Day 17 on the Camino, a day in Leon

One of the questions often asked of people on the Camino is “why are you doing this pilgrimage/hike/adventure?” Not so often from others that we’ve met, although we occasionally ask the question or are asked. In that case, the answer is often simply, “I heard about it and wanted to do it,” and that’s sufficient. But thinking about it now and again as we go along, one of my answers is that I’m curious. For more than a thousand years (actually much longer — since the Celtic days, well before the Romans arrived around 100 or so B. C, E.) people have been drawn to walk across northern Spain to get to the Atlantic Coast, or somewhere close to there. The Celts saw it as the end of the world; the Romans saw it as a trade route and a source of ores, wine, and grains. The Christians saw it as a way to save their souls. I like the idea of following in all of these footsteps to see what they found along the way, what they saw at the end, and what they went home with.
I was thinking today about someone in say, 1200, making his or her way (probably with a group of companions, for safety reasons) through the same medieval streets that we were walking on today, but without the yellow arrows to guide them. The streets would not have been as clean. The cathedral would have been much newer then and missing much of its current artwork, and the medieval hospital, now a luxury hotel, would have been as welcome to those who needed it as the University Hospital was to me two nights ago. Probably there would not have been as many trees or flowers to greet them — those were out in the fields and copses, or along the rivers.
I also wonder what the land looked like to them. By 5000 B.C.E., the cultivation of wheat had spread from the Middle East and Northern Africa to Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean. I would like to know, a little more definitively, if these same fields have been growing wheat for 3,000 years or more, why they are still fertile and growing wheat. We see some evidence of fields lying fallow, but not many signs of crop rotation. I haven’t been able to find out a lot about the agricultural details, but if I do, we’ll keep you posted.
By 20 C.E., the Romans controlled all of Spain. One of their primary interests was in the vineyards; according to Wikipedia (sorry, my research time is limited, and I’ll go with what seems reasonable) Spanish vines from the north were exported to Bordeaux in France, and to Italy and other parts of the Empire.
One great difference (that I may have commented on already) between the U.S. and Spain is that no-one lives out among their fields. They all live in villages. It’s very striking, having grown up near the farms and orchards of Southwest Michigan, to have miles of fields and not a single house anywhere in sight. Now and again, we’ve seen farmers coming out to their acres or vineyards on tractors, or motorcycles, or in cars/trucks. The wheat harvest is long since done; there’s still hay drying and waiting to be baled in some fields; and it’s apparently been too early for the grape harvest. The truck gardens are thriving, and a few times, we’ve seen people picking produce from them — enough for an evening’s dinner, but by no means a major harvest given the amounts of fruits and vegetables in their tracts. But no-one lives out there.
On a different note, while looking for Roman wheat fields, I found an itinerary for a variation on how to do the Camino. This is a 7-day trip from Sarria to Santiago, that features yoga stretches, OMMMMs, and on the last evening “a huge celebratory dinner and off to the local clubs to dance all night.” The participants are actually walking 11-12 miles a day, to get the 100 km needed to get their certificates. It will cost you $4800, and there’s no mention of possible bad weather. Maybe they let you know that once you’ve signed up.
We ourselves spent the day in Leon, walking from the hotel to the Cathedral, and then to the 12th century monastery/hospital for pilgrims at San Marcos. We fortified ourselves with breakfast from the buffet at the hotel — American bacon and scrambled eggs were available, lots of meats (sliced, mostly) and cheeses, breads and pastries (3 variations on chocolate croissants), coffee, orange juice, canned and fresh (bananas, oranges, apples) fruit — quite acceptable.
The cathedral here is considered one of the best examples of Gothic in Europe, and its stained glass among the finest. The guidebook says that a king of Leon had built his palace on the site of Roman baths; he donated the palace in the 10th century for a church. But at the end of that century, Arabs razed the city; within another hundred years or so, the Spanish had taken it back and started to re-build. It took awhile, as many of these projects did, and it wasn’t until 1253 that the present set of stones started being put into place. My photos don’t do the place justice, of course.
We spent a few minutes at the Mass that was being said. As is the case in many (most?) churches, people are allowed into the services for free, but they are often held in a side chapel, and the main part of the church is roped off, with a charge to get in. On the Camino forum on-line that I’ve been following some people have objected to a charge for a church. But I am inclined to agree with the viewpoint that it costs a great deal of money to maintain these buildings, and the people who want to see them should help with that expense. Otherwise, it falls to either the people of the parish or the government, and there are good arguments against either of those groups having to pay so that people from other places can appreciate the art work and history.
After that, we had an errand to run that took us to the Hospital San Marcos, now a luxury hotel. If you saw the movie “The Way,” this is the hotel at which they stayed along the Camino. The Spanish government has converted several of the old Camino buildings (this one was a monastery and hospital for pilgrims) into “paradors” — high-end hotels. We  looked around the cloisters — old cobblestone floors, now partially covered with oriental-carpet-patterned runners, with cushioned sofas on which to sit and admire the statues and gardens.
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to stocking up on food for tomorrow’s walk, doing laundry, getting some more rest, and making our plans for tomorrow. Regina and Anthea will head out early, and meet us at the very edge of Leon (about 10 km) at a small town. We’ll walk another 12 km or so to Villar de Mazarife to spend the night. The forecast is for another warm sunny day (today was in the 80s; not as noticeably warm in town as out in the fields).
Octopus cookies in a bakery near the cathedral.
Jim and Anthea admiring art work near the medieval city walls of Leon. Note the bee on the wall at the back of the photo, and the horned Rhino?? head hanging from a crane in the foreground.
Spires on the cathedral; Jim points out that these helped balance other parts of the cathedral’s weight (he’s asleep and I can’t ask him for the exact facts).
St. George killing the dragon. This is one of many walnut carvings in the choir area, which the guidebook dates to mid-1400s. You can see the princess, just above George, watching anxiously; I’m not sure what the people up above her are doing.
A bat, carved in the choir. The guidebook says that in addition to all of the Old and New Testament scenes, the carvers were allowed to create fantasy figures, all sorts of natural carvings, and representations of myths and fairy tales.
A frog, beneath a small seat in the choir.
A couple of women above the chairs in the choir.
One altar in a chapel in the cathedral, with stained glass above.
A chapel honoring St. Anthony of Padua, and the Virgin. Most of the chapels seemed to be honoring the Virgin Mary in one way or another.
Another chapel honoring the Virgin Mary, with a bouquet of lilies scenting the whole area around it.
A chapel with a Nativity scene.
People going about their daily business in the plaza by the cathedral, including a couple of the dozens of little school kids in uniforms who were getting out for lunch time.
Karen P. from Sand Point, Idaho, who is playing her violin as she makes her way along the Camino. She played “Oh, Susanna” for us, and also “Amazing Grace,” and we sang an old song, “I am a happy wanderer along the mountain track . . .” for her. Anthea posted a video on FaceBook, I think, but I’ll have to send the link later. Note the yellow Camino arrow painted on the pavement behind her, and the pilgrim’s scallop shell in her violin case.
Harley-Davidson in Leon, for Chester and Dan, and our other friends with Harleys.
Regina admiring the statues (taken from the cathedral because they were “too Baroque” and placed here) in the cloisters at the Monastery/Hospital San Marcos. Note the carpet laid over the old cobblestones, and the nice furnishings exposed to the open air. Clearly, this is not a climate even remotely resembling Alaska.
Regina at the Hospital San Marcos.

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This entry was posted in 2012, Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Camino de Santiago trip, travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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