So there I was yesterday sitting at the back of the cathedral when I notice the bright light to my left. The cathedral is very dark so any light seems bright. This was sunlight streaming into a corridor running away from me. I got up and walked towards it. And as I reached the entrance I noticed there were two young women sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a price list and some brochures. Ok…. for some money I can see something and read about it in a brochure? I’m up for the possibility that it might be interesting.
This is the way I want to approach all my visits to new places. Since I don’t do any (or very little) pre-trip planning I have no idea what might be good in a town or village or city. This might seem like a disadvantage and sometimes it does to me too, but many times it gives me “right-brain-eyes”. What I mean by that is, seeing using my right brain – without preconceived opinions, or notions. In it’s purest form this is the way a child sees before he learns speech. He looks at a stone in amazement, picking it up, turning it over, tasting it. He could do this every day with every stone. Then at some point he learns this is a “stone”, there’s lots of them, they’re all the same, but they’re not… Every stone is different, every experience is a new experience, even if the guide book says its like that other one…..
Well anyway that’s my excuse for not planning!
So I had entered a monastery attached to the Cathedral of Jaca, that is now a museum. The bright light was coming through the door of the Cloister, and outside I could see the garden. In Cashel, where I lived as a child, there is the ruins of a monastery called Hoare Abbey. It has a cloister, incomplete but recognisible. I am reminded of home.
But the thing that had the biggest impact on me, relates to art and stories. Back in the 1960’s in the dioceses of Jaca someone realised that there were medieval paintings on the walls of little churches in the local area, and the churches were falling into disrepair. So someone or lots of someones set about removing the paintings and putting then on canvas. But one church (Saints Julian and Basiia in Bagüés) had so many intact paintings they didn’t bother putting them on canvas but converted a room in the monastery to the same size as the church and moved the paintings here.
So far so good… if I’d know that’s what was in there I probably wouldn’t have gone in, but…. the story continues, or goes backwards..
These paintings were painted in 1080 or thereabouts. That’s 931 years ago. That’s a long time ago… So as I’m standing in front of the paintings I’m imagining the painters. They’re in a small church in the Spanish countryside, they’re painting the walls or making paint or they’re planning the next scene or maybe they’re taking a siesta. According to the brochure they are “artists linked to French miniature painting”, so they learned or copied French miniature painting or maybe they are French come to these parts on the pilgrim Camino route. How ever they arrived they are here because someone wanted them to paint the walls. Someone wanted them to tell a story.
And that’s it…. that’s what struck me. At many times in our lives we are given (or notice) opportunities to do something different and we wonder “Is this the right thing to do?”, “Maybe it’s too much of a risk?”, “‘I’m not god enough”, “I’m too old”, “I’m too young”, it’s too much trouble”. In the story of the paintings on the walls, there were many someones (the priest, the rich man, the painters, the one who discovered the paintings, the one who agreed to the removal of the paintings, the one who agreed to fund the removal of the paintings, the one who agreed to use the monastery to house the paintings) who had an opportunity to do something and they took it.
Now 931 years later I, or you, can stand in a dimly lit room off a light filled corridor and be connected to those who told the story and those who allowed the story to be told. Whatever we do is a story. Our behaviour is a story. What we tell ourselves about ourselves is a story. What’s the story you want for yourself? And when you know, do you want to allow your story to be told?
Buenos dias (good morning!) Mairead.
P.S. we’re back on the bike tomorrow for a long journey to Bilbao.