We have now been on the Camino for 11 days and have travelled almost 200 kilometers. Still, no blisters – Praise God! The Camino continues to surprise us in so many unexpected ways. And, we are so grateful for these gifts (large and small) that come our way – what we have been referring to as “graces” from the Camino. The most recent one, reported on the other day, was the running of the bulls that we happened on in Viana the other day. But, the graces have not stopped. In fact, they seem to be a constant on the Camino so far. In this post I will be reporting on several new graces we have received since then.
The first grace was a small one, but so sweet and welcome. Yesterday morning after we left Viana we performed one of the traditional daily peregrino rituals by stopping for breakfast at a small cafe in the outskirts of Logrono. Breakfast usually consists of toast or tortilla de patata, cafe con leche, and maybe some fresh juice, if it is available. But, this morning as we finished our breakfasts and prepared to move along, the owner brought out a bag from under the counter and asked us if we would like some fruit. He had plums he had brought from home to share with the pilgrims. We gratefully accepted and later in the morning enjoyed these remarkable sweet, tree-ripe fruit. A simple but elegant grace.
This morning we entered the famous wine-producing region of Rioja. And since entering Rioja we have been walking almost exclusively among acres of vineyards except when we pass through a town of village. The wine industry is king in this area – the Napa Valley of Spain. The region is also noted for its friendly residents. As we passed through the city of Nogrono we were repeatedly greeted by the sounds of “Buen Camino,” and the townsfolk were very helpful when we appeared hesitant, to point out the way for us – a small but welcome grace from the Camino.Nogrono was a noisy, bustling city in sharp contrast with the rural, quiet pathways we have been following for the past several days and, in spite of the friendly people, it was nice to finally leave the concrete and asphalt and resume our way along the more quiet country farm tracks. Before leaving Nogrono we stopped at the 16th century Iglesia Santiago. The facade of this church includes a relief of St. James in his role as the Matamoros, the Moor Killer. While he is usually depicted as a pilgrim, tradition has it that he also actively participated in the battle of Clavijo in 844 that finally chased the Moors from Spain. According to the story, St. James appeared at every crucial point and turned the tide of battle. In this role, he is depicted as being on horseback and wielding a sword, as we saw him here. This church also had a magnificent gold-covered altarpiece. Each of these masterpieces seems to outdo the ones we saw previously. We are beginning to better understand where all the gold that the Spaniards brought back from the new world ended up.
We spent the night in the third-floor attic (not as bad as it might sound) of the municipal albergue in Navarette. This was actually three floors up since in Europe the ground floor is called floor zero, the first floor is on the second level, etc. We received a couple more graces while in Navarette. We spoke at length with a peregrino, Matt, who has been dealing with some personal issues and discovered that grace is not only something we receive, but something we can give. Later we went to the local church – the Church of the Assumption – for a pilgrim mass. This church contains the most spectacular alterpiece we have seen yet. We arrived just as the mass was ending, but after the final blessing the priests invited all of the pilgrims into the sacristy for a special blessing.
To call this room a sacristy is a gross understatement. The towering walls were covered by religious artwork dating back centuries. The priest delivered his blessing and then gave us a personal guided tour of the room, including its treasury of priceless religious masterpieces that was located behind a pair of towering doors. One of the pilgrims with us was a Roman Catholic priest who had been invited to concelebrate the mass with the parish priest. He provided translation for during the tour. I later asked him how it felt to celebrate mass in front of this altarpiece. He admitted with a chuckle that it was a bit more magnificent than the one in his home parish church in the states.
Today, we continued walking through the region’s vineyards and on to the city of Najera, our destination for the day. We are staying at the municipal albergue along with about 90 of our best new friends. It was here that we received another grace for the day. Upon arriving we discovered that the city is in the midst of a three-day festival honoring its patron saint and the Virgin Mary (Martires e Virgen, Patrones del Pueblo). During this festival schools have been closed and businesses are on holiday. So, as part of this festival celebration, the Najera Amigos del Camino (Friends of the Camino) provided a free paella feast for the pilgrims. Paella is made of rice, chicken, rabbit, spices, etc. and is one of the national dishes of Spain – served all over the country. The Amigos brought four enormous paella pans, set up shop under some canvas covers, and made enough paella for everyone to have a huge portion, with wine, and still have leftovers. This was our final grace for the day, we think. But, who can tell for sure.