Friday, June 27, 2014

San Pedro de la Rua, Estella, Navarra

(among the most magical (and often most-overlooked) places on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, begun on 6 June 2014

  Called “Estella la Bella” in the Middle Ages, Estella remains beautiful and is packed full with sacred sites but none that exceed the 12th century hilltop church of San Pedro de la Rua.  

The doorway is a multi-lobed Mudéjar style by Muslim craftsmen working in medieval Christian Spain. The archway holds several mystical keys often missing in other entranceways. One medallion over the arch points shows the hand of God holding up three fingers for the Trinity. Another depicts a lamb and the chi-rho that both represent Christ, but notice that the Alpha and Omega are in reverse, leading some to believe that the artisan was influenced by Arabic or Hebrew, both of which are written from right to left. 

Islamic creatures populate the arches, such as the two Persian-style winged birds on the left capital. Interwoven throughout the arches are Biblical tales, fanciful plants, and Celtic knots. 

 Inside is an open, rounded altar that holds Mary on the viewer's left, and left of her, an enigmatic pillar of three braided serpents. Mary is from the 13th century, but the three serpents are the 1893 restoration work of sculptor Cayetano Echauri who was a specialist of occult symbolism. He wanted to restore the medieval esoteric tradition of this region in his work. The three serpents represent good, evil, and wisdom and they are intertwined to represent the interplay of wisdom in discerning good from bad. 
Further back, San Pedro’s cloister reflects the mixed heritage from the front of the church, especially in the Basque pre-Christian solar disk tombstones and the Islamic Mudéjar-style plants and animals on the pillar capitals. 

To learn more about the deeper esoteric past and present in Estella and other mystical sites on the Camino, please see my book, The Spiritual Traveler Spain and my app (both on iTunes and Android), The Esoteric Camino France & Spain.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Capilla de la Corticela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

(among the most magical (and often most-overlooked) places on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, begun on 6 June 2014)   

Inside the 12th century Romanesque cathedral of Santiago de Compostela are several splendid little universes.  

Among the most interesting is the Capilla de la Corticela, an overlooked little chapel just to the right of the northern entrance, the Puerta de la Azbachería. It was a 9th century church that was once separate from the cathedral but that eventually was absorbed into its expansion and reconfigured with a 12th century Romanesque entrance. 

Step through the threshold and you will likely discover that La Capilla de la Corticela has an amazing magic pulsating in it, as if the old magic of this Neolithic hilltop is for some reason strongest here. If you sit here and pray and meditate a while, you will also witness locals coming and going in their own magical engagement of the space, some leaving offerings and others writing wishes on slips of paper to deposit to the left of the shrine.

Eunate, Navarra, Spain

(among the most magical (and often most-overlooked) places on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, begun on 6 June 2014)

Santa Maria de Eunate is a beautiful little remote round chapel surrounded by grazing sheep and rolling hills between Pamplona and Puente la Reina. 

No one knows who built this octagonal chapel dedicated to Mary. It may have the Templar Knights, who were inspired by the eight-sided Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. What makes this 12th century church all the more enigmatic is its 33-arched cloister surrounding the outside of the church like Saturn’s rings and that eunate is the Basque word for “one hundred doors.” 

From Basques to Christians and Muslims, there is a mixed ancestry at work here. 

Thirty-three is Jesus’s age when he was crucified. Jesus is a part of a holy trinity. Prayer beads in Islam number 33 and are circled three times to meditate on the 99 names of God. Eunate’s 33 arches can be walked around three times like a labyrinth or  walking rosary, arriving at 99. Enter the chapel door and you have “one hundred doors.” 

That this meditation is set in one of the most enchanted landscapes of northern Spain adds to its depth.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ara Solis, Finisterre, Galicia

(among the most magical (and often most-overlooked) places on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, begun on 6 June 2014)   

Finisterre, an outcropping of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean along Galicia’s rugged fishing coast, is considered a final destination of the Camino after Santiago de Compostela. Here, the old Roman road across northern Spain also ends, marked by the Ara Solis, an altar to the dying sun. It was once located on the highest point near Finisterre’s present-day lighthouse. 

Finisterre also appears to have been the end of an initiatory road dating back before the Romans, to Celtic and perhaps Neolithic times, as indicated by the ancient remains of a nearby Neolithic stone circle on Monte San Guillermo and other Neolithic and Celtic remains sprinkled along Finisterre’s jagged coastline. 

Pre-Christian lore survives concerning fertility rites among women who were having trouble getting pregnant: They would visit a dolmen nearby, on Mount Fache, a tall, vertical dolmen that once stood there, hoping to improve their chances through proximity to its symbolic potency. Too explicit and disturbing for an 18th century bishop, he had the dolmen destroyed. While the dolmen is gone, the climb is exhilarating for the stunning view and feeling of being on top of the world.

The most magical (and often most-overlooked) places on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Thanks especially to Shirley MacLaine, Paolo Coelho, and Martin Sheen, the Way, the Camino across northern Spain, is as popular today as it was in the Middle Ages. 

But unlike medieval pilgrims who were taking their time, modern pilgrims tend to miss some of the most magical sites on the Camino, walking right past them in a rush to their next bed or meal. 

The Camino emerged in the ninth century after a hermit discovered the tomb of Saint James the Greater, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, on a hilltop in northwestern Spain. That hilltop, which was also an ancient Neolithic burial ground, later became known as Santiago de Compostela, the Camino’s destination. 

The Camino was medieval Europe’s great adventure for the devout and the restless alike, and a repository of sacred and mystical lore sourced as much from its Christian birth as from the pagans, Jews, and Muslims who also lived and built along it. They collectively left a chain of magical sites strung across the wild beauty of northern Spain. 

In the next several blog entries, I share what I feel are the most magical but most often overlooked sites. I’ll begin by going backwards, the Other Way, as I like to call it, at the Atlantic coast in Galicia at Finisterre…