Thursday, April 30, 2015

Toulouse, France: A Lifesize Time Capsule -- Part 1

Bon jour! We arrived safely in France yesterday with no problems or delays in our flights. We explored a little bit of the city last night and this morning and have already enjoyed some delicious French food-- lamb, bisquettes, croissants, esspressos, duck fat, and wine. I'm going to talk a little about the history of Toulouse in this posting, and later I'll talk about what we have seen so far and my impressions of the city in part 2. I hope you enjoy the history of this beautiful bustling city. I know we are!

Like a historical sequence of the latest iphone models, mobs have fought over, stuffed in their back pockets, and thrown their babies aside for this town, just to be able to post a #oohlalalookiewhatigot tweet. On the east side of the Pyreness Mountains, Toulouse is perfectly situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to be a trading machine — a combination of Costco, Bloomingdales, and the Chicago Mercantile.

First Century BC Romans stole the town from the Celts, who established the town three centuries prior, and named it Tolosa. The Romans turned Tolosa into a badass powerhouse, one of the most important badass powerhouses in the whole freaking Roman Empire! That is, until the Roman Empire fell, and the Visigoths took command in 413 AD. In fact, the Romans handed half of France and most of Spain to them and Toulouse was their capital. Like a four year old with a pet goldfish, the prize was relatively short lived, when King Clovis of the Franks insisted (with swords, crossbows, and trained dragons) that Toulouse be a part of his kingdom.

Now it gets complicated. Ya got your Charlemagne and yer religious politics, Moors and Catholics, crusades and the plague. Basically all the stuff you probably remember from your high school European history class all rolled up into one town. If you happen to have misplaced your class notes, I would suggest the websites I provided at the end of this posting.

Okay, lots of great history, but Toulouse is really known for its homegrown indigo dye. During the 1500’s it became rich enough to start dealing indigo all over Europe, but by the end of the 1600’s, the Indian cartel took over the trade. Oddly, all the red brick construction, dating back to Roman times, gave Toulouse the nickname the “pink city” (talk about a gender identity crisis). In keeping up the spirit of international trade,Toulouse became an airline industry hub after the First World War. Aeropostale (not the teenage clothing store) built planes that trafficked mail and passengers all over the world, which was pretty sweet until World War Two had to happen. It was forced to merge with other small plane companies to create “Air France” which produces the Airbus. To keep this a happy story, please do not Wikipedia “Airbus disasters on December 28, 2014.”

As for the pilgrimage to Santiago (the whole reason we are here), Toulouse is on one of the many routes to Compostela — the Way of Arles. Pilgrims have been drawn to Toulouse to visit the Basilica of St. Sernin, a giant 900 year old Romanesque structure. It housed the first bishop in Toulouse around 250 AD, St. Sernin. Travellers on their way to Compostela would surely stop at this roadside attraction to visit the Saint’s grave, various relics, and get some rest for the long journey ahead.

Julia Evans

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Up the Hill We Go


"Castresory...the long town"

(Harff; trans. Letts, 270)

Insight from a Pilgrim...

My name is Becky Jennings. I am a fourth year music therapy major at Wartburg College in Waverly,IA. Many people begin their journey on the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons are simply a vacation, sight seeing, and educational; however some take this journey as an opportunity to explore themselves, rediscover their faith, and or search for the
deeper meaning and purpose of their life. 
Personally, I began this journey with a view point of this trip being simply a trip out of the country within my college career. However as the year went on and I learned more about the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I began to reflect more on what this trip really means to me. After reflecting, I decided to use this trip as, yes, a vacation, but also a time to let the trip's experiences lead me to the ultimate reason of why I wanted to take this trip. I am using this trip as a way to open myself up to new opportunities, new explorations of myself and my faith, but ultimately reflection and letting the moment speak to me and my need at that time.This trip has provided me ample time to explore and reflect on multiple moments at different levels. Furthermore, I have met a variety of individuals from different nationalities and backgrounds which has helped me on this journey of exploration. 

The following information provided is background on Castrojeriz and its sights. Then I provided my reflection of what I saw at the bottom of this blog. 

A History...

This town is located on the steepside mesa that has been taken by the military for different constructions and buildings that have been used to defend the territory in warfare. Romans guarded the roads that lead to the Galician gold mines to protect the wealth. It was called Castrum Sigerici by the Visigoths. In c. 912, Castrogeriz was conquered by Christian Nuno Nunez. Christians encouraged repopulation within this area by issuing a fuero that established Castrogeriz as the place for Second Grade of Knighthood, which could be joined by any soldier, whether he was noble or not, as long as he owned a horse.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).
Castrogeriz prospered as a fortified way station and commercial center on the pilgrimage road for about four centuries. It attracted many different individuals especially French merchants and Jews. Within the fuero that was established for the town, it stated that anyone who killed a Jew would be treated as if he or she killed a Christian. During the Middle ages, the town also attracted counts of Castro, so it became the home of the most powerful counts of Castro. However, Castrogeriz declined in prosperity when the town picked the losing side of the Comunidades War in 1521. 
 (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).
In realtion to the pilgrimage, the pilgrimage road is the town's principal street that includes a 2-km arc. This street links five churches and seven pilgrim hospices. It has been called "Castresory... the long town" by German Arnold von Harff in 1497. Furthermore, in the excavations under the plaza in the cemetery of San Esteban, there was a 14th-c. pilgrim skeleton that was complete with habit, scallop shells, and English and French coins.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Ex-Colegiata de Santa Maria del Manzano 

 The founding of the church was due to a miracle in which Santiago was passing by and saw the Virgin Mary in an apple tree. Because he saw saw Mary, he was so excited that he lept onto his horse with a massive force that the horses hoofprints can be seen outside of the south side of the church on a rock. The west door include figures that have a detailed image of a Gothic Annunciation. There is also a rose windo that was donated by Cardenal Inigo Lopez de Mendoza. Inside there is a Virgen de Nuestra Senora del Populo, six Rococo paintings by Antonio Rafael Mengs, and the Virgen del Manzano.  Furthermore, there is a tomb that is marked by the sepulcher of dona Leonor de Castilla who was the wife of Alfonso IV de Aragon. Dona Leonor was assassinated in the Castle of Castrogerize in 1359.(Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

This is a Gothic Dominican church that has been renovated into a museum that houses Romanesque and Gothic Virgins, ivories, church vestments, jewerlery, and 6 large 17th century Bruges tapestries that depicts the five Liberal Arts: Philosophy, Grammar, Astronomy, Music, Mathematics, and a compendium of the five. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Iglesia De Santiago de los Cablleros

The only remains of this church is the late Romanesque doorway that has carved skulls that symbolized as a warning to the pilgrims and other passers-by that death could be in their future. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Iglesia de San Juan de los Caballeros

This is a Gothic church that was created in the 13th century. Inside there use to be external decorations, but in time the decorations were destroyed. Inside the church is a masterpiece that is a painted Flemish retablo from ca.1530 by Adriaen Ysenbrant. In the painting, Ysenbrant focused the themes on the Mass of San gregorio and the Annunciation. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).


The Castle was a pre-Roman cathedral that was created by either Julius Caesar or Pompey. At one point in time the castle was destroyed but then it was rebuilt in the Middle Ages by the Condes de Castro, and then served as a home for the Diaz de Mendoza family. Although getting to the top of the hill is tiring, the view is amazing and one can see the surrounding mesas that were apart of a level plain but have been eroded over the centuries. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

My Reflections:

