Mini retreat

After our thunderstorm adventure in A Fonsagrada, we spent a night in Lugo in an AirBnB where we heard a brief heavy shower come over. For today, thunderstorms are in the forecast again. We don’t know what to expect from it. What are the options really? In Sobrado there is a Cistercian monastery that receives pilgrims and other guests in dormitories. The website has a huge story with lots of repetition, as if everyone was allowed to have their say pasted in one after the other, about how you should or shouldn’t behave – no singing in the shower or doing cartwheels in the courtyard, do turn the lights off at 10pm – and even a recommendation to look for one of the other 3 hostels in the village if you can’t stand snoring, a lack of view or a light over the door. That sounds like something we, weather or no (un)weather, want to experience.

When we cycled away from A Fonsagrada, we looked down at the clouds. Today we cycle away in the clouds: yellow vests and our unsurpassed Norwegian red flashing light on. Like yesterday, the road is fairly through, the landscape today has something English about it. Rolling hills with little walls, stone houses with large tracts of land and mostly dogs around them, beautiful old solitary trees. After a while, we notice that suddenly there are crosses along the road again, often with a well-worn Jesus attached. A whole new style for us.

When we stop for a short ‘peepause” we feel how we are getting damp from the fog. An hour of climbing later we drink coffee on a terrace in an ugly village, then thankfully the sun shines and we dry up again. Along the road we see more and more pilgrims on foot. After a break, it takes a remarkably long time before we overtake them again. Apparently they are going almost as fast as us on the way up. A gentleman overtakes us while we drink coffee and again when we have lunch. So we meet four times. The fifth time in the kitchen of the monastery feels like running into an old acquaintance – too bad we don’t understand each other. At the monastery, despite not being able to show any “credentials”, we are kindly received by a good English-speaking brother (I was born in England). His first question to us is: “Where are your things?” ” on the bike” “Then we must get them in”. Everything is stopped to ride the tandem into the courtyard. We are given a detailed registration procedure in pairs after which, with a group of eight people, we are given a tour of the kitchen, sanitary facilities and get a bed each in the dormitory.

We are invited to tour the history of the (huge, partly 12th-century) monastery and are welcome to attend one of the sung services.

At 6.50pm, we gather at the bottom of the stairs. The jolly friar of registration – “have you brought your earplugs?”- leads us to an intimate chapel on the 1st floor. He puts himself behind the organ. Another friar sits there. One by one, five more friars trickle in. The second one, rocking his knees and with the hood of his chasuble upright on his neck, goes to the reading desk and browses until he finds the right reading. He walks to his chair and stays there, still rocking, until his neighbour comes to him and pulls down his hood. How many more brothers will come? At the front gate of the cloister there were 4 death annonces all from the past 3 months, 3 on 2 consecutive days. So surely there won’t be many. As the 7th friar enters, the clock strikes 7pm. One of the 5 visitors stands up and whispers with the last brother to enter. It looks like the friar is saying, “go ahead.” The visitor walks over and goes into the corridor only to return a moment later with what is clearly the youngest brother (35?). As he enters, the lights go on. The Vesper can begin. The jolly brother plays the organ, the others sit in an incomplete circle. Four are clearly of advanced age, 2 about 5-10 years older than us and the one young brother. There is singing. We leaf through the bundle we have been given in our hands, but cannot find which hymn it is. At the second song again. We give up and listen to how the brothers sometimes all together, sometimes in two parts one after the other, search for harmony in their voices. We understand, apart from the word Signor, Dios and an occasional pax, little, but it sounds loving. How exactly it works remains unclear, but each brother has a task and when it is his turn, the light above his chair comes on. The reading is given by the rocking brother. Which one it is remains a secret to us. Then silence, another long communal chant led by the second-to-last entering brother with refrains with a difficult melody sung by all the brothers. Finally, something that sounds like the Lord’s Prayer and intercessions by 2 brothers, a closing song for which the hands are taken off the ultra-long sleeves and a send-off(?). Anyway, everyone starts moving. So that was it. At 9.15pm the Compline.

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