Sunday, September 12, 2021: This is one of my favorite walks so far! We started packing up around 6:30 am when it was still dark out. We started walking a little before 8:00 am when the sun was just starting to come up.
So the story goes … the road to Castrojarez leads to the ruins of a church complex started by the Order of St. Anthony, a 11th-century order of nuns dedicated to the 3rd century Egyptian hermit whose relics it held. A man brought his daughter to the relics and she was healed of a particularly pernicious disease reminiscent of leprosy. This disease became known as St. Anthony’s Fire, which caused a terrible burning feeling, loss of circulation and eventually gangrene. This disease was in fact like ergotism, caused by a fungus that grows on rye bread. The order developed a reputation for healing this disease, though serendipitously, pilgrimage was an excellent antidote to the disease a vigorous exercise and plenty of wine helped to overcome it. Hiking the Camino de Santiago by Anna Dintaman and David Landis.
The ruins were privately owned and inaccessible to everyone until 2002 when an entrepreneur decided to commit himself to a project of creating a refuge for those walking the Camino. For almost a year he shared his ideas with the owner and they wrote a formal contract leasing the ruins for 35 years. The commitment was to create a hostel for pilgrims walking the Camino and to consolidate and restore these ruins. A lot of effort was used to clean up the shambles and make it useable.
Mendizabal is the new name … now you can stay there! It’s rustic, mystical, haunting and not for everyone. I would love to see it lit up with candles at night (there is no electricity) but don’t think I could stay here. It’s a bit too eerie for me especially when thinking about all the history that happened here.
When walking through the ruins, you see little alcoves filled with big drippy candles and many slips of paper with hand-written prayer intentions. In the Middle Ages, these alcoves were where nuns left food for the poor. Now, three sheds have been set up to receive, stay and dine in with another as a bedroom with six bunk beds donated by the Spanish army and another shed that serves as a restroom.
Since 2002, the ruins are open from May to September. In those years they have welcomed more than 15,000 Camino walkers (also called Pilgrims) even though they only have 12 beds. They offer everyone who stays overnight a bed, dinner and breakfast and charge absolutely nothing. They maintain the site based on the donations freely left by pilgrims and visitors. Every year, they explain the history of the convent and the Antonians to more than 20,000 visitors. It is a fascinating place to explore however, even though the space was sacred at one time, the energy is now sad and dormant.
Legend has it that’s Mary appeared to St. James from an apple tree and he was so startled that his horse reared up and came down heavily, leaving hoof prints in the stone outside. We did not see any hoof prints.
In Spain there is no separation of church and state. Maria del Manzano is also used as a ‘church art museum’. They charge 1 Euro to enter. In the main altar area they had a display of vestments and other chapels featured artwork, statues and sacred items. I’m just glad the doors are open and we can see these amazing structures, sacred spaces and intriguing artwork.
As we strolled through the art exhibit at Santa Maria del Manzano we heard a small choir preparing for a mass service. The locals were starting to arrive and many brought a handful of flowers probably from their gardens. They had a special wooden rack for holding the flowers. Very nice way for the parishioners to contribute to the service.
This is the view when entering Castrojarez. High on top of the steep mesa is Castillo de San Esteban. The Romans used the castle, said to be founded by Julius Caesar, to protect the roads to Galicia’s lucrative gold mines. The city changed hands frequently until coming under Christian rule in 10th century.