So today we arrived at Castrojeriz! It was an amazing experience, and probably my favorite experience so far. When we arrived we met another Pilgrim teaching an elderly woman how to play a game that included an hourglass option and two sticks attached to a string. Of course we were all interested so we surrounded him and watch him catch the hourglass object on the string. He asked if any of us were itnerested in trying it out, so many of us could not resist and we tried to catch the hourglass toy on the string. Kate was actually the only one from the group do catch it. We then had a small soccer game (3 vs. 3) that lasted about five to ten minutes. It was great to interact with other pilgrims on the trip. This particular pilgrim introduced himself as Luca  from Italy. However, he told us that he has been living in London for a while now. Although we didn't get to spend a lot of time wiht him I really enjoyed it, because it made me feel like I was experiencing the life style of a pilgrim.
After having our fun with Lucas, we all packed our backpacks with lunch and headed up a hill that seemed to go on and on forever. It was very steep, and the paths were made of gravel. It was the first time that I really appreciated my hiking boots. On the way up, we saw the  church that Santiago's horse left foot prints on the cement. The church was currently being work on, so we were not able to enter the church at this time. However, one of the workers said it would be open to the public in June. (We all decided we were coming back to see the inside of the church and then go to a Jazz festival that is going to be held in an area we stayed at in Spain) We tried to find the hoove prints, but we could not find them, so our thoughts were that they might have been located in the church now for viewing and to preserve the imprints.
Then, we began our long journey up the hill. the process of climbing the hill was not the best, because I realzied how out of shape I am especially for hills, but the views that we saw from climing the hill and on top of the hill were breathe taking! I saw tall green grass with white flowers and red poppies all around. I saw ruins and houses built into the hill. As I continued up the hill, I saw the hill grow smaller and smaller I  could see for kilometers away. I saw the Santiago Camino road. The cars looked like little ants going to their home. Going up the hill took the longest not just because it was hard on my body, but I kept stopping just so I could take pictures of everything whether it was clouds, buildings, the town, flowers, ruins, or rock. Everything had a place and everything made this experience beautiful and unforgetable. At the top of the hill, we saw the ruins of the castle. Dr. Survilla said that when she came three years ago, the castle did not look the same way it did now, but in a good way. Since her previous trip, the castle has been cleaned up and the inside was recreated to represent a blueprint of the castle so that visitors could visualize what these ruins uses to look like. When I walked into the castle I immediately began to picture myself living in this castle. I imagined what areas were dedicated to what important feature or section of that castle that kept it up and going (with the help of a premade visual that was placed during the cleaning up of the castle). We climbed the tower and viewed the country side from the highest point. Some individuals even climbed a bit further to take photos. I thought they were extremely brave, because even just watching them climb up to where they were gave the chills and I cringed inside. After exploring we went back down to the first floor of the castle and at lunch. Our lunch was delicious we had sausage from the region, melon, a pastery from the region, cheese from the region, bread, peppers, and some kind of chocolate and vanilla spread that was similar to nutella. Once everyone had their share of food, we were given the opportunity to spend some time to ourselves to journal, reflect, read, or even nap at the site. Some went and journals, many slept on the ruins, but I decided that I was going to hide in a window opening that had a view of the country side and read my book. I think that this part of the trip was my favorite, becasue I love castles and exploring them and imagining myself living in one of the castles. By reading in this window, I felt that I could have time do do something that I love, but also I had the time to 'live' at the castle and relax for a while. I figured, if I lived there, I would probabily put a cussion and a blanket in there and make it my official reading nook. The only down fall of going up the hill was not just my asthma like symptoms that I get when I exercise, but there were no bathrooms so that created an invonvience! haha! Overall, I loved Castrojeriz, especially the trip up the hill and the visit to the ruined castle.

Below are pictures that I took on my journey in Castrojeriz. Hope you enjoy!


Gitlitz, D.M. & Davidson, L.K.(2000). The pilgrimage road to santiago: the complete cultural handbook. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, pg. 228-234.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Our first group picture– albeit a historic trope of medieval pilgrims.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lourdes a Brief History


A look at its History...

Lourdes is a small town located at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Ownership of the town traded back and forth between the French and English monarchies for centuries eventually landing with the French. To help defend the town a fort was erected dating from the Roman period. This fort which later became a castle still stands to this day. From the tower guards had a view of the surrounding mountain valley and any enemies wanting to approach.  This town, until 1858, was not of any cultural significance. This changed on February 11 1858, when a young peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous witnessed a Marian apparition.

Bernadette witnessed this apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Grotto of Massabille. She later returned to the grotto and saw Mary again, who told her to return every day for 15 days. The young girl complied and every day more people, up to 20,000 on the 15th day, witnessed Bernadette's face illuminate while in a trance like state. In total young Bernadette experienced 18 visions of Mary. On the 9th vision, Mary told the girl to scratch the ground and a spring of water appeared. This spring still exists today and many come to bath or drink the water due to its healing properties. The Vatican recognizes 67 miracles attributed to the water. During another vision Mary instructed the girl to have a church built on the site. A small chapel was originally constructed but later was replaced with a much larger Basilica. Bernadette eventually was canonized a Saint in 1933 by Pope Pius XI.

Today over 5 million pilgrims come every year to Lourdes. Most who journey to this sacred place come seeking the healing powers of the water. Others also come for spiritual reasons. The large influx of visitors after the apparitions created a need for a larger space then the small chapel could handle. In 1889 the Rosary Basilica was constructed which holds 4,000 people. This church also has 15 chapels dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary because Bernadette always said a rosary with the Virgin Mary.

The Grotto 

                                                           The Basilica