When dramatic landscapes are drenched in history, I’m your typical gaping, gibbering tourist.
But for an hour or so, after arriving in Roncesvalles, I had some practical problems which grounded me and silenced the gibbering.
After being processed as a pilgrim for accommodation at the famed Conventus Hospitalis, I went in search of our lodgings, an enormous barrack-like building with two tiers of beds. (My Irish companions had preceded me there). Rather than be a complainer, I’ll state that, after I was told that I must sleep on a top bunk, and after observing that there was no means of ascent to a top bunk, I donated my place to any needy pilgrim that wanted it, and went looking for a hotel.
If the refuge at Roncesvalles presented problems, the hotel was excellent. My night at Roncesvalles was bliss, especially after a pilgrim dinner at a local inn, in the best company.
For some reason, I don’t do much personal blogging. But here I’d like to thank the friends who made these last days a joy. Paul and Gertz, previously photographed walking down that street in Ostabat, were here in Roncesvalles and I would see them again in Zubiri.
They were adopted by a large dog at Uhart-Mixe and were followed at least as far as Saint-Jean, though they alternately denied this fact or claimed the dog was following me. Guys, I know how to send a dog back home, trust me! (There’s actually a page on this problem in the Miam-Miam-Dodo guide.)
Paul and Gertz are the most punctilious members of the most punctilious race. Nonetheless, after spending time with me, they arrived catastrophically late for breakfast at Larceveau. They blamed my einfluss. What can I say? If you lie down with dogs etc…
This other German couple sparked me by their interest in all about them. We constantly crossed paths after our dinner together in Lichos, at the start of the Basque country. When the stele museum at Larceveau was closed, this lady bloody well got them to open it.
And, of course, Siobhan and Belinda, those Celtic-minority-language-chicks. They are here seen in a rare photo where they were not sucking or chewing on cheap, brightly coloured lollies.
Roncesvalles is associated with Charlemagne and is symbolic of the preservation of Western Christendom at a time when it was most vulnerable. When art historian Kenneth Clark described the period in his television series, Civilisation, he titled the episode: “The Skin of our Teeth”. It was that close, and at least as important as Charlemagne in the defense of the West was his grandfather, Charles Martel.
His name sounds like that of a French cabaret singer, but we need to remember that a generation before Charlemagne entered Spain through