Day 63 of Walking Out of the World
(Previous stage: Day 62b Estella to Monjardín de Villamayor.)
I shall finish the story of Don Elías Valiña Sampedro and the yellow arrows when this pilgrimage arrives at O Cebreiro; which makes more sense thematically, so if you were hoping to read that here, bad luck! Since there are few comments on the blog, the audience can take it as it comes and I’ll write it as I please. 🙂 It does make more sense to finish the story of Don Elías in O Cebrero, whether anyone’s reading it or not!
Sometimes on the Camino a great sense of community builds up in a particular group of pilgrims, and this mainly Italian group with a few other Dutch and German individuals – and me – began our second day from Monjardín de Villamayor travelling together to Viana, along the Camino through gentle rolling hills and valleys. When we arrived at Los Arcos we found a mid-morning Mass, so we stopped at the little church of San Francisco and were subjected to the most dreary unwelcoming half an hour that the Spanish Catholic Church provides – when behaving at its worst – and we left the village feeling slightly subdued.
“We could have spent a more spiritual half an hour meditating in the village car park,” suggested Lorenzo.
“But we did at least receive the Body of Christ,” I said, “and that is not usually found in a car park.”
As we strode on towards Torres del Rio, I thought about the Church in Spain and how I had experienced it over the years. In the 1960s when I was at school in Ibiza the clergy seemed aloof and wore the superior air of those who were given special status from the regime that had won the Civil War and exterminated its opposition in victory. The Church had suffered badly at the hands of the more extreme elements. In Ibiza a shipload of invading anarchists had arrived on the island from Valencia and rounded up all the island’s clergy, turning the prison in the old town into a slaughterhouse. In turn, they had been wiped out when the tide turned, and the few remaining clergy on the island who had been in hiding were now on the side of Franco’s victors, happy to hear the last confessions before the daily early morning firing squads did their work. And so it was all over Spain.
In the 1970s – in the years after Vatican II – a new generation of younger priests in Spain provided the only opposition that was allowed. Even while Franco was still alive and the security headquarters in Madrid continued rounding up left wing protesters and trade unionists, the Catholic Church in Spain was boldly printing colour magazines and parish bulletins in which dissenting views criticized the one-party state, sided with ‘the people’ against repression, and began to argue for democratic elections. It was a short-lived radical movement – probably emanating from young firebrands in the seminaries who were enthused by Vatican II, and after Spain made its first steps towards a constitutional democracy, the Church seemed to lose that radical element.
In the new Spain, the Church had less of a central role and people were suspicious of an institution that had given its support to the dictatorship for forty years. The Catholic clergy retreated into their moribund peripheral lives, nostalgic for the days when they had a more central role and automatic respect, and it was an institution that largely reflected the dead regime, rather than finding a new mission for the Church in a modern democratic Spain. This is a very general and sweeping characterisation – I know – but I have often tried to understand just how it can be that Catholic worship is so awful, most of the time, and this is my way of understanding it. The Mass in Los Arcos was quite typical. We were given the impression that we were not welcome, and the religious act itself was mind-mumbingly alien, performed by a priest whose every word and gesture seemed hostile. If you are Catholic and have regularly sought out Mass in Spain, you will not be surprised to read any of this. It is a hazard you will be familiar with, stepping across the threshold of an unfamilar church, dreading what you will find.
In Viana at the end of the day we found a bar called El Bordón, so I naturally had to have a photo standing outside it with my bordón and then we booked into a town centre pilgrim hostel with a well-provided kitchen designed for pilgrims to do communal cooking.
So we all put in some cash for a supermarket expedition to the nearby shops, and we prepared a meal together that evening.
It had been a fairly ordinary day on the Camino but the company had been so good that it seemed like one of the best days since I had left Worcester. In the end, pilgrimage is about an encounter with other people, as well as a spiritual search.
As sometimes happens on the Camino Francés, this group formed and dispersed, then re-formed during the next weeks. It had a nucleus of Italians and gathered other individuals, then sometimes we would not see each other for a few days, then meet up at a lunch stop or in a refugio at the end of another day’s walk.
The next day’s stage was into Logroño, the city at the centre of the Rioja wine trade, so naturally our focus began to turn to the next day’s wine tasting. As I said, this was an ordinary day on the Camino, and this is a blog post about ordinary events.