spend more time with chapter eight, for these things must shortly come to pass.” And he opened his mouth and words of the infinite spilled out into terror as time eased into limitlessness, and he bound words eternal within the confines of a mortal minute and spoke and showed me many things that have passed, and many that are to come, in signs and in symbols and in dreams, things he forbade me from writing, things I couldn’t write if I wanted. Yet they are real. I understand them now as well as I see my hand write these words on this page. And the world would do well to prepare for what lies ahead.
As I fell back into time I asked, “who are you?”
“That storm is very unusual for these parts of Galicia with her gentle rains. You better get going before you’re caught out here in it.” And he motioned for me to look heavenward with his head.
The lunar glow shown bright and full, just above an edge of the stygian clouds. And within our speaking her color waned from silver to orange, then burned into bronze and to blood. I looked at my watch: 11:59.
“An eclipse,” he said. “One of the bloodiest I’ve ever seen beyond dreams. Terribly beautiful.” Then he looked at me and touched my hand, “read these words again, and know them, for today is the day of which they speak. I will go to many others. The time of knowledge is at hand. For though you live in great comfort, neither hot nor cold, the Lord will soon spew you from his mouth.” And he continued again as if reading from scripture: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with good, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; an white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
He paused then looked down the hill to his horse and back to me. “You better get back to your family. They will need you. Tell your wife about this visit. Then write it down. She will need you; you’ll need her, and your children will need you both.”
I didn’t realize he meant the literal rain coming down and heading our way, beating into the tide. I stood confused and asked again who he was.
The sounds of rain approached with exponential speed pounding gravid into the sea and roared across the rough waves blotting out much of what he said. But I did hear one last thing, just before the rain hit directly upon us, “… my name is John.” And the hairs on my arms raised up as did those on my head and a bright clap of light stroked across the sky and hit the ground just beyond our feet, nearly touching us and blinding my eyes and ringing my ears white. After a few seconds I recovered my hearing low to the ground with a residual hum and lay pelted in rain. I sought after the man in the black showerfall but to no avail.
I ran down the mount and across the beach to our hotel and entered more wet than if I had bathed in the ocean. I walked up the stairs to our room and thought I saw her asleep and peaceful, unaffected by the tumult and rage beyond the walls. I moved to the bathroom without sound and dried myself clean. I lay in bed, and she turned to me. Her unusual smile still shone from the afternoon, glistening in her tears. I asked what was wrong. “I wanted to make sure, I wanted to be one hundred percent sure. This is my third test.” She let out a soft laugh and showed me the double lines. “That night in Madrid, we couldn’t see the Prado because of the calima. I bought the tests in Santiago.” I let out a laugh and my eyes swelled. I pulled her into my chest.
“John,” I whispered, “his name is John.”
“His?” she said. And I nodded my head above hers and kissed her hair and I held her there in my arms together thrine, sheltered from the heat of the storm, and told her words I only remember in feeling and in feelings now lost in words.
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