After the official tour of the Via Podiensis, which took us almost to the border of Spain, four of us have decided to go on to Santiago. In addition to me and Sherry Beeman, my beautiful bride, there are Dick and Dianne Schenke. The Schenkes are dear friends and we have travelled with them in England, Turkey and Costa Rica. They are also vital members of St. Paul's in Houston. Dianne has a gift for organizing and planning and has put this part of the trip together, including making all the reservations and driving our rental car.
The first place we spent the night is Burgos, another way station for pilgrims going to Santiago. One of the first things we saw when we got out of the car was the symbol of the camino, the shell. These shells are brass and very large. They are placed in streets and on sidewalks all along the way.
The cathedral in Burgos looms large over the city and is directly opposite our hotel. It is indeed impressive. We arrived late in the day and decided to visit the cathedral the next morning. The fee to go inside seemed high to us and the cathedral itself unwelcoming. This prompted a discussion among us about churches, cathedrals, abbeys and monasteries we have visited that seemed welcoming and those that did not. Dianne refers to these as "churches that are loved" and "churches that are not." To me some spaces seem quite sacred and treated as such and others more like commercial enterprises. It made me think of St. Paul's definition of itself as "a sacred space in the heart of Houston where people seek, find and respond to God's love and grace." Why is it that some spaces seem like this and some don't?
If the cathedral in Burgos was a disappointment on the inside, the place we visited next was just the opposite. We drove on to Leon where we saw what I think may be the most beautiful and spiritually evocative Christian site I have ever entered. Even the energy of the city felt different.
All of these cities are, of course, ancient. Leon can date its history back to 70 AD when a Roman legion set up base here. Once again, we find a city that was and is a major place for pilgrims to rest on their way to Santiago. The number of pilgrims we see increases. You can tell those who are on their way back from Santiago because they wear, around their necks or on their backpacks, large shells that indicate they have accomplished their goal.
Both the exterior and interior of this cathedral are breathtaking.
I wish we could have stayed longer in this space but the custom of Spain forced us to leave the "Catdral de Santa Maria de Leon" at 1:30. Except for restaurants, most business extablishments close for the afternoon "siesta."
After a wonderful Spanish lunch at an outdoor cafe we get in our car and head out for Santiago. As Dianne drives, I recall that Sherry and I drove this same route a few years ago on a driving trip from Lisbon, Portugal to Nice, France. The motor way is a marvel of modern engineering. At the time I knew nothing about the Camino or the "spiritual" importance of Santiago.
This becomes a metaphor for me of how much more there is out there in front of me that I am totally unaware of: jewels of experience waiting to be discovered. On life's journey, unless we are careful, we pass by so much. Every spiritual teacher teaches about the importance of having open eyes and of seeking.
Before this day is over we will enter Santiago.
en route to Santiago, Spain