Rabanal del Camino

For this walk, the Fordham pelegrinos trekked from the urban sprawl of Astorga to a sleepy little Maragoto village named Rabanal del Camino. The walk itself had its challenges, given that the first few kilometers were spent exiting the outskirts of Astorga via rocky pathways alongside the highway. Once this section of the Camino was completed, however, we found ourselves in a charming little town where most students stopped to grab a pincho de tortilla, refill their water bottles, and prepare themselves–and their mochilas–for the impending rainfall. Luckily for us, the rain didn’t appear until the very last few kilometers, after students had already had the opportunity to take in some truly breathtaking patches of land, drink cervezas at the now infamous “cowboy” bar, and chat with a Camino-pro-turned-falconer on the side of the trail.

Horses

Given Rabanal’s small size, we knew that this isolated village would be very limited, especially in comparison to Astorga’s urban amenities. Camino traffic, after all, is one of the core lifelines of this dusty little town. We were all thrilled to see, therefore, that our albergue for the night–el Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar–came equipped with a fully stocked restaurant and bar, decent showers, and some of the most charming social spaces we have yet to see on the Camino. In fact, Nuestra Señora del Pilar’s open concept and canopy layout made the entire establishment feel like a hidden treehouse, tucked safely away from the weary Camino trail. After a night of laughs, vino tintos, and good food, Nuestra Señora del Pilar became a fan favorite among Fordham’s peregrinos.

Before our nightly festivities could begin, however, we made our way to la Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, a Romanesque church that is presently operated by the Benedictine monks of San Salvador del Monte Irago. These German monks restored the church in 2001, after the Benedictines of St. Ottilien saw an opportunity to create a transient spiritual community out of the incoming/outgoing foot traffic. The monks also maintain a small albergue across the street from the church, where pilgrims can stay for a period of 3-10 days and pray alongside the monks. It’s a truly spectacular group of monks, one that certainly gives back to its surrounding community in spades. It came as a great surprise to us, then, that these monks were banished from the town in August of 2001 by a mob of local townspeople, after the Benedictines had requested and subsequently received a loan of one million euros from Castilla-León to restore their church. This recent event proved to be an interesting point of discussion for us, as it demonstrates the oftentimes vexing relationship that peregrinos share with the communities that house them. On the one hand, villages like Rabanal undoubtedly depend on Camino travelers to survive; that does not mean, however, that these poor communities do not have needs of their own that could be foreseeable remedied by loans from their parent regions.

In this way, the events at San Salvador del Monte Irago provides a lens through which we can better understand the Camino in a more contemporary, engaging sense. It’s certainly important to understand the historic importance of the pilgrimage; but it is critical that we understand the Camino as it exists in its modern landscape — a landscape that is certainly marked by its rich history, but also occasionally by frustration and contention.

-Katherine Burks

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Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer