We got away from the hotel in very good time and drove out of Leon and towards the mountains. The first part of the journey was across a flat plain and then we arrived at Astorga. This was a Roman town built to guard the gold trade in the area. We were stopping there to visit the Camino Museum which is located in the Bishop’s Palace, designed by Antonio Gaudi.
The building looks more like Disney’s castle for Sleeping Beauty than any bishop’s palace I’ve ever seen and in fact for a number of reasons the bishop never lived in it. It is typically Gaudi, a fantasy of a building. The display inside is of things associated with the pilgrimage, lots of statues of Our Lady, of St James, pilgrim shells and much else.
Alongside the Palace is the Gothic Cathedral from which Gaudi took his inspiration. The reason that Gaudi was persuaded to work here, outside Catalonia, was that the bishop who commissioned it from him was himself Catalonian.
Astorga was a good place to make a short break before we drove on into the mountains and to the small village of Foncebadon. We were going to walk from there up to Cruz de Hierro (Iron Cross) the Way’s highest point. The cross is in fact mediaeval and has been a point for which walkers and others travelling the Camino have aimed on their journey.
The weather was lovely – a bit of wind but the sun was shining. We got wrapped up, strapped our boots on, got our sticks and set off. As we were travelling on the coach the landscape around us was spectacular, wonderful long views, beautiful Spanish Broom, other flowers and shrubs.
As we walked we passed through this beautiful terrain and I was struck by the wonderful palette of colour with which God paints. The colours were lovely; it was better than any rockery at home, any display in a park. The plants and colours played together and created the most beautiful surroundings through which to walk. It was a visual celebration of the grandeur of God’s creation.
At various stages crosses had been planted in the ground. We stopped at these; it was almost like praying the Stations. And then the end of the journey appeared.
To be honest I was expecting a larger cross. The ancient iron cross is in fact quite small but is on the top of a large pole and this stands on a little mound which is covered with stones and other things that pilgrims have brought and left. Around the pole were tied bandanas and flags, rosaries, crosses and messages. Among the stones were some with names written on them. Someone had left a teddy bear – perhaps in memory of a loved and missed child. We set our stones amongst the others and said our silent prayers. We left them at the foot of the cross. I found it immensely moving, as I found it moving to see so many pilgrims walking the Way, alone, in pairs, in small groups, all along the Way, all heading for this cross and what lies beyond it.
All but two of us had made the walk. For some it was a real struggle but there was, once again, a real sense of achievement as we stood beneath the cross and sang
How lovely on the mountains
are the feet of him
who brings good news, good news,
proclaiming news of happiness:
Our God reigns, our God reigns.
We boarded the coach and continued the journey to Acebo where lunch awaited us.