November 2, 33km
There are four old men playing cards at the next door table. Letizia is now the one with ice on her shin! I have a manzanilla with anis and wet feet still and a jar of heather honey. Renato is reading his guidebook. We’re waiting for the monastery to open so we can get stamped. After a slow afternoon through cool forests with otherworldly currents the monastery of Oseira suddenly appeared out of the trees as we rounded a bend and crossed an elbow of the dark river. It is absolutely enormous – on its long side, a wall about four storeys high that has fifteen balconies spaced at intervals and with space for more. The albergue seems to be in a kind of gate house but I find out later it’s actually the monks old library. Old here means old. It’s a Trappist Cistercian monastery following Bernard de Clairveau and has been holding prayer between cool stones and vaulted arches and pools of light for just shy of nine hundred years. To be at proximity in the falling grey light of the afternoon, stomping on sodden oak leaves and wet grass up to the façade is breathtaking. It’s like being in another time. I keep expecting to see Sean Connery dressed in a cowl and carrying a tallow lamp.
As we walked the last couple of hours I had some moments of deep quiet, of strange empty, watchful inner abundance, of a kind of homecoming, of forgotten kin. The unknown, remembered gate? I don’t know. It’s been another strong day. After a morning just sweet and light between Letizia and I, we had two stops, one in T__ and one in Cea, and they were quite nasty. Alienating, cold service, miscomprehensions, being at crossed purposes and regarded with a cold eye. And now here we are, somehow held within a circle of monastic hospitality that itself is couched in the grandest, oldest, Gothic stone. This bar is presided over by a smiley Abuela with her two granddaughters. It’s a goodie. Bars along the Camino are either steeped in presence and simple, warm hospitality or… not. This one has rows of ancient bottles and bright creamy orange walls and posters celebrating the ‘exaltation’ of the local artesanal bread and climbing plants and local honey for sale.
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So I went on a guided tour of the monastery, pre-shower and still wet footed, enjoying the slow and punctuated Spanish of our guide-afficionado. “Light is the main protagonist of a Gothic structure” he might say, or “imagine those arches from the point of view of a monk living a vocation of silence.” It was thrilling, captivating and almost overwhelming. In the sanctuary is a statue of La Virgen, of a style they call La Virgen Lactea or something, which means she is breastfeeding the Christ Child. Too far away for me to see in detail, except for her serene outward-facing gaze and the warm intimacy of her body.
Dinner was in the local bar: plate after plate of cheese, salami and jamon iberico eaten with the famous local bread and what felt like bottle after bottle of red wine. Alberto who we met in Orense came in having arrived in the dark dark night and was cold and sopping. He had had adventures along the way.
Sleep came easily under piles of blankets.