Day 60 of Walking Out of the World
(Previous post in the Walking Out of the World series was on February 7th 2021: Pamplona.)
Palm Sunday and Holy Week
Welcome back to the virtual pilgrimage, Walking Out of the World. A great deal can happen in the forty days of Lent while you are doing nothing in particular! I decided that the daily routine of writing another stage of the pilgrimage did not fit with my plans for a time of reflection in Lent, which is why I paused the project forty days ago.
Today, Palm Sunday is the day that I cease my Lent observance and the pilgrimage continues. Although I have not written the pilgrimage episodes, I have been writing occasional articles for “Where Peter Is”, a USA website supporting the mission of Pope Francis; and my main reading during Lent was the Pope’s encyclical Fratelli Tutti which I read using the study guide available on wherepeteris.com
During Holy Week, on Monday and Tuesday, I have two articles appearing on that site, centering on the Franciscan spirituality of the Cross in the vocations of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. It seems very appropriate, therefore, that this day’s stage of the Walking Out of the World pilgrimage concludes at the Iglesia del Crucifijo in Puente la Reina.
Alta del Perdón
The two dimensional steel sculpture at the Alta del Perdón is a piece of ‘fun art’ which has an almost comic book quality. It is a sculpture into which the passing pilgrims take selfies, inserting themselves into the history of pilgrimage alongside mediaeval characters and animals.
It is a very windy spot, and there are wind-driven turbines along the ridge. The long-distance pilgrim who has walked all the way from the west of England is now treading deeper into the Spanish peninsula – the Pyrenees now far behind – and the sense of the proximity of the destination, Compostela seems quite a short distance away.
Until you come across a home-made wayside sign with the real distance still to be walked… 747 kilometres still to go.
At the village of Obanos the route merges with the Camino de Aragon, where there are pilgrims coming from the Arles route over the Somport Pass, and then the church of Eunate, a round Templar church about which much has been written but I have nothing new to say about it!
Puente la Reina
The life-size Crucifix in Puente la Reina was brought here by a party of mediaeval German pilgrims and it would have been here in the time of Robert Sutton the Worcester Pilgrim (see Katherine Lack, op. cit. p.134).
The Church of the Crucifix is on the old main street into Puente la Reina and most pilgrims pass by when they enter the town. Very few of them ever set foot in the church. At the pilgrim hostel a hundred metres away – which is run by the same Padres Reparadores who have custody of the church – there was nothing on the noticeboard to show the pilgrims what is in the church. In the most popular guidebook for many years, Alison Raju’s Cicerone Guide, The Way of Saint James (2003), there is no mention of the Crucifix, although she describes the pilgrim hostel nextdoor!
Normally pilgrims are allowed to stay for one night in pilgrim hostels, before moving on next day. A special dispensation may be given for medical reasons: for example a pilgrim may be signed off by a medical centre for tendonitis and be instructed to rest for three days; in which case a hostelero will grant dispensation for the pilgrim to remain in the refugio for the time prescribed by the doctor. (I was once signed off for this reason and spent the best part of a week in the monastery at Samos.) On this occasion in Puente la Reina, I made an unusual request. I explained to the priest in charge of the Church of the Crucifix that I had walked from England and was undertaking a genuine Catholic pilgrimage of faith, and I would like to spend a whole day contemplating the Crucified in this special sculpture. It was considered an unusual request for dispensation of the one-night rule, but after a brief discussion with the hostelero, they agreed to my request. Consequently I spent an entire day in the church – apart from a break for lunch – and it was a very spiritually rewarding experience. With many hundreds of pilgrims passing on the Camino Francés outside the church door, this was a very peaceful place indeed: hardly any pilgrims entered the church during the entire day that I spent there. To the mediaeval pilgrim in Robert Sutton’s time, it would have been a place to stop and contemplate the Cross of Jesus, but to the walkers and mountain-bikers racing past now, on the road to Compostela, it was an unknown and unseen jewel of the Camino Francés.
It is an unmissable experience, so if you are reading this series with the intention of walking the Camino de Santiago, take note and do not pass by this church without reserving some time to stop and contemplate the 14th century Crucifix. It is considered in Spain to be one of the finest examples of Gothic art in the country, and yet few guidebooks to the Camino Francés even mention it. If you enter into the spirituality of Catholic pilgrimage and are prepared to spend time in front of this Crucifix, you may find that after several hours the mysterious veil is lifted, and you are in the real presence of Christ on the Cross. But few even enter the door of the church.
Further down the main street in Puente la Reina is the parish church, with a famous wooden statue of Saint James. Here you can find all the pilgrims who walked past the door of the Church of the Crucifix. They are having their photographs taken with Saint James on the road to Compostela. The Camino is what you make of it. There are as many ways of walking it as there are pilgrims.
Restarting the virtual pilgrimage after the Lent break, I’m not sure what remaining readership I have on this Walking Out of the World series. It would be good to know who is still following it, after all these weeks, so please leave a comment!
Holy Week is upon us and Easter is a week away. In the Compostela Holy Year, who knows what is going to be possible, with the Covid restrictions on movement and accommodation? It will be an interesting Holy Year!