Pilgrim city contemplates economic wreckage in wake of train disaster
Tragedy that struck at heart of Galicia is compounded by damage to local economy
Spain’s Princess Elena (left), Princess Letizia (rear centre) and Prince Felipe (right) comfort relatives of the train crash victims at the end of a funeral mass at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on July 29th. Photograph: AP
Minutes past midnight in the square fronting the flamboyant baroque cathedral in Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, a solitary besuited figure looks up. The “field of stars” overhead, after which the Galician city is named, is obscured by yellow-grey bursting clouds.
The gated Obradoiro façade of the cathedral, its extravagant architecture described by one commentator as evincing a “hat-in-the-air exuberance”, is outshone on this night by hundreds of candles placed in front, licking the breeze as though dodging the raindrops.
In the candlelight, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, president of the Galician government, looks at the hundreds of messages, toys and flowers offered in memory of the 79 people who died just 4km away in Spain’s worst train crash in 40 years. With his driver waiting discreetly beside a black car in front of the Parador, a state-run hotel on the square, Feijóo is unrecognised by the few tourists around him. He takes in the scene and, looking skywards, appears to be asking how such a disaster could have struck at the heart of Galicia, so close to this monument that celebrates James, an apostle honoured not only locally but who is also the patron saint of Spain.
The crash had happened less than a week previously, on July 24th, and the pilgrim city of Santiago – last stop on the Camino walking route that begins in the French Pyrenees 750km away – was still stunned by the extent of the fatalities. Some 170 people were injured.
Today the Unesco world heritage city, which declared a week of mourning instead of the official three days across Spain, is contemplating an additional kind of wreckage: that of its economy, which suffered doubly due to the timing of the disaster on the eve of its annual festival marking the religious feast of Saint James.
With all concerts, street parties and other events cancelled, the city was eerily subdued during festival week, with far fewer tourists and pilgrims than usual crowding into the main square or frequenting the restaurants and bars.
In place of revelling, there were ceremonies honouring the dead. Black ribbons of mourning were dotted throughout the city. Members of the royal family and politicians who were due to attend the festivities found themselves instead surveying the crash scene at Angrois and participating in mourning the victims.
A Mass held in the cathedral ended poignantly when distraught family members wept uncontrollably as they were consoled by Spain’s Prince Felipe, Santiago-born prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and Feijóo.