When I was at the Fuente del Hospitalejo Picnic Area the day before my arrival in Sahagún the ice cream truck vendor there told me about the big festival that was taking place that weekend in Sahagún. I knew that the whole town would be celebrating with bands, attractions for all and bullfights and I truthfully had no desire to see any of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great party (just ask my wife) but my greater desire was for arriving at the Monasterio de Santa Cruz where I hoped that the Madres Benedictinas would offer me a peaceful place to rest, eat, and recharge my batteries, as they say, and my soul. I could see the food stalls and hear the music and excitement on the other side of the Arco de San Benito but it did not interest me.
The monasterio was not what I expected and I first went past it without noticing it. I soon realized my mistake and was ringing the door asking to see if they would take me in. Was I one of millions who had done the same over the centuries? I was comforted by the thought.
In a way Sahagún was also not what I expected. The name of the town is derived from San Facundo (how I do not know). It is these days a small market town but a lot of history was made here, most of it related to King Alfonso VI (who reigned as King from 1065-1109). He was educated here, took refuge here during wartime, married his third wife, Costanza de Borgia, here and is buried with his 4 wives here. Alfonso gave the town its fuero in 1085 and it reflected the cosmopolitan aspect of the town because it extended rights to Gascons, Bretons, Germans, Englishmen, Burgundians, Normans, Provençals, Lombards and men from Toulouse, to name a few. The town grew rapidly because of its geography – the richness of the land and livestock combined with its location on the pilgrimage road made it a formidable market center. In addition the town’s population supported 9 parishes, each with its own Romanesque church of which only 4 survive today. The former and immense Monasterio de San Facundo (it once had 4 separate cloisters!!) was in its heyday Spain’s most influential monument in the Romanesque-Mudéjar style. Alfonso gave it to Cluny in 1078 and this incorporation and the incorporation of outlying religious institutions to the Cluniac Order led to the town’s rapid growth. At its height the Order controlled over 90 other monasteries all over Spain. Today very little of the monastery remains. Its minimal ruins are now the barracks of the Guardia Civil and the Arco de San Benito was once the façade of the Monasterio de San Facundo’s church.
When I rang the bell of the monasterio I was met by one of the Sisters who welcomed me and provided me with a very nice private room. The room was comparable to one you would get at a Casa Rural, not as fancy, but it did have its own separate bathroom. I was told that there would be a service in the chapel at 6:00 and that dinner would be immediately following. Comforted with that knowledge I took a short nap and then went to check out the public spaces of the monasterio.
Upon awaking from my nap I was went downstairs and soon found myself with a group of about 20 Peregrinos standing outside the church entrance near the Arco de San Benito. One of the persons in this group was Juan the Peregrino from Mexico that I had met earlier that morning in San Nicolás del Real Camino. We were in the wrong place and soon were directed to the chapel inside the Convento de las Madres Benedictinas. The church of the convento was consecrated in 1184 and I assume that the chapel dates from the same period but I’m not sure of this detail so don’t quote me.
The chapel of the Madres Benedictinas was small but an incredibly ornate one in the baroque style. I could not use my flash and as a result my pictures of the chapel do not do it justice.
As I and my fellow Peregrinos sat in awe of this small but incredibly ornate little chapel we all looked around to take in as much of the beauty as possible. Soon the service began and it was not a Mass but a prayer service that was sung beautifully by the sisters of the Order. There were only about 10 of them but that did not take anything away from the occasion. After the service we were all asked to form a circle around the altar and we took turns introducing ourselves. There were Peregrinos there from all over Europe, South America and North America. When the brief introductions were concluded the sisters gave all of us the traditional pilgrim’s blessing. This was my second blessing on the Camino and it always affected me emotionally. To be blessed in the way that Peregrinos over many centuries have been blessed for me was a joy and an honor.
After the blessing we all went our individual ways and it was soon time for dinner at the convent. I was joined by Juan, an Irish Peregrina and two Italian Peregrinos. It was a simple but good meal and the conversation was enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed speaking in my limited Italian. Moments into the meal the Italian man, who was in his late fifties, excused himself to return urgently to his room. His travelling companion told me that he had to get his medicine and sure enough he returned with about 10 pills to take with his meal. He told me that he had had a quadruple bypass operation and that this was his 8th Camino!! He also told me that he had walked 40 kilometers that day! I was very, very impressed and we spent the dinner chatting away together. At the end of the meal we said goodbye and he told me that my Italian was very, very good. I was gratified to hear it and I’m sure my father would have been very proud to have heard it also.
After this it was time to retire for bed. There was only one slight problem, I couldn’t sleep. The noise of the festival – pounding disco music and animated revellers on the street below my window – constantly interrupted my sleep. As much as I tried it was impossible to sleep soundly and I got very little sleep that night.