Category Archives: Pilgrimage

Camino Day 25, Portomarin

Day 25. Friday, September 19, 2014. Portomarin.
88K from Santiago. (Correction to yesterday’s entry: Sarria is 115K from Santiago. It is the last CITY on the Camino where you can start to complete the 100k requirement to earn the Compostela).

We were disappointed to start the day facing constant drizzle, fearing the day would be a washout. We passed through Sarria and then a wooded path which led steadily uphill. We stopped after an hour for coffee and croissants, and by the time we were done the rain had stopped, giving way to a beautiful day. It remained that way until midafternoon.

The number of pilgrims on the Camino today was noticeably more due to the pilgrims just starting the last 100K. It’s easy to spot those just starting. They are fresh and clean have energy. They also seem more hesitant reading the trail markers, not quite in their stride and as if they haven’t found the right adjustment for their backpacks. Those who have been at this for a while, as one pilgrim put it, have “attitude.” We aren’t concerned with what we look or smell like, we are just pushing through to out goal.

We continue to see familiar faces along the Way, sometimes those we haven’t seen for several days. Especially with the addition of the newbies, we have an even greater connection and solidarity. We don’t always remember each others’ names so we use descriptions, usually by country (the German girls, the Danes, that young guy walking with his dad… we are probably “those priests”). We all know who we are talking about. We are like a big group, who together with our possessions, are being swept together across northern Spain. If someone loses something along the way someone is bound to pick it up and return it to you down the road. It is a great sense of being in this together.

Today was a pleasant day through farms and countryside. This section of the Camino seems much more developed, with better walkways and more upscale cafés here and there.

Today was the first time we had to share the Camino with cows.

Portomarin has an interesting history. It had originally been in the river valley, but when a dam was installed the whole town was moved to higher ground. The church was disassembled brick by brick and reassembled in its new location. If you look hard enough you can still see the numbers! You can also see the remains of building foundations under the bridge as you enter the city.

The images of St. James seem to increase as we get closer to Santiago… in most city squares.

There is a new energy as we close in on our goal. Four more days until Santiago.

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Treasures of Samos Monastery in Galicia

Samos, in Galicia, is home to a quaint city and a large, impressive Benedictine monastery. Fourteen monks are in residence there. More information about the history of Samos is here at Wikipedia. We took a tour of the monastery including the cloister, church and sacristy, and a hallway with murals depicting scenes from the life of St. Benedict. This was the highlight of the day. Enjoy this folio of pictures of the monastery. You can click the smaller pictures for larger versions. Here are exteriors, interiors, and some of the monastery’s treatures, including… musical mermaids.

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Exteriors
 

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Closer view of bell tower

Closer view of the clock tower.

 

 

Interiors

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica (praying) in the thunderstorm.

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica (praying) in the thunderstorm. You can read about the thunderstorm incident here: http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-scholastica/

 

Treasures

 

Detail of a manuscript page. Knotwork, flowers, and mermaids, each with a viola da gamba or some violin-like instrument.

Saint James

Saint James

Camino Day 24, Sarria

Day 24. Thursday, September 18. 2014.
Sarria.

Weather report: The rain in Spain stays mainly in Galicia. Another start in pitch blackness along an interstate, but the stars were bright and even though there was just a sliver of a moon it cheered us on The Way. The first real first sign of life was 7 Km later in Samos.

Samos is built on the Sarria River and is home to a quaint city and a large, impressive Benedictine monastery. It was exciting to come to a rise where all of a sudden the monastery was displayed below you. Only fourteen monks are in residence there. We took a tour of the monastery including the cloister, church and sacristy, and a hallway with murals depicting scenes from the life of St. Benedict. This was the highlight of the day.

The rest of the day was interminable walking with no where to stop for over 12K. The villages were so small they didn’t have anywhere to stop for refreshment. The rain was on and off, mainly on, from Samos on. We arrived a sorry sight in Sarria, drenched, cold and exhausted.

Sarria is 100k from Santiago. We’ve heard that since only 100K is required to earn the Compostela many pilgrims start their Camino from here. We were expecting masses of people but in the rain it is hard to tell. There certainly are large number of albergue, pensiones and hotels. We will know more tomorrow, but now we need to dry out and refuel.

Five days until we reach Santiago.

Camino Day 23, Triacastela

Camino Day 23, Wednesday, September 17, 2014, Triacastela. Started our steep, upward journey to the top of the mountain in the dark, with only our headlight to guide us. The path had trees on both sides and a strong wind above that made it seem like we were moving through a long tunnel.

We stopped at the first village we came to for breakfast before continuing to the top. The selfie includes a traveling buddy from Australia. This will allow you to see how well we are surviving.

The wind battled us on the path to the top. We passed a marker indicating we entered the Galician province, the last in our trip.

 We came to O Cebreiro. All the buildings and streets were made of the same stone. We imagine that that any lighter building material wouldn’t last in the constant wind.

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(Not taken today, but these are the kinds of rocks that are underfoot and are treacherous when wet).

The theme of the day could have been Up and Down; Dry and Wet. We wove our way through the Mountains of Leon with varying degrees of rain, with breaks here and there. Pilgrims were putting on ponchos and running for cover as the rain intensified. The mud and slippery rocks made walking difficult.

By end of the day we were drenched, but as you see, God gave the rain but He also gave a beautiful rainbow.
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We went through a number of Galician villages, stopping at the one pictured for prayer. It was another tiring day, but each day brings us closer to our goal, Santiago.

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Camino Day 22, Feast of Ss. Cornelius and Cyprian, La Faba

Day 22. Tuesday, September 16, 2014. Feast of Ss. Cornelius and Cyprian.
La Faba. (We couldn’t post yesterday because the village where we stayed did not have Internet. Hope no one was worried about us). Here is what we wrote: Today we begin our fourth week on the Camino.

We left Villafranca in darkness with no food for the journey, but God provides, leading us to a street fruit stand that was just opening. We wound our way out of town and ended up climbing a highway with no shoulder to walk on. We came to a path along a another highway protected by a cement barrier. This would be our path for much of the day, diverted from time to time through a series of local villages.

About halfway through the day we started ascending on a more scenic road. We were surprised that there were no vineyards after the day before, where they were everywhere. This was a real climb through the Mountains of Leon and we would end the day at 1000 meters above sea level – a stopping point before another climb tomorrow.

The climb to La Faba was the worst… steep and exhausting and we were happy to get to our albergue in La Faba. The village was small, a store and a couple of small restaurants. Not much diversion so we retired early.

Camino Day 21, Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Villafranca del Bierzo.

We could see our breath as we left the albergue this morning, by far the chilliest start of our Camino. It was cloudy, so it remained dark through the first stop, Ponferrada.

Ponferrada a was a stronghold of the Knights Templar and the city still retains their fortress. We were able to admire the castle from the cafe as we had breakfast. Later we looked at the clock tower in the main plaza and entered the ancient, Gothic church to pray morning prayer for Our Lady of Sorrows. We were delighted to discover the chapel that had two statues of Our Lady of Sorrows, John and Mary at the cross and the pieta. The church also venerates a statue of Mary, with an interesting history. The statue was hidden in a tree trunk to protect it during the Moorish invasion. It was forgotten and only found later by a knight templar chopping firewood. He is remembered by a statue in front of the church.

We continued through some villages and started walking through orchards and vineyards. We were able to enjoy glass of the local tinto (red) wine (Bierzo region). It help restore us for the rest of the long day’s journey. We pressed on to get a head start on our next day, ending the journey at eight hours. Many pilgrims are in town and finding an albergue was difficult. We ended up at a newly refurbished former Franciscan monastery. We are happy to be in a room with only the three of us and a private bath. After resting we went to dinner at the main plaza.
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Camino Day 20, Solemnity of the Triumph of the Cross. Molinaseca.

Day 20. Sunday, September 14, 2014. Solemnity of the Triumph of the Cross. Molinaseca.

Today started with coffee, toast and jam at the albergue (a typical breakfast for Spain) and we set off up the mountain. An hour later we bought supplies for the day and were soon at the Cruz de Ferro (Cross of Iron). This cross is located at highest point of the Camino and it is traditional for pilgrims to leave a rock as sign of leaving their burdens at the foot of the cross. The site has an iron cross on a tall wooded pole surrounded by a large pile of rocks, left by pilgrims over the years. Each of us left rocks we had brought from our homes and I left the flash drive with the petitions I had brought from the parish. We prayed morning prayer at the site, appropriately for the solemnity of the day, the Triumph of the Cross.
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We were treated the first hours of the journey with spectacular views all around us. For a while we were above the clouds. Not since our first days crossing the Pyrenees did we see such views.

Pausing at a rise for refreshments, all of a sudden clouds rolled in around us turning the air chilly. As we began to walk again rain started, forcing us to pull out our rain gear. The rain would be intermittent all day, making our path wet and slippery. Before the end of the walk we had a thunderstorm, arriving at the albergue soaking wet. The thunder certainly hastened our pace.

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In ten days we plan to be in Santiago.
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Camino Day 19, Rabanal del Camino

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Day 19. Saturday, September 13, 2014. Rabanal del Camino. We had an easy start this morning, getting lost only briefly before finding our way. By the time we got to the first town we were ready for breakfast and found a lovely, flower-filled cafe run by Pilar. She offered a number of breakfast sandwiches on a flatbread. To every person who ordered she assured that they were the order was the most delicious the person would ever have. After all she had made them herself.

After that town we started a moderate ascent into the Mountains of Leon. We have left the barren plains and will climb two mountains before reaching Santiago. At the next town we prayed at the church and quickly continued our walk. Throughout the day we continued to ascend until the path became steep and rocky as we reached our destination. As we neared the town there was a wire fence where pilgrims had woven crosses out of sticks. Fr. Tom took the opportunity to add one of his own.

We found an albergue run by an English group. When they found out we are priests they offered us a separate room. The albergue is next to a small monastery where we will celebrate vespers tonight and the three of us will celebrate Mass in English.

At the albergue is a married couple from Roanoke, Virginia, a volunteer from Charlottesville and, of course, the two of us [Father Peck is from West Virginia], so Virginia is well represented. The hospitaleros here are known for their kindness to pilgrims, and are especially attentive to those with foot ailments. It was not a long day and we have time to relax before the next stage tomorrow.
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Camino Day 18, Astorga, Part 2

Day 18. Friday, September 12, 2014, part 2. Astorga. We had chosen to eat an early dinner on the main plaza of Astorga and shortly noticed that something was happening. It began with people arriving with band instruments. More and more people gathered in the plaza and then we heard piping and saw groups bringing enormous flags on tall (maybe 30 foot) poles. For over an hour group after group raised their flags but the real focus was on the flag bearer who performed stunts… raising the flag with one arm, or dancing while balancing the flag.

We also saw a gathering of clergy in capes and birettas, and people carrying processional crosses. This came together as a procession with a statue of Mary, Our Lady of Remedios, to a now lighted cathedral.

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Hundreds were in the procession, outpouring their excitement and devotion. As we entered the cathedral the organ was pealing, camera flashes ignited and the cathedral was fully illuminated. We felt privileged to be part of this local fiesta. Sadly the albergue was locking doors and we had to leave but we could still hear people celebrating into the night.
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Camino Day 18, Astorga

Day 18. Friday, September 12, 2014. Astorga.

As we left this morning we left the meseta behind and began the climb to one of the highest points on the Camino (more on that Sunday). We walked for about an hour along a highway with morning traffic buzzing by us before we were able to take a more scenic route. We stopped at the first village square to pray and have cafe con leche.

We climbed higher and higher taking a rocky road until we came to a rise where a man named David lived in a deserted and dilapidated barn, with no electric or water, offering a simple breakfast buffet for a donation. The man is a genius. I think everyone stopped and many were gathered before we left. Fr. John recognized the man from making the Camino three years before. He will probably be a millionaire one day.

Not long after, we came to a monument of a cross from which you could see the city we would stop in. A long descent followed, coming to our albergue about two hours later.

The albergue is in a rehabbed historic building with interesting features. The dorm is in the attic, with a wood ceiling and skylights. At this point in the Camino we are thrilled that we were able to get non-bunkbeds and have access to a wash machine to get all our clothes clean. Handwashing clothes every day is for the birds.

Alberque etiquette varies, but often you are awakened by those getting to bed late, those setting out too early, the snoring and any one getting up in the middle of the night. We met a man today so sleep deprived he is springing for a hotel.

Even though we have advanced the journey, we continue to run into people we have met previously along the way. We all have similar stories of what we experienced and what we’ve seen. We compare notes on people we have met. We get updates on who has abandoned the journey and about the characters we meet along the way. This is what keeps us going, knowing we are connected on the way to other and not wanting to be a story of someone who gave up.