Ever since its incorporation by Alfonso IX of Castilla y Leon in the late thirteenth century, the town of Sarria has been animated by the traffic of the Camino. The king himself was en route to Santiago when he died in Sarria in 1280. The town´s history dates to the Roman period, but its heyday was in the high Middle Ages when, as now, a stream of pilgrims passed through it. One of the counts of Sarria, Rodrigo Alvarez (d. 1181) founded what one author has called ¨one of the less successful military orders of the twelfth century.¨ Today, the pretty town between the rivers of Sarria and Celeiro has both a historic center (on the top of its hill, where our pilgrim albergue was) and a sprawling newer section. While we, of course, judged the latter inferior, we were happy to stroll along its riverside walks and take advantage of its Farmacias, supermarket, tobacconists´, and banks.
After a few hilly days, and over a week into our trek, we all felt that our stroll of 18 km to Sarria was a fairly easy one. Arrived early, we ate communally and heartily in ¨O Meson das Tapas.¨ If our Spanish-speaking readership is scratching its collective head over that spelling, there´s a reason: now that we´ve arrived in Galicia, it´s hillier, rainier, and Gallego, which the rest of Spain calls a local dialect, is the language, with Castellano a separate one. Our afternoon tour took in a thirteenth-century church, a ruined tower ditto, and the Monasterio de la Magdalena. Founded by the monks of Our Lady of Ransom (an Iberian order founded for the benefit of Christian captives in the peninsula´s endless wars) the monastery is today a pilgrim hostel and hospital, as well as a religious community. Kevin S. and I went to evening Mass there, where we observed Day 5 of a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, got a sermon based on the Beatitudes, and admired the Romanesque and Gothic carvings, the Baroque reredos, the singing of the monks, and the congregation of Spanish church ladies. Then we returned to the albergue where we got dinner! thanks to the collaborative exertions of about half a dozen of our merry band. Pilgrim communitas continues to flourish among the members of our party, as well as with those we meet along the way. Ultreja! As a man outside Molinaseca observed when he heard us all singing, Saint James is waiting for us with open arms.