A Franciscan encounter

We enjoyed a lovely lunch and then got back on the coach for the short but wonderful drive through the hills to the ancient village and beautiful church at O Cebreiro. In this very small place are celtic-like round huts, made of the local stone and with thatched roofs. Now museums, these were dwellings until the middle of the last century. Alongside them is the 9th century Sanctuary of Santa Maria de O Cebreiro. It was here that we were to celebrate the Corpus Christi Eucharist.

Views across the hills

Views across the hills

We went through the ancient stone porch and into the dimly lit church to be welcomed warmly by two Franciscan brothers. They are now guardians of this sanctuary and their ministry is to welcome pilgrims. It was really lovely to get such a warm welcome and particularly for Sister Joyce who was able to embrace a brother Franciscan in an unexpected place.

Sister Joyce with Brother Tonino

Sister Joyce with Brother Tonino

The Mass was lovely. Other pilgrims joined us and it was a privilege to be able to share with them the sacrament on this most holy feast day. I said to our group that the word ‘companion’ meant those who shared bread together and in so many ways we are companions on the journey along the Way. But the pain of disunity in the church means that the reality is that we are not fully able to share the Eucharist together. We have a number of Roman Catholics in our group. We can share lunch but we cannot fully share the Eucharist. But the pain of that and the tears it provokes must make is strive for communion and recognition between Christians. The church should never accept that this is the way things are and shall be; once we do that we are lost.

Joan outside the Sanctuary with pilgrim shell

Joan outside the Sanctuary with pilgrim shell

We left this sanctuary with the best wishes of the Franciscans and continued our journey sustained by the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

One of the particularly important things about this church is that it is the place where the miracle of the Galician Holy Grail took place. The miracle was associated with the doctrine of transubstantiation but the story was so important that the chalice from this church is featured on the flag of Galicia. I don’t think either of the chalices we used was the Holy Grail but it was good to be in such an important place for the people of Galicia.

Susanna, Margaret, Ted and Moira on the top of the mountain

Susanna, Margaret, Ted, Moira and Alison on the top of the mountain

We learnt that in fact the people of this region of Spain are Celts, hence the round houses, bagpipes and much of the language. The name Galicia is derived from the same root as Gallic and many of the words used in both languages are common. Our guide, Emma, who is herself Galician, told us about life in that region and she said that cows are very important to the people and always have been. ‘After all’, she joked, ‘a cow gives you milk and meat, a family only gives you problems!’ Well, I sort of know what she means!

Moira outside a chapel on the Camino

Moira outside a chapel on the Camino

We drove to a place where there was a junction with the Camino and we got out of the coach to walk again. It was a lovely walk, quite different from the one in the morning, down a hill, through hamlets, past farms, along muddy tracks and pausing at what we were told is the oldest tree on the Camino, a 800 year old Sweet Chestnut.

The gnarled trunk of the oldest tree on the Camino

The gnarled trunk of the oldest tree on the Camino

The gnarled trunk was a work of art. It was amazing to think that this tree had stood by the Way for all these years and so many pilgrims will have sheltered under its boughs. It was beautiful. Like an old face, worn, lined, showing the marks of joy and pain, the tree was a witness to the passing of the years and the wisdom and beauty of age.

We continued along the Camino and eventually came to the little village of Triacastella. This has always been a popular place for pilgrims to stop and rest. The name comes from the fact that three castles were built here to protect and care for the pilgrims. There are now many hostels in the village and as we arrived in the sunshine pilgrims were relaxing, having a beer or a coffee, talking in many languages. It felt a bit like Pentecost, people of all languages communicating, talking, laughing, filled with the spirit of the Camino.

The inevitable queues for the ladies!

The inevitable queue for the ladies!

We sat down and enjoyed a well earned drink before we got back on the coach for the final short journey to our hotel in Sarria where we will spend the night.

Janys, Martyn, Michael and Kevin pausing during the walk

Janys, Martyn, Michael and Kevin pausing during the walk

It has been a fabulous day. The weather has been excellent, we have walked and shared in the Eucharist, laughed, met lovely pilgrims from around the world and enjoyed an unexpected Franciscan welcome at the top of a mountain! Tomorrow we will arrive at the goal of our journey and see the spires of Santiago.

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