Tonight we are comfortably housed in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a charming town of 6,600. It has its share of accommodation for pilgrims, some of it dating back to the 11th century. The Cistercian nuns run a crowded albergue with a shaded terrace and garden but we noticed in our guide book that just around the corner they also operate a modern hostel and that is where we booked into a private room.
In these past days we have walked through vineyards and then into more open farm country where we have seen brown stubble fields and stacks of hay bales reminiscent of rural Western Canada. The skies, too, remind one of the Canadian prairies, with long vistas and grey cumulus clouds floating in the dazzling blue. Yesterday, we came across a shepherd and his dog herding perhaps 100 sheep through a stubble field and across the gravel trail just in front of us.
I had called ahead to Santo Domingo to make the booking and spoke to a pleasant woman. At the end of such conversations, I always ask for the person’s name so that I can refer to it in the event that any confusion arises upon arrival. The woman said that she was Sister Adoración and I said I hoped that I would meet her.
When we arrive and walk into the foyer of their five-storied building, there is an older and rather rotund sister at the check in. She has a stern appearance and does not fit the image of what I had imaged of Sister Adoración but I ask anyway. Curtly she says no. We take the elevator to our room and find it to be small but clean and inviting.
After dinner we return to a church near our lodging where the sisters sing vespers. There are about 20 of them and they tend to be older and Caucasian, although two of the younger women are of darker complexion. When we come downstairs from our room early in the morning, one of those women is seated at the check-in window.
As we are about to leave I ask if she might be Sister Adoración and she says brightly that she is. I ask where she was born and she says India. She blesses us on our way and it is only after we leave that I regret not having asked if I might have my photo taken with her. How many times does one meet someone named Adoración?
During our brief time in Spain I have been struck by the devotion to the Virgin Mary exhibited not only in the church inhabited by the Cistercian nuns, but also in numerous other churches large and small. The accumulation of statues, paintings and other images of Mary becomes overwhelming after a while.
During our few days in Madrid we visited the church of San Jeronimo which is located just behind the wonderful Prado museum. The church has been attractively restored and in the architectural custom of Catholic churches dating back centuries, it is ringed by side altars, 10 of them. Each altar has art work on its stone walls, usually statues and paintings and occasionally murals. Statues of Mary predominate in six of the 10 side altars in San Jeronimo and in a seventh her presence is about equal in size to that of Christ. At the front of the church, to either side of the main altar, there are, again, large statues of Mary on one side and Christ on the cross on another.
Where is Joseph?
St. Joseph, Mary’s life partner, makes only occasional appearances in the Spanish churches we have visited and then only in family settings — usually in the nativity scene or on the flight into Egypt. We have not seen one likeness of Joseph alone.
What explains this fixation on Mary? I should know this, having been raised as a Catholic, but I have never been very curious about it until now. Perhaps Sister Adoración could have told me, but it would have seemed an odd question to ask on the way out of her hostel before dawn.