Thursday, 28 March 2013

A stony sort of passion

Sky full at Colmenares

"The scenery in Castile is in the sky."  I think Delibes said that. He was obviously here in springtime. 

Here are rainbows, doubles and triples. Rainbows, and huge skies, every kind of cloud and color.  Our horizons here are low and rolling and often plain, the bane of pilgrims who expect "something interesting" to look at while they walk.
Skyful at Quintanatello

The sky is full of pillars of cloud and fire, and often larks, too. They are strange little birds, they sing manically, like wind-up toys, as they fly straight upward and then hover up there all a-twitter. It´s like they´re rising up on a column of song.

Back side of Paddy at Vega de Bur

All the towns round about are caught up in Holy Week processions, Masses, Holy Hours, and Stations of the Cross. Meantime, the tourist office and the diocese had a stroke of genius: they´ve opened up 47 Romanesque churches in the north of the province -- thousand-year-old jewels in depopulated, isolated mountain towns. They are always locked up. Except this week.

Me and Paddy gassed up the furgoneta and hit the road yesterday, following a route up the Ojeda valley west of Aguilar de Campoo. We hit eight stone churches large and small. We met two fine roosters and some lively hens, saw hidden statues, carvings, reliefs, and capitals. We climbed up a steep stone spiral to the top of a tower in a town with 12 inhabitants. Tiny Maria Angeles showed us the hidden pine-cones in the stonework of her town´s chapel -- she wore splendid velvet pants the color of grape soda.
Spiral stairs at Vega de Bur

In Quintanatello de Ojeda someone had left the tower door unlocked. I poked through their tossed-away treasures. (I was sorely tempted by the plaster angel-wings, but I did not take anything away with me.) We did not see another human in that town, but their rainbow was first-class.

In Colmenares we found a spectacular Romanesque baptismal font, maybe the finest I ever saw. The old man at the door said he was baptised there himself, but he can´t remember the last time it was used. No babies. No priests.

on the baptism font in Colmenares
These towns and valleys teemed with Christians, back when the Arabs pushed the old faith north into the mountains. They built monasteries, hermitages, nunneries and parish churches, and filled them with sculpture and art and song.

The builders did good work. A thousand years later, some of their work is still standing -- rabbits and devils and faces peek down from the rafters, or wait out eternity in the darkness behind a froufrou Renaissance altarpiece. (the ladies at Vega de Bur keep a worklight handy, so you can climb in and see for yourself.)

Two monasteries are still in operation up there, but the hermitages haven´t been inhabited for centuries.

fabulous trash
It was tiring, but delightful. We saw lovely buildings and artworks and people, with mountain towns and meadows and clouds in between. It was like an art tour, but with breathing room. Hours of beauty, but not overwhelming. We looked and chatted and said "wow" til the clouds rolled in and rain pounded down. Then we headed home.       

Today we rested up. Because tomorrow we go back again to the mountains, this time to four churches up in the backwoods of Burgos. While the rest of Spain hits the streets to mourn the Passion of Christ, we´ll be with an archaeologist from the Romanesque Studies Foundation, pursuing passions of our own. 

over the doorway at Perezancas

6 comments:

Libby said...

Super jealous.

Anonymous said...

super duper jealous...

love, k

strangerthanfiction said...

lucky you guys! Romanesque and Rainbows all in the same mouthful. Happy Trails!

Kiwi Nomad said...

That baptism font just takes the breath away...

Tracy Saunders. said...

Totally subliminal: you were hungry: plaster angels' wings actually reminded you of chicken wings. Freud never got that far in Analysis 101. XX from (still!) rainy Galicia. T

Anonymous said...

Ultra jealous. B