Spain is filled with cathedrals. Some are on the Camino. For many Pilgrims, they are a welcome (visual) relief from the vast stretches of vineyards, olive groves and farmland. For others, they are a source of spiritual inspiration or comfort; some attend the Pilgrim Mass. And yet for others, the cathedrals are something to avoid.
I am not enthralled by churches and cathedrals. Compared to Northern Spain’s vast sky and wide open spaces, they are dark and confining. The imagery inside, no matter how well crafted or gilded, does not speak to me in positive ways. In Burgos, I entered the free section of the cathedral to attend a Pilgrim service, mainly because some Spaniards I had met were going and I wished to say goodbye to them before they continued the Camino the following day, when I was taking a break.
On Sunday, I walked to Leon, home to one of Spain´s brighter cathedrals, its stained glass windows lit from the sun, creating mosaic patterns of color (so I read in my guidebook). I considered paying to enter but, after taking a nap, discovered that the church was closed to the public on Sunday afternoons. That evening I ran into the Quebec couple I mentioned a few posts back; they were planning to spend two nights in Leon and were visiting the cathedral the following day. I had planned to keep moving the next morning, leaving Leon before most things were open, but had a flicker of doubt about whether I should alter my plans to see the interior of the building.
I reread the section in my guidebook, and noticed that while the writer encourages readers to visit cathedrals, one of his personal reflections (in smaller print, at the bottom of the page) was that he felt less connected to himself in cities, museums and churches, and more at peace in the countryside. Indeed, that has been my experience, too. I decided to honor it.
Monday morning, with the temperature a brisk 32 degrees (fahrenheit), I walked out of Leon towards the next set of villages, skipping the cathedral. At the outskirts, I passed through its light industrial area. There was the Mercedes dealership and other automotive repair shops; a cable manufacturer whose black, green and orange wares were coiled outside on giant wooden spools; a manufacturer of plastic pipes; a lamp maker. Many Pilgrims dislike these sections of the Camino: the path is asphalt, hard on the feet and legs. The buildings, designed for function, are hard on the eyes. But they, too, are part of our world. They are what capitalism has built, what we create with our demand. These are the modern cathedrals that people don´t wish to see.