Day 64 of Walking Out of the World
(Previous post: Day 63 Monjardín de Villamayor to Viana.)
The entry into the larger cities on the Camino Francés quite often involves a significant part of the day trudging through the industrial, commercial or suburban housing of the outskirts. (Pamplona is an exception, as the Camino from Roncesvalles leads the pilgrim in from the quiet rural track to the centre in a rather clever manouevre that misses most signs of urban modernity.)
Like many of these stages of the Camino, the road from Viana to the centre of Logroño involves a sudden adjustment from the quiet countryside to the noise and bustle of trucks and buses and commuters and car showrooms, tractor distributors, builders’ merchants yards, and railway goods sidings, traffic-filled bridges over main rivers into the city, and the polluted air that is hard to breathe in the summer months.
This was the third day of walking with the Italian group of pilgrims and we had enjoyed a second shared meal together the previous evening. We had attended Mass twice as a group, chatted together as individuals and as a group, and now we were bonding together as a small community. I began to think that I could walk with these people to the ends of the earth: indeed to Finisterre! However, I also value the times of silence and solitary pilgrimage, so a certain internal tension arose.
On the one hand, my natural extravert side was fed by this lively group of half-a-dozen Italian Catholics, who enjoyed my Franciscan reflections on the Camino as we walked along together in a kind of continual festa di communione, and on the other hand I looked forward to some accidental parting of the ways – such as the need for a rest day, while they went ahead, in order to regain the contemplative mode. There are always great stories from pilgrims about being ‘stuck’ with the same people as they walked along the Camino, never knowing quite how to break away from the group they had fallen into. I did not yet feel ‘stuck’ as such, for I found the group stimulating and fun, yet I knew that I would not walk much further in this group-mode: there was not enough opportunity for penance, reflection and contemplation.
Felisa Rodríguez Medel
As we approached the downhill slope to the river bridge into Logroño, as a loud chattering party, I thought the plan to spend the evening tasting Rioja wine in all the bars of the main street was a very good plan indeed; but I would walk out of Logroño, somehow, on my own again. On this downhill slope we arrived at the small stand that is set up in front of a modest building among fig trees, where a woman was distributing free cups of cool water to pilgrims as they approached Logroño.
I had stopped here before, but I did not know the history. It is a simple one. Like the history of Don Elías that I have been telling and will finish at O Cebreiro, it is a story of an individual who simply responded to the Camino passing through her neighbourhood with a practical mission: to provide water and figs for passing pilgrims. That woman was Felisa Rodríguez Medel who died in 2002, and her daughter Maria took her place to continue doing the same. Maria had said she would never take on the role, but after Felisa died she could do no other than “welcome the stranger” because that was what she felt her mother wanted her to do.
The story of Felisa Rodríguez Medel is told in the book I have mentioned before, which focuses on the tradition of hospitality on the Camino, and which has a fine portrait of Felisa. (I shall review the book by Antonio Regalado and Beth Ann Lahoski, Un Paso en el Tiempo, 2005 for the Confraternity of Saint James in the autumn 2021 review.)
There is a short video clip made by some Brazilian pilgrims not long before Felisa died. It gives you a very good picture of her simple ministry.
Maria (shown here) continued the ministry to pilgrims begun by her mother Felisa.
The informal development of the pilgrim welcome on the Camino de Santiago in the times since its modern revival is one of the great untold stories, which is why I am keen to review the Regalado and Lahoski book for the Confraternity of Saint James. The book is only available in Spanish but there are several hundred copies still available, as the publishers did not advertise it or distribute it well. There is a copy in the CSJ library, the librarian, William Griffiths tells me.
The short journey from Viana to Logroño meant that our group was first into the pilgrim hostal run by the Catholic Church in the city, and we managed to find Mass easily enough in the cathedral in the middle of the day. The main street of Logroño has a slight hill, and it is best to do the wine bars uphill on one side of the road, then downhill on the other side, one at a time. Snoring is usually an annoying hazard in pilgrim hostels, and in Logroño, after the Rioja wine tasting, the snoring is demonic, but since most pilgrims are anaesthatised by a surfeit of vino tinto, that is not much of a problem.
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