After 32.6 miles in two days, 9 miles to Pamplona today was a nice “break.” I know two people who started when I did who were told by a doctor to stop walking for at least 1-3 days due to injuries from the long grind. My own knees, perhaps not at full strength yet after last year’s broken leg and torn meniscus, got rather tentative halfway through yesterday. But then I happened to sing “Villulia,” a shape note song out of The Sacred Harp, about Jesus healing the blind Bartimaeus. After I sang the line, “but he asked, and Jesus granted, alms which none but he could give,” all the soreness went out of my knees and they felt strong the rest of the day. Hmm …
It was a morning to delight in spring – blackbirds singing, trees blossoming, meadows blooming – as I followed the Rio Arga west. But by noon I was tramping through the jarring urban outskirts of Pamplona, a medieval pilgrim suddenly adrift in a 20th century future. But the final approach to the old city’s fortress walls high on a bluff passed through a riverside park and pastures of horses. At last I crossed the old stone Magdalena bridge and, like centuries of pilgrims before me, ascended the slope to the city gate.
After finding my bed among the 57 cubicles of bunks filling two narrow hive-like corridors at the Jesus y Maria albergue, I set out for the late Gothic cathedral around the corner. It has one of the finest cloisters in Europe, several awesome retablos (the tall array of images, decorative motifs, and architectural elements behind an altar), and an exquisite 13th century Madonna and Child. I also found two large platforms, covered with rich fabric, flowers and candles, each featuring life-size figures: Jesus on the cross, and a distressed Virgin clothed in an embroidered black cope resembling an ancient vestment for Good Friday. These will be carried through the streets in Holy Week. Although the three protruding rods for carrying them had three shoulder cushions at either end, the eighteen men shouldering this load will surely earn Easter with their prodigious effort.
Up to now the externals of the Camino have been about hiking, nature, the Chaucer-like interactions of folk who “goon on pilgrimages,” and the daily logistics of itinerancy. But today’s encounter with holy images and sacred space (even if not uniformly congruent with contemporary spirituality), gave a sudden glimpse of the horizon toward which we move on this long journey.