On a detour during our travels through Portugal we strayed across the border and were staying in the town of Trujillo which is one of my favourite places in the Spain.
I wrote about Trujillo before. You can click here to read the post.
This is Trujillo…
Today we were making the short journey from a town that celebrates military muscle to the religious village of Guadalupe about forty miles or so to the east.
For over thirty miles we drove across the dusty barren plain and sunburned fields of Extremadura, a tough land that provided the harsh conditions that gave rise to the Conquistadors and adventurers of the sixteenth century Spanish Empire. Then there was a surprise as we approached the border with Castilla-La Mancha as the flat plain became a steep mountain with rivers and forests and mountain villages as though we were suddenly in Switzerland.
There were signposts to Guadalupe but not many visual clues. The village is built in an obscure valley and it only finally came into view as we turned a sharp corner in the road. Unusual architecture for a monastery it has to be said with turrets, castellated towers and tiled cupolas that could be mistaken for a fortress or a castle. A towering pot-pourri of grand style in contrast to the rather shabby town below.
An old postcard…
Guadalupe is the site of the Royal Monastery of Santa María one of the finest and most important monasteries in all of Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On account of this it is a very busy place and it took us some time to find a parking space and we lost so much time that we only just arrived in time for the final tour of the day.
I hadn’t realised this but visitors cannot simply wander around the monastery unaccompanied because it has too many precious treasures which are kept behind locked doors so we paid up and tagged onto a tour in meaningless Spanish. It didn’t really matter all that much we just ignored the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine gun commentary and made up our own stories about the exhibits. Visitors are not permitted to take photographs either.
The treasures are interesting but for most people the most important part of the tour is right at the very end where passing through a sumptuous Baroque grotto there is a separate chapel with priceless paintings and dazzling artefacts. Here is a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a black Madonna and we joined the line of pilgrims as we shuffled slowly forward, each person in the line stopping to lovingly gaze upon the statue and to place a gentle kiss upon an icon and make a wish.
Perhaps the oddest Madonna and child that I have ever seen…
Let’s go back in time. The history of Guadalupe began in the fourteenth century with a familiar story which goes like this – a small boy (these stories generally include young children – Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal, Montserrat in Catalonia) experienced a Marian vision as the Virgin revealed herself to him.
According to legend, when Seville was captured by the Moors, a group of priests fled and buried a statue in the hills near the Guadalupe River. The boy claimed that Mary ordered him to dig at the exact site of the apparition and excavating priests then miraculously rediscovered the hidden statue and built a small shrine around it which eventually evolved into the great monastery of Guadalupe.
Could this be true? I don’t know. I try and keep an open mind on the matter of Marian Apparitions, does the Virgin Mary every now and again keep randomly appearing to simple people in remote towns and villages around the World? Maybe!
An interesting issue about the Madonna is that she is black and so is the infant Jesus which is just one of those pieces of evidence that some scholars rely upon to support the theory that Jesus wasn’t a sort of blond Nordic type like Leif Erikson that we all imagine him to have been in the west but rather more like a dark skinned man from the Middle East. Rather like an Arab. If Muslims believed in Jesus and were allowed religious portraits then I am certain he would be black.
It seems to work well both ways I think but that surely is the point, Jesus can be whatever you want him (or her) to be…
Another interesting fact is that Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Guadalupe in 1493 after the Our Lady of Guadalupe and today there are many places called Guadalupe all over South America and the Southern United States, all of them a legacy of this tiny Spanish town.
Our visit to the monastery over there wasn’t a great deal more to do in Guadalupe and to be honest we didn’t care for the place a great deal, it seemed closed and impenetrable, secretive and somewhat eerie, even a little hostile and we felt uncomfortable. We took a pavement table in the village centre but this turned out to be the sort of place where the staff seem to find customers an inconvenience, service to be optional and no tapas for us so after a swift drink we were glad to leave without leaving a tip, return to the car and drive back to the Parador Hotel in Trujillo.
I am really glad that I visited the Royal Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe, I didn’t get any sort of Divine thrill I have to say, I am not a religious person at all, I only go to Church for weddings, christenings and funerals and remain sceptical about things such as this but if so many people believe in it then that’s fine by me.
Read my post about Spain World Heritage Sites here
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