Today I found two treasures, for real.
One I found this morning on a back road out of Carrion de los Condes when, like Bruce Springsteen, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going. I rolled north toward mountains sharp and bright and snow-white. I rolled through little farm towns and wondered how many people lived in them, what kind of antique oddments lurked in their adobe barns and byres.
I rolled into Nogal de las Huertas, or "Walnut of the Orchards." It was just another farm town, except... over to the west, along the riverbank, was a big stand of disorderly trees. And in the trees? A big building. Also disorderly. Abandoned. Along the river. A mill? A factory? A palace? You never can tell til you get up close. So I drove down the dirt road til it ended at the river-fording. The water roared. There must have been a mill at some point.
In the trees stood an archway, simple and fine. It was the front door of an old church.
A very old church. A little monastic church, from the look of it -- and from the checkerboard trim on the stone I could see the inner sanctum was at least 900 years old. Romanesque.
The village clock rang out noon.
I did not have my camera. Other people have taken photos there, but they´ve made it hard for people like me to share them on blogs. Click on the link and you will see pretty much what I saw. It is what remains of the Cistercian monastery of San Salvador, founded in 1063 by Countess Elvira Fernandez, and inhabited pretty much continually until about 200 years ago. There are older buildings in Palencia province, but no older Romanesque ones. This one is a jewel. A hidden diamond.
And built right up against the apse, among the derelict orchard, was a huge haunted house. Its doors gaped open, its timbers creaked, the tile floors downstairs were littered with baskets, harness chains, shutters, stair-rails, embroidery floss and Gospel pamphlets. Both staircases were gone, rotted and collapsed. The second floor remained untouched, with steamer trunks and walking-canes and bookshelves visible through the holes in the floorboards. Sunlight beamed through broken glass and glowed on soft blue wallpaper.
Unreachable. A habitation for owls.
It was, in its way, as spectacular as the abbey, but nobody takes its picture. It´s another abandoned old farmhouse, in a countryside full of them. A couple of hundred years ago, the place next door was just another abandoned monastery, in a countryside full of those.
What a wonderful countryside I live in, where I can stumble over such jewels!
Once I got home, I found the next treasure. It was in our mailbox, in a padded manila envelope. The return address was Aspinwall, Pennsylvania -- a Pittsburgh suburb. A town I know of. But the person who sent it? No memory of that name.
Inside was a hand-written note:
Dear Rebekah Scott and Paddy:
Happy New Year!! I hope everything with your family is going to be well include your lovely dog.
I am Seun Lee, who stayed your "The Peaceable Kingdom" around Dec. 2009 with my german friend Matin. At that moment we didn´t have enough energy to continue Sahagun, exhausted and even hugry. However, you and your husband allowed to stay and gave a great green curry with white wine, and whiskey later. I appreciate about that day forever because that was the time I really need help.
I know it´s just nothing than your kindness, but I want to say "thank you."
I believe we meet again one day in the road. Actually my friend Matin also agree to walk again some day.
See you soon.
I don´t remember Seun or Matin, but their names are here in our guest register.
We have not hosted a pilgrim for three weeks or more.
We don´t get them here like we used to. I tell myself I do not miss them much.
But this? This is such a treasure.
(and it is a really lovely recording!)
You blessed my soul, Seun Lee. You, and countess Elvira Fernandez -- one from far away, and one from long ago.
I thank you both for scattering your treasures in my path.