Today is Tuesday, June 4th and I am in the town of Hospital de Obrigos in the reception area of the Albergue Verde on a beautiful, balmy, sunny day looking out into a lovely garden.
I have the benefit of free internet access on the albergue laptop. It takes getting used to and let me tell you, working with a Spanish keyboard is a challenge without dealing with the different feel of this keyboard and no mouse.
In any case, I'm seizing the moment and taking the opportunity to write about my time in León. I arrived in León on Saturday, June 1st. I went directly to my hostel--Hostal Londres--Londres being the Spanish word for London. I had a wonderful room with a private bathroom which had a tub about two-thirds the size of a regular tub, but just perfect for me to sit in. The room looked like it was decorated from a Laura Ashley catalog which my sister Maritza would have loved.
It was perfect and I was booked for two nights so that I could arrive Saturday, rest the rest of the day, and have Sunday to see León.
León,which in English means Lion, is a stunningly, beautiful city. It wears its name with majesty, dignity and aplomb.
It accepts and owns its reputation as King of the Jungle with pride without appearing arrogant. It stands tall with its luxuriant mane blowing in the wind saying this is who I am.
I say this as I compare my experience in León with my experience in Burgos.
Burgos seemed to me a city still working to find its identity, a city of merchants secure in their small cliques. I went to 6 different banks in Burgos, starting with the large Banco de Espana and tried to change dollars and everywhere I was asked if I had an account there and when I said no, they would not serve me. I finally found a bank that said they would only change $300.00. In León on Monday morning as I was leaving town around 8:15 a.m., I saw a bank that was open. It wasnt a large name brand bank and I went in, asked if I could change dollars and they didn't bat an eyelash and I made the transaction.
Saturday evening, I attended vespers at the Convent of the Benedictine Nuns and it was very moving. The chapel was lovely Gothic and Romanesque style. They had a lovely organ and the nuns sang with verve and gusto, a very different experience than listening to the Benedictine nuns in Lacey, Washington where I go for a yearly silent retreat or the vesper service I attended in a city that I can't remember.
There were 5 of us in attendance and I thought, these nuns do this service whether there is anyone there or not. They are doing it for God. And it reminded me of the many beautiful trees and flowers I have encountered on my journey. They display their beauty because that is what they do. It doesn't matter if anyone comes by to acknowledge them.
Sunday, June 2nd, was an amazing day!!! It was the Feast of Corpus Christi and the city was arrayed in splendor for its celebration. Corpus Christi is the celebration of the body and blood of Christ and the host (the communion wafer) is carried in procession throughout the city. The bishop was at the cathedral for mass. He admonished those in attendance, (the place was packed that this was a very solemn service with deep, serious significance and it was not to be treated as a party. Yeah--right! That's like telling a full church on Easter Sunday that this is a service of the serious significance of an empty tomb.
The Cathedral in León is magnificent. Unlike the Cathedral in Burgos, which was built and added to by every noble family that wanted to have its name eternalized for posterity, and is really a patchwork quilt without any direction, every nobleman trying to outdo each other by building a ridiculously ornate chapel, the Cathedral in León is a magnificent example of a unified vision wih impeccable symmetry and balance. The nave is exquisite. The stained glass breathtaking.
The bishop presided, the organ music was glorious, the choir wonderful and the hymn singing vibrantly alive, making for a very uplifting service. It was communion sunday and about 100 little girls and boys made their first communion. Many of you know that I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, which was okay with me except when I would see little girls making their first communion and I so wanted to wear a white dress and a veil, and little mary jane white patent leather shoes with lace, ruffly socks. The little girls here do not wear veils, and unlike the Catholic girls in my neighborhood who did their first communion in short dresses, all these little girls had on long, puffy dresses down to the ground so you could not see their feet. Let me tell you, they swept that city clean with their dresses. The little boys were darling too in their black suits with white shirts.
After the service, hundreds of people gathered in front of the cathedral for the procession carrying the host, the bishop and clergy in front, nuns, communion children and at least 3 or 4 bands with the band members in uniform playing beautiful music. The host was carried on this large altar covered with flowers.
You all know that I am not a picture taker, but I wish I could have taken a picture of this scene. The entire city was alive.
After the crowd had left on its procession, I ran into a couple from Australia who had been really helpful to me on the journey. Early on the journey I had been walking and my knee had been hurting me and I was hobbling along very slowly and came across them sitting on a bench resting. The husband said to me, "here, take this ointment and put it on your knee. I think it will help." It turned out to be Voltaren, which Geoff and Rochelle bring me from Canada. You can imagine how I was feeling, because rght then and there on the street, I pulled my pants down and slathered my knee and leg with Voltaren and after a bit, I felt so much better and got a second wind to keep on moving.
Well, this couple was in the cathedral square enjoying the celebration in Leon when we saw each other and the wife came over and said to me, "I have just had the most wonderful massage with a man named David. He has done the camino and does Reiki and he worked on my leg (she had been having issues as well) and gave me some arnica pellets to take and he is amazing." She said that David told her that The Camino has three stages. The stage from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos is the physical stage. It is during this stage that we get in touch with our bodies, where all the issues that need to be looked at, that need resolution show up and therefore the pain. I can tell you, there was not one person who I spoke with during that stage that wasn't dealing with something physical--blisters, shin splints, bad knees, losing toe nails, pain in their shoulders from their backpacks, etc. It was unbelievable. Young and old alike. No one got away scot free.
He said the stage from Burgos to León was the mental stage. The stage from Burgos to León is flat.
Elevation Maps from Burgos to León
(click to enlarge)
Flat road with nothing to see for miles. One walks and feels like one is standing still, going nowhere and as a result, the mind starts going into places that one hasn't gone to before. For me, it was the realization that no matter how far I would walk, there I would be. I was the destination because there was no other destination except myself. I don't know if I am being clear, but it was amazing. One day I walked 17 kilometers without seeing a village, a tree; just road meeting the sky. You have no point of reference.
The third stage is the stage from León to Santiago. He said this is the spiritual stage. And let me tell you, one starts to climb and climb and climb. Of course, what goes up, must come down. But, it really is climbing Jacob's ladder. I am just entering that experience. I'll keep you posted.
Elevation Maps for León to Santiago
(click to enlarge)
I spent the afternoon in León with two new friends from Tucson, Arizona and my wonderful early friend Misha from Basel, Switzerland, who gave me a pill when I first started having issues with my knee. By the way, my knee is getting better every day. I feel my body healing in many different ways.
That was my time in León. It didn't hurt that the weather was glorious and everything sparkles in the sun.
I left León Monday morning after spending a little time with the owner of the Londres Hostel. A very dignified, gracious man, he said to me, "I'm tired". He then went on to say that he has dedicated 40 years of his life welcoming pilgrims and now he is tired of backpacks, changing linen and being on call 24 hours a day. He is ready to pass on the banner. I thanked him for my beautiful clean room, for the integrity of his work on behalf of so many before me, and I left León, that beautiful Lion with a heart overflowing, giving thanks for this splendid experience.
From my heart to yours,