Monday, September 21, 2015


With no electricity there are no lights to read by.  With no network , iPads and tablets are kept packed away.  Cell phones come out only to check mileages or information already stored but there are no network jingles or ring tones breaking the silence.  People write in journals, or talk to each other.  At the dinner table, there are lively conversations in different languages including Camino-lingo which involves hand signals, words in other languages or even drawings. We sing songs, share stories and thank the Camino. 
At night there is no light pollution to block out or dim the stars and the Milky Way is dazzling with the constellations easily discernible in the night sky - especially with a Google Sky map!  (Technology has its uses in our modern age!)  For the first three nights there was no moon and one could see satellites moving slowly across the sky and follow the trails of shooting stars.  It was magical!!  Then the moon rose and the walls glowed until I didn't need a torch to go to the bathroom at night.
For the first few days here I was able to get a cell phone signal and WhatsApp messages if I walked outside the walls or under the arch.  Then the money ran out and I had no way of recharging so I was cut off for over a week.  My world became the daily routine contained between the walls of the monastery. 
As I creep through the moonlit courtyard at 6am in the morning, I can imagine what it was like for the Antoine monks who had a daily regime of rising early.  They saw the same moonlight that I now see, opening the large gates into the ruins.  Whilst they had a vaulted ceiling over their heads, I have the stars; whilst they padded inside the monastery on flag-stone floors, my feet crunch on the gravel that covers the courtyard. 

I open the doors to the albergue and light a few candles.  There are lovely comments in the pilgrim comment book.  A rather shy young man has written that he had been searching for the spirit of the Camino and had finally found it here, at San Anton.  I sigh and hold my hand over my heart.
The very setting and history in these ruins instil a sense of welcome, healing and tradition  The soaring walls with their Gothic arches and high windows surround and enclose the space that houses the albergue.  The albergue itself, which is grafted onto the ancient walls, is a memorial, dedicated to a beloved brother and friend. I think that this is as close one can get to the soul of the Camino.

There are many prayer requests in the box.  I read a few but there is work to be done.  "Ora et labora" - 'Pray and Work' - the Benedictine motto.  Later, when the pilgrims have all left, whilst mopping the shower and toilet, I think about another of Benedict's rules and of Robert's warning to Kevin and me after we allowed a French couple and their dog to stay for dinner on my second night.  They told us that they had walked from Le Puy en Velay and had now run out of money.  They didn't want to sleep in the albergue (they had a tent), but they were hungry and they would appreciate any food we could give them and their dog.  They would help with any work we needed done.  Of course we let them have dinner and gave the leftovers to the dog; they in turn helped with clearing the table and washing up. 
The next morning Robert warned us that the Camino was becoming over-run by freeloaders who used the donativo albergues to their own advantage.  The albergues could not support all the vagabonds on the Camino and if we continued to accept people like these French 'pilgrims', we would be adding to the demise of the Camino. 

He has a point.  Many donativo albergues have had to close or start charging just to survive.  But .....  I think about the man and the woman, and their dog, and once again I think about the rule of Benedict.
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
"I came as a guest, and you received Me"
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
We had started setting an extra place for 'San Anton' (who at first we called the 'Visitor') and we couldn't find it in our hearts to turn away the late comer, the vagabond - or Christian, a young Spaniard who arrived almost at 7pm a few days later. 
Christian  (imagine me turning away someone with that name?) told me that he was walking to Santiago but as it was the weekend, he had not been able to withdraw money from the bank, so he did not have money for a bed but he would work for food.  I told him that he couldn't sleep in the walls of the ruins, did he have a tent?  No - he didn't have a tent but he was prepared to sleep outside because he couldn't give a donation for a bed.  I told him that many people were not as honest as he was. People who could afford a donation often didn't give one.  I told him to accept our offer of a bed in the spirit in which it was given and in exchange, he could help prepare dinner, take out the trash and wash the dishes.  I thought of Christian often in the following days and wondered how he was getting on. 
Kristine is training for her walk on the Salvador and Primtivo in a week's time so after lunch she went on her usual walk.  A car pulled up outside the big gates and Angela arrived.  For 9 years she had served at San Esteban in Castrojeriz but when they started charging 4 years ago she changed to serving at San Anton.  She checked the 'pantry' cupboard and started making a list for tomorrow's shopping.  When I told her that we were out of candles she phoned all the shops in Castrojeriz to find that there weren't any to be had. It was a relief to have someone who could talk on the phone!  I could tell right away that we would get on.  She smiled a lot, asked questions about the albergue, how we were doing, admiring the new fridge and other small changes since her last time here. 
With three of us to prepare dinner, I had a chance to collect bramble berries for our dessert.  Armed with garden gloves and cutters, two pilgrims and I walked down the path and into two fields, collecting the plump, black berries from the hedges.  We crushed some and mixed them with yoghurt and decorated the top with whole berries.
After dinner, Angela asked if one of us would like to go with her to the morning mass at the convent of Santa Clara which was close to Castrojeriz.  Afterwards she would do some shopping in Castrojeriz and visit the hotel.  I suggested that Kristine go this time and I would go the next day. From then on we could take it in turns. 


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