Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mid-Camino Malaise: Sunday in Sahagun

(October 18, 2009 – posted October 20, 2009) Sahagun prides itself as the center point of the Camino, or “Centro del Camino.” There are a pair of metal foot molds on the ground before the pictured plaque, presumably indicating that a peregrine who plants his boots there is halfway to Santiago from France. Roughly accurate, at least – various maps and guidebooks vary quite substantially in measuring both the total length of the Camino and stages along the way.
Perhaps because the adrenaline of starting out has worn off, and the adrenaline of approaching the end has not yet kicked in, it’s easy to feel a little flat in Sahagun. Then again, it might be because no hotel, albergue or restaurante-bar in town can be bothered to make the internet accessible, or because in a town filled with excellent medieval churches, all are locked up tight.
A churlish sort might be tempted to focus upon the evidence of decline in Sahagun, such as the pictured building in collapse. Indeed, it is hard to imagine why a young person would stay in Sahagun, and little evidence that any do.
But it is better to emphasize Sahagun’s Camino heritage. Such as the pictured Puente de Canto spanning the rio Cea. Alfonso VI commissioned the bridge in 1085, for which he has the gratitude of 900+ years of peregrinos, who before then had to ford the river on foot.
Immediately past the puente, the Camino is flanked on both sides by a row of trees (aspens?) called Charlemagne’s Lances. The leading early history of the Camino and Northern Spain states that the night before a battle with the Moors, “some Christians . . . stuck their lances into the ground . . . At dawn the next day, those men who in the coming battle were to receive the palms of martyrdom . . . found that their lances had grown bark and were covered with leafy branches.” Not an altogether auspicious indicator of how the coming battle would go. The same source reports that 40,000 Christians died in the next day’s losing battle. Not clear whether the message is not to put your lance in the ground at night, or to head rapidly the other way if you wake to find it’s turned into a tree.