Saturday, September 13, 2008

St. Theresa, We Love You!

Today was Grace and John's Most Excellent Adventure to Avila and Segovia. (Go Google them!) We got up early this morning so that we could be ready for the bus that would pick us up at 8:15 at the hotel. It arrived shortly after 8:30 (amidst a lot of nervous tourists). We were transported a mile or so to a tour center on Gran Via. We clambered aboard a different coach, and by 9:15 were weaving through the streets of a Madrid Saturday morning.

We had a nice tour guide. She wore her clothes a little too tight, which would have been alluring ten years ago, but the shine has faded. Okay, I'll stop with the snarky comments. She wore a bright pink shawl (and carried a designer handbag) and was quite dramatic in her historical/religious/patriotic pronouncements - which is everything a tour guide should be. You knew it was important when she sat down her handbag to speak.

On the road, we climbed the mountains northwest of Madrid, and hit the road to Avila. As you come into the city, you see a spectacular walled city on the hill. The city is completely walled, and is the finest example in Spain. Most cities with walls have knocked most of them down, because they are an impediment to development, but Avila has preserved its walled old city, and it is everything a walled city in a fairy tale or a romance novel about knights, kings, and princesses should be.

Immediately outside the St. Vincent gate, the largest gate in the wall, is St. Vincent's Basilica. The church contains the remains of St. Vincent and two other saints martyred with him. He and the others were children when they were martyred, and the tale is probably worth a Google search, which I highly commend to your spiritual development. The sarcophagus containing the remains of the saints is a brightly painted coffin that's been around for about 750 years. Where they kept the saints' bones before then, I don't know.

We walked completely through the old city, ending up at St. Theresa's church. St. Theresa is very popular in these parts, and is somewhat of a cottage industry. The church is built over the home in which St. Theresa was born, and a chapel in the church was built EXACTLY ON THE SPOT WHERE ST: THERESA'S MOTHER GAVE BIRTH. The chapel is a monument to reverential excess, more gold and gold leaf than you can shake a stick at, but nevertheless, a remarkable homage to what must have been a remarkable life of a devout woman. She was not martyred and lived to ripe old age. Next to the church is a little museum of St. Theresa and a gift shop. The museum contains some of St. Theresa's manuscripts, her walking stick, her whip (or "discipline"), a sole of one of her sandals, but most intriguing, her very bony ring finger with the ring intact, presumably not removed until after her death.

From Avila, we headed for Segovia. The first view of Segovia is of its Cathedral, and it is a giddy display of stone in the Rennaisance style. We're talking about lots of towers and spires. It's very dramatic. We hopped off the bus and headed into the old town to see the aqueduct. It is quite a piece of architecture that is higher than the buildings in the old city, very dramatic skyline. Near the aqueduct were some re-enactors dressed in Roman and Barbarian garb. It looked the like the Barbarians, or Visigoths, were having more fun. I'm not sure about the realism, because one could draw the conclusion that Barbarians wore t-shirts. Cool Halloween outfits.

After viewing the aqueduct, we headed off to lunch at a cafe in the old town. We had a bean soup, a beef stew, some vegies, and ice cream. The soup and stew were really wonderful home-cooked fare. Hearty for all the walking we were doing. From the restaurant, we made our way to the Cathedral. The church is really more dramatic on the outside than on the inside. The inside is decorated in the Spanish Baroque style. The two organs in the choir loft are pump organs and date from the late 1600s. The cathedral was build between 1525 and 1768. Its predecessor was destroyed in a war in 1520. The outside architecture is spectacular, and worth a visit.

From the Cathedral, we continued through the old town to the Alcazar. The alcazar is a combination fort and palace. The old city is built on a mountain top that falls dramatically into the valley below, add to that a tall wall and a couple of towers, and you have a scene from Prince Valiant. The moat around the tower is now drained, but when full must have been 75 feet deep or so, and it is at least that far below the entrance into the alcazar, underneath a truly intimidating tower.

The alcazar is still in use today, in addition to being a tourist site. The Spanish military archives are stored here, and the alcazar is a museum for the Spanish artillery. The public rooms of the building house an artillery exhibit (we're talking 14th century armor), and the royal rooms of the Kingdom of Castile(?), including Queen Isabella's bed and bedroom, reception areas, and the king's room. The building is being restored, including the ceilings. Much of the furnishings were destroyed in fire in 1862, and the ceilings were all wood, and were lost. The restoration continues, and the ceilings are done in a Spanish-Moorish style that is geometric, and features a lot of gold leaf. We ended the alcazar tour in the royal family's chapel. The reredos behind the altar features scenes from the life of Christ that is painted on wood. It's very beautiful work. Of course, I found a painting of St. Sebastian. He's still having a bad day at the office.

We walked about a mile back to the bus, climbed aboard and headed back to Madrid. We got here about an hour and half ago. I thought you'd all want to know. I hope this note finds you well.

Love, Grace and John