Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We Lay Down Our Burdens at the Foot of the Cruce de Ferro

After a good sleep at Hospital de Orbigo our pilgrim band was ready to climb up the MontaƱas de Leon for our penultimate big climb of the Camino. Before the big ascent, though, we walked a short day to Astorga and enjoyed the delights of this ancient city.

Astorga, known in Roman times as Asturica Augusta, dates back to Celtic times. The Roman town was founded in the first century A.D. and, indeed, as we walked toward the cathedral of this delightful city we walked past a Roman floor mosaic, recently discovered and now sheltered by a tent. The age of the city was apparent even in the albergue -- certainly the most delightfully antique place we'd so far stayed in our pilgrimage. The jewel of the town, though, is not the mosaic, the albergue, or the cathedral. The jewel is the "Bishop's Palace" built by Antonio Gaudi, famous architect of Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.
Astorga palace by Gaudi (or was it Disney?)

The palace seems to have been lifted right out of a Disney movie with its tower and turrets and fancy archways. Gaudi, a son of this region of Spain, cut his teeth on architecture like this. His Sagrada Familia is his most famous work and is certainly one of the great cathedrals of the world. 

After a pleasant night in the medieval albergue it was time to begin our ascent. We walked through small farms, gradually climbing to the tiny village of Rabanal del Camino with its tiny 3-monk monastery. The British volunteers at the local albergue were kind and hospitable and told us about the 7:00 nightly service at the monastery. We enjoyed a quiet time of prayers int he ancient, derelict and tiny chapel, then adjourned to the local pub for a fine menu del peregrino.

The next morning it was time for our entry to the nearly-deserted village of Foncebadon. Here Alison told us the story of Paolo Coelho's epic (and fictional) battle with a rabid dog, which chased him through the deserted houses of this decaying place. The dog, Alison, said, is symbolic of all kinds of bad things -- the devil, Coelho's inner demons, his lack of humlity, etc., etc., etc. Although the story is fictional we all kept a wary eye out for our canine brothers who might want to test us as the Black Dog of Foncebadon tested Coelho.
Our pilgrims gather at the foot of the cross
atop the enormous pile of stones left by
pilgrims over the years at Cruce de Ferro.

After a bite-free visit to Foncebadon we headed to Cruce de Ferro and left our rocks at the foot of the cross. Rocks? Well yes, you remember how Rev. Sandy instructed us each to bring a rock from home to leave at the foot of the cross, right? Each of us had a quiet time of prayer at the enormous pile of stones at the foot of the Cross of Iron -- each stone symbolizing a sin to be forgiven or a hope to be fulfilled -- and then we headed down the mountain to the pilgrim town of Molinaseca. 

It was a great few days in the mountains, with grand vistas of the surrounding countryside. We're all admiring each others' well-developed lower leg muscles now. Blisters have been healed, cramped muscles are now strong. We're real walkers now, ready to take on most anything a Camino day can throw at us, which is good since in a couple of days we'll be making the climb to O Cebreiro, our hardest climb since the first day out of St. Jean. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes. O Cebreiro. How fondly Gail remembers it. The beautiful mountain vistas. The wonderful meadows. The signs posted along the way saying "Beware. Only Olympic athletes or better should even think about climbing to O Cebreiero." The charming way that Sandy encouraged her to ignore the signs. The burro they passed along the way who stared her as if to say "are you mad? I'm only here because of the nut on the end of the reins..." Yes, you pilgrims have a lot to enjoy ahead of you. As for Gail, she thinks she will wait here in Santiago with Raul. Who has just promised her a fabulous dinner of paella and mussels. Yummm. Yes, she thinks. She will have paella. But her heart belongs to Sandy.