Thursday, 12 March 2015


Monasterio de San Anton, image taken from a website I will credit asap

The fading sun shone through a weird ruined rose window, made up of letters T. Taus.The symbol of St. Anthony. The moon rose quickly as we walked in what once was a church.
The Monasterio de San Anton is two kilometers out of Castrojeriz, and almost too Hollywood to be for real. It's a shattered church, roofless, with a monumental arch that every pilgrim must pass through on the way into town. The monks used to leave food out there for the passers-by who arrived after the gates had closed.
But the monastery went out of business 200 years ago. It was turned into a farm, its once-cohesive layout is now subdivided, fenced-off, sliced and diced into odd corners and bricked-up doorways. Somehow, ten years ago, a local foundation got hold of the part that once was the church. They installed a six sets of bunk beds in the sheep barn that once was a sacristy, and a camp stove and dining table alongside. They opened a bare-bones pilgrim albergue in the ruins.
There's no electricity and no hot water. There's precious little running water at all -- the spring the monastery used 400 years ago is still the only water supply, and it needs a good digging-out. No one's much disposed to that, because nobody really owns the place.
It's pretty much what most pilgrim albergues were like, 20-some years ago, before the Camino de Santiago became a money-making proposition.
Nowadays, hotels and albergues and hostels offer pilgrims heat, laundry, swimming pools, privacy, full menus and safety lighting... for a price most happily pay.
This old place operates on donations. It's open all day. Pilgrims who stay there have to put up with what they get -- cold water, candle light, a scruffy yard full of weeds and rubble, a dinner of salad and pasta and canned fruit, and probably a job washing-up afterward.
But a bed among the ruins... how romantic! (No matter if the mattress has too many miles on it.)
And after the sun goes down, there's a spectacular show of stars above the broken pillars.
There's an energy to San Anton. You can feel it humming by the gate, where the bees have a hive under the jasmine.

The Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago, as one of its initiatives, is going to staff the place. We (I am on the board of directors) can't criticize how built-up and commodified the camino has become if we are not willing to set an example ourselves. And so we will.

We visited today, me and Juan Carlos, FICS vice president and head of everything Camino in Astorga. We looked it all over, we asked all the important questions, we took notes. And we marveled a little, too. It is a magical place.
We're putting the documents together, and he'll take it all to the board after next week. It looks like a go. We need to raise about 15,000 Euro to bring it up to code, and it's a demanding post for hospitaleros. But it's the real deal. Total camino. Really exciting.  

March came in with a bright, warm, dry, fake spring. Things are beginning. After that long wait in the darkness, after the lonely cold, even when I really don't trust the light, things start to happen. The seeds planted in the dead black ground start germinating.

I am not sure how much I am supposed to say. I don't want to expose the tender shoots to too much light too soon. Things grow very slowly in this latitude. The papers are not signed yet.

But I have waited and waited, and worked, too.

priests round here have their work cut out
I haven't blogged because I am very deep into an editorial re-write on a very large book, a reportage, a true-life story of the crew of a World War II Pacific gunboat. Compelling, frustrating, hurry-up-and-wait stuff... How to keep the reader interested between the blasts of gunfire? It's challenging work, very time-consuming. Now that the albergue in Terradillos is open, we have almost no pilgrims again. And just now, that's a good thing.

Because we are starting things.
This summer we will -- God willing -- have at least one priest here in the house, serving Mass every day in Terradillos or Moratinos, in English or in Spanish. We have the blessing of the bishop and the support of the de facto pastor in charge of camino ministry for Castilla y Leon. It's an outgrowth of Camino Chaplaincy, a program pioneered by my friends John and Stephen in Santiago de Compostela. For the past two summers, volunteer priests have offered Masses and confessions in English at a dedicated chapel in the great cathedral, the goal of the Santiago pilgrim. This year, the program is expanding out onto the path itself... and because we have a spare room in the house, and a rather empty lineup of altars in our part of the Way, we decided to give it a shot.

Our first priest, an Irishman with experience in missions, arrives this week for a look around the place. We will feed him on suckling lamb and Ribero del Duero wine, and hope he likes the look of our scruffy little neighborhood. (Paddy has promised to be nice, and to keep off the Wittgenstein.)  

Oh, and we are deep in negotiations with Jose Antonio, our friendly builder. We want to turn the old kitchen and storage room and toilet into its own little apartment, but my vision, alas, outstrips available funds. I must compromise, or pick a winning lottery number, or find another builder.

And so grow the green shoots in Moratinos.
If you want to serve at San Anton, and you are serious about making the trip and living pretty rough for a couple of weeks, let me know in a week or two. I will start putting something together.

Thank you all for standing by while I sit in the dark.
I am a depressive old thing. But I find some pretty important things in there, if I shut up and just be still.  Because eventually, things change. The light comes on.
Just look at what blooms.


Christine Adams said...

Way to go!

Margaret Meredith said...

Hope springs eternal!

Anonymous said...

Brava, Reb! Keep up the excellent work you do! ~ Terry O

K Samulis said...

It is truly a magical place. When ever anyone asks where they absolutely should stay on the Camino, San Anton is always my response. Standing alone, in the middle of the night, in the remains of the old church with the stars for a roof is a moment I'll never forget.

Lucinda said...

I walked past San Anton in the morning and wished I had known there was a hostel there--I would have kept going the day before to reach. It is exactly the sort of place I liked to stay.

Amanda Schaffer said...

San Anton is a special site and art historical gem. So wonderful it will be receiving attention by the Fraternidad -- your work is most appreciated! The 'bread niches' in the archway wall are perfect spots for leaving mementos -- I've left ex-votos I made there so a very meaningful place for me.