In memoriam Juli

Here outside the Capilla de la Divina Pastora in Burgos – the chapel founded in 1466 alongside a Santiago pilgrim hospital – I waited in the freezing cold from 4.30 am until 8.30 when the chapel opened for Mass. After a few words with the priest beforehand – and paying the standard fee – I ensured that the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th in the Capilla de la Divina Pastora was said for Juli, the young primary teacher from Moratinos who died tragically in a car crash in November. My winter Camino from Burgos to Moratinos is in memory of Juli.
In this Chapel of the Divine Shepherdess there is a remarkable statue – remarkable for its symbolism, not its artistic quality – of the Virgin Mary as a shepherdess surrounded by sheep. I have never seen this anywhere else and it seems almost a gnostic image, connecting with the Shepherd of Hermas which was once sound Christian tradition until it was put at a distance from Catholic dogma. The figure of the shepherdess in Catholic tradition is a very dangerous concept when you think about it; it connects with arguments about women´s ordination.

During the Mass, I thought that this was a very appropriate place to have a Mass said for Juli: a young lady of such promise who was a primary teacher tending her little flock.

It soon became apparent as I went into the meseta in winter that it would not be an easy walk. Foolishly, I had not brought any water with me. I did not expect to get thirsty in winter. There was nothing open for the first thirty kilometres. I had hoped to stop for the night at Hornillos del Camino, twenty kilometres out of Burgos. Here is a photo of the deserted village, all closed up for the winter. I remember some years ago seeing an old woman in her seventies, a pilgrim, limping into Hornillos and resting in the shade, before continuing laboriously with her Camino. I was full of energy and on a thirty-speed mountain bike. But now I felt like that old woman had looked. I gazed at the empty street of Hornillos del Camino. No shop. No bar. No albergue. Nothing. Even the church was closed… well, no surprise there! It was another twelve kilometres to Hontanas and darkness would fall soon. My one chance of water came to nothing: I saw a man appear briefly at the door of his house and I quickly asked for some water. He glared at me and slammed the door. The Holy Year on the Camino and the vast swelling of pilgrim numbers, with all the economic benefit, has not impressed some, it seems!

The beauty and silence of the meseta in winter can still be enjoyed, even by the tired, hungry and thirsty. It is also a fitting way to remember the dead, and somewhere along this section of the path, as night fell near Sant Bol – site of a medieval pilgrim refuge with an intriguing Jewish connection – I had a strong sense of peace and a certain assurance of an incontrovertible truth: that Juli rests at the side of Jesus and is at peace in His eternal care. She lives. That is our faith.

The darkness descended on the Camino together with a thick mist, just at the point where the tractors in their winter work had turned the track into a quagmire of sticky mud with a heavy clay content that turned my boots into heavy weights more suited to a gym workout than a walk! I stumbled through the damp darkness and finally reached Hontanas, praying that the refugio would be open. It was! And there was a meal too, at the bar next to the refugio. Lentejas – locally grown lentils – and pork. And another pilgrim! A Canadian. Once again, for the umpteenth time in forty-five years of walking the Camino (yes, I do mean forty-five years!), I regretted bumping into another pilgrim. He interrupted every sentence and did not listen to a word I said. It was a frustrating conversation and I was glad to get to bed – back in the refugio – and retrieve the silence

Next morning on a bright but cold walk between Hontanas and Catrojeriz, I stopped at San Anton for a while to re-read the article written by Julie Candy in the December 2010 Bulletin of the Confraternity of St James (p. 14-20). She writes about San Anton in the context of a “mythology of landscape” which lends “an important ritual dimension to the pilgrimage experience”. This was something that strikes me as very much more noticeable in the winter Camino. In the summer, with hundreds (or thousands!) of pilgrims on the Camino Frances, there is little opportunity to be alone in the landscape. I re-read this article at San Anton and reconsidered it, having read iot once already on the train between Limoges and Angouleme on the way to start walking in Spain. Much of this article centres on the leprosaria, and once again I am reminded of the way that St Francis took his lead from the Antonines in the use of the Tau cross, also following their example in the care of lepers; and at some point, Francis himself travelled this route – according to the legend – and this is a theme which I am developing in some writing I am working on now. Fiction, but with a strongly researched attention to the 13th century Camino and Franciscan tradition.

Finally, I have to report that this winter walk on the Camino de Santiago is my first walk in Spain with a donkey. I have walked the Chemin St Jaques in France with Dalie donkey, but here for the first time in Spain I am with donkey on the Camino. A little plastic donkey tied to my rucsack. This will be my last walk on the Camino until 2012 because one of the two donkeys I have bought is pregnant and she will be giving birth in August. That will mean foal-at-foot until June 2012 when the young one is weaned and I can take mother donks on her first Camino walk. That means I am tied to the house, Elca Seriu for the next year and a half. No bad thing.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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3 Responses to In memoriam Juli

  1. Wonky Pilgrim says:

    Atmospheric prose and pic’s – thanks.

    ‘Buen Camino’ Juli and buen camino Gareth.

  2. Barbara says:

    Dalie and Rosie say buen Camino, remember not to take your donkey over iced up puddles. Here is a prayer for the walk…
    Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near And danger afar.
    Circle me, Lord Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
    Circle me, Lord. Keep light near And darkness afar.
    Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within. Keep evil out.

  3. Thomas says:

    Where did you get your patches?

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