Day 10. The ordinariness of true miracles. Solsona - Santuari del Miracle

"Es geht also nicht darum, an ein christliches oder in irgendeiner Weise spirituelles Ziel zu gelangen - sondern darum, auf eine bestimmte Weise zu gehen und zu sehen."

"So it isn't about reaching a religious or somehow spiritual goal - but about walking and seeing things in a specific way."
- W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn 

I didn’t leave Solsona without a last stroll through the beautiful historic center, still quiet on a Saturday morning. I filled my water bottles with water from one of the gothic fountains, wondered if I should find a place for an early coffee but decided to get on the road. The route to the Santuari del Miracle mainly follows the GR7 and the distance to that what I read to be a “magnificent place” is only 11 kilometers. I left the castle of Castellvell behind, walked through farmers fields and crossed roads and entered woods that are still recovering from a big fire in 1998 but are doing quite well thanks to succesful regeneration. More than 25.000 acres got burned that year, unfortunately not a very rare event. There are said to be up to 20,000 forest fires in Spain a year, killing uncountable trees and animals, sometimes people as well.
For nature it doesn’t always have devastating effects only. Nature renews itself, sometimes flourishes even better, bird species that haven’t been around, even in danger of disappearing elsewhere, benefit from new circumstances. But some plants and trees have a hard time surviving or returning, a whole ecological system can change. Some tree species suffered severely here and are struggling still.

I left the trail to walk through the village of Brics but nothing much happened there. Which isn’t a bad thing. Just outside the village there were two ponds and I made a stop there to see if I could spot any exotic (for me, not for this place) animals. I peeped through the window in the wooden structure that kept me out of sight of the animals (a reversed world!), some ducks were splashing around and even not seeing anything out of the ordinary, there was still something extra-ordinary about it. A dreamy atmosphere, maybe because they were so small and relaxing after all the overwhelming views. I read the information panels, looked at pictures of all the animals I hadn’t seen but now knew were there somewhere sometimes and continued. After all the climbs and 20+ kilometer walks this felt like a Sunday stroll. I walked slowly and now and then other walkers or strollers passed me by, surely heading for the same place I was aiming for.

Of course always when you think the walking is easy something comes up, but the steep slope just before the Sant Jaume ermitage was short enough to give me the feeling again I am doing something serious and short enough not to get really tired. I could almost see the place where a miracle happened more than 500 years ago already.

It is said the first church or hermitage was built here in the beginning of the 16th century, probably a simple construction. The miracle that was at its origin, as it often is, was the appearance of the Holy Virgin  to two boys who were herding cattle at the outskirts of Riner. The current church was built in the 17th century and the Baroque altarpiece that is its artistic highlight, was sculpted in the middle of the 18th century by Carles Moretó and in its center is the image of the HolyVirgin, as seen by the two kids.

I read that “the monastery fell into decadence at the end of the 18th Century” and that “from then the Miracle entered a decline from which it did not emerge until 1886”. I’m not exactly sure what that meant but in 1901 the old secular administration was replaced by a Benedictine priory connected to Montserrat and a convent was constructed. Since then a small community of monks has taken care of the sanctuary.

There are only four of them now and I would have loved to talk to them about walking and the meaning of pilgrimage but I am not sure if it is the right moment, being there unannounced and so limited in any non-English (or non-German, non-French or non-Dutch, I do have some language skills and hope, prey, haha, Spanish will come, and I hope I don’t offend the Catalans by putting that lower on my list) so I just wandered around, hoping for some chance encounter.

The courtyard inbetween the plain stone buildings was an oasis in this austere and dry landscape. I sat in the shade and watched other people wandering around. Parents with children, romantic couples, heavy duty walkers, a runner even, strollers and wanderers and some lost souls.

Of course I had a look at the famous baroque altarpiece in the church. The word big is too small to do justice to its size. Enormous suits it better. Meters of gold and ornaments. 23 meters high and 12 meters wide to be precise. But I was more impressed by the glitter of the big round silent waterbasin outside. 
I thought about the young boy who had had the vision. His name was Jaumet, he died a few days after he saw the apparition, he was 10 years old. He wasn’t the only one. A plague epidemy was raging through Catalunya. Visions often happen when times are tough and people feel God is testing them. The two juniper trees that marked the spot where Jaumet and his older brother Celdoni shortly before him had seen the young Virgin didn’t last long either, after crowds of pilgrims started to visit the location. The gothic cross that was put there to replace the trees was demolished during the last Spanish civil war. Now a new cross replaces the cross that replaced the trees in the old meadow of Bassedòria, a stonesthrow distance away from the convent.

In the restaurant there is the miracle of food. Local products are being sold as well and the chef tells me proudly about their biomass heater. I taste his love of the land in what’s on my plate. For some people cooking is almost a religion. Or eating.

But the true miracle happened just before sunset. I walked a big circle around the Santuari and stopped to look back at where I had come from, to see myself walking there again. The solid harsh mountains had changed colour and had become transparant. Blue in different shades. 

I remembered reading earlier today that Crayola is turning the first new blue in 200 years - discovered by a chemist by accident a few years ago - into a crayon.

No comments:

Post a Comment