We walked in to Ponferrada today after two days of tough-on-the-legs uphill and extreme downhill work. These two days were some of the most beautiful on The Camino, but my knee and calf are seriously paying for it.
Ponferrada has a gorgeous castle once inhabited by the Knights Templar. When Billy passed through here last year, he passed through at daybreak and couldn't visit the castle or the city. I told him back then that I WILL SEE THAT CASTLE WHEN I WALK THE CAMINO! So we have planned our walking according to when we would be able to walk in to Ponferrada and see this castle. And, SCORE!, it was free admission day!!! What a great reward for my screaming calf and my prominent limp. Seriously folks, I'm not too far from qualifying for a handicapped hang tag for my car. oh wait...We pilgrims don't have our cars. Poo...
Another place that I really wanted to try to see in Ponferrada is an ancient church...The Church of Santo Tomas De Las Ollas. You see, this church is a Mozarabe church dating back to the early 900s. We happen to live on the Camino Mozarabe - a part of the Camino De Santiago that runs from the south of Spain in Andalucia. It runs directly behind my house...It is literally outside my bedroom window! Andalucia used to be called Al-Andaluz and was part of the Moorish Kingdom. The caliphate was in Al-Andaluz for many centuries. During that time, there were Christians who lived in the Moorish Kingdom. They adopted the Moor culture and customs, dressing in the Muslim way and following many of their ways. But they were Christian believers and they were called the Mozarabe. The had churches - many were cave churches or very primitive structures carved out of rock. These churches usually also took on a very Moorish appearance with the distinctive keyhole windows and doors.
I'm intrigued with the Mozarabe and I try to visit all the historical sights I can find. So a Mozarabe church in Ponferrada was a must see!
Well, that's easier said than done. This poor little church used to be on the Camino and visited frequently, which is probably one of the only reasons it still exists today. But, as sometimes happens on The Camino, a big city has changed the path over the centuries. So today, Santo Tomas De Las Ollas is nearly a forgotten relic. And trying to find it to visit is also a task. I won't even expound upon how much I hated "Emily the GPS Woman" in our cell phone today...only to say, NEVER TRUST EMILY!
We did finally get a taxi driver to carry us through the city and up a big hill (thank goodness we didn't walk it) and he dropped us in a tiny plaza in a super tiny neighborhood. And there, at one end of the plaza, sat little Santo Tomas De Las Ollas.
I had read that the church is not generally open, but you could get a key from the woman who lives in house 7. I thought to myself that the odds of the Internet being correct on this were slim to none and kind of resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn't get to go in.
Guess what! Lo and behold, there actually is a house 7 on the plaza. And, even better, there is a sign on the door of the church that says to come see Manuela in house 7 for the key!
I timidly knock on the door...It is Spanish siesta time and I'm breaking some serious cultural rules! I get myself ready for a sharp tongued Spanish woman to come to the door and rip me a good one for disturbing siesta. But the sweetest, tiniest lady came out smiling. I apologise profusely, knowing it would be expected of me to do so, only to have her smile even bigger and express her happiness that I speak Spanish and that I am a pilgrim.
Manuela is not only the keeper of the key, but she is the keeper of the history of the church. She knows it all. She showed us every stone. she showed us which ones are original, which ones are restored, which parts fell down and which ones are turned wrong. She knows which parts of the frescos were painted when and by whom. She knows all the dates for every piece. You see, this church is a piece of her. It is her parent's church, and their parent's church. She was born here. She was christened here. She was married here. She has raised her kids here. And, most recent as 5 months ago, she held the funeral of her husband here. (we paused for a bit here while she cried and tried to regain her composure and I stroked her back and listened to her saddness). Manuela is the life of this ancient place. She holds the memories and loves this place.
The history here was amazing. Not only the ancient history, but the more recent history that is Manuela and her love of this place.