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San Juan de Ortega was to be a memorable stop that was full of the “small miracles” that I’ve spoken about before. It gave me tranquility, peace, joy and faith in my journey. Not that I didn’t have faith before – you need plenty of it to endure – but you can never be without a little infusion of faith coupled with joy, peace and tranquility every now and then. Unfortunately, in our modern lives we get so little opportunities to experience these feelings and we Peregrinos are fortunate to live out these precious moments on the Camino.
The feeling of peace and tranquility was definately imparted to me by the Monasterio de San Juan de Ortega. It is a beautiful place both inside and outside. It is named after Juan Velázquez (ca. 1080-1163) who was a disciple of San Domingo de la Calzada. Juan was instrumental in the construction of bridges in Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Nájera. After Domingo died in 1109, Juan went to the Holy Land on pilgrimage and on his return was shipwrecked and prayed to San Nicolas de Barí to intercede and deliver him to safety. He was saved and in return Juan pledged to devote the rest of his life to helping pilgrims. Help them he did as he set-up his mission in the dangerous Montes de Oca and soon attracted the attention of powerful benefactors such as, Alfonso VII of Castilla and Pope Innocent III who offered his personal protection to Juan.
Juan took the name of Ortega from the Latin word for “thistle.” He was known as the patron of hospice keepers, children and barren mothers. When his tomb was opened, there was pleasant odor and out flew a swarm of white bees that was interpreted as being the souls of unborn children that the Saint was keeping safe pending their incarnation in the wombs of the faithful. One of those faithful who came to the monastery was Isabel la Católica and she conceived a son whom she named Juan. Later she also conceived a daughter whom she named Juanna. After Juan’s death the monastery continued to grow and the church and monastery was enlarged. It gained fame for a pharmacy that served the entire region and the charity of monks toward pilgrims. Monastery records record 114 miracles granted up to 1756 due to the intercession of San Juan de Ortega or San Juan de Barí. The Monastery of San Juan de Ortega was a classic pilgrim stop and continues to be one.
Now to get back to my narrative, Robert and I arrived tired and dusty from our trek across and up the Montes de Oca and immediately decided that the best way to combat our weariness was a cold beer. First, before we could claim that beer we had to check in to the albergue and we found a small line awaiting us there and a comic interlude.
As I waited patiently in line I heard and saw the following exchange take place:
Hospitalero: Credential and DNI (National Identity Document), please.
The hospitalero looks at the French DNI closely, looks up at the Peregrino, does a double-take and says, “Welcome Monseiur Le President”
Peregrino: Excuse -moi?
Hospitalero: You look exactly like Francois Hollande.
Hospitalero: José, doesn’t he look like Francois Hollande?
José takes look and answers affirmatively. The hospitalero then takes the 10 Euro payment from the bewildered French Peregrino and his wife and then I step up and say to him, Yeah, he looks exactly like Hollande (10 years younger maybe).
Reunited with Stephanie!!
Stephanie was the first Peregrina that I met and we started our Camino together in St. Jean. As you know we got separated very soon after and I was always looking to see if I’d find her. Well, we found each other in San Juan de la Ortega and she was doing very well walking together with two Belgian peregrinos. All of us at the table enjoyed our beer and catching up with our exploits on the trail.
A Priceless Moment
While I was sitting at the table enjoying the moment I received a very special email from my 20 year old son, Christian. It was a very long and loving email and as I disengaged from the conversation and read it I became noticeably silent and my eyes welled up. Robert immediately noticed something was up and asked if I was OK. I said that everything was fine. When a father receives and email like that from his son it is a priceless moment. My being on the Camino I’m sure was the catalyst for this great gift and I saw it as another one of those small miracles. This gift brought me great joy and also a great added motivation to complete my pilgrimage.
The Frozen Mass
After I got my son’s email I got up and walked toward the church and as I neared it I met Maribel (more about her and her husband Jaime, later) and she told me that there would be a Mass in 20 minutes. I was pleased because I needed and wanted to hear Mass but thought that it was too late in the evening for one. Maribel told me that it was freezing inside the church and she was going for a jacket. I too went for my jacket and told Otto about the Mass and he joined me.
The Mass was attended by twenty or so peregrinos from many countries. I was overtaken by the simple beauty of the church (go to my Spiritual page for a more in depth description and pictures) and the Mass. It was one of my highlights of the Camino.
There was only one place to have dinner and that was in the Bar next to the albergue. As you can imagine it was full of peregrinos and I enjoyed the company of many peregrinos I had not met before. I was impressed by a couple from Holland, Harry and Jose, who started their pilgrimage on bicycles from their home town in Holland!! The husband was threatening (in a good way) to return to Holland by the same way that they came once they reached Santiago!!
Jaime and Maribel
When I found my cot in the albergue I met a Spanish couple, Jaime and Maribel, who were from Salamanca. Jaime’s cot was right next to mine and we naturally got to comparing blisters (Peregrinos are obsessed by foot injuries and foot care). Maribel was coming down with more blisters and I gave her a stick of Bodyglide to keep. We conversed a bit more and then went to sleep. We woke at about the same time and as we were downstairs we we putting on our boots when Jaime looked at the first aid kit on the outside of my backpack and said to me (in Spanish of course).
Miguel, you’re a Romo! I’m a Romo too and so is Maribel!
Jaime had seen M. Romo written on my first aid kit and I was dumb-founded to have met two other Romo’s on the Camino! Who knows, we may be related somehow? Jaime took down my email address and he promised to email me. He was true to his promise and we’ve been in contact with each other recently. Another small miracle on the Camino!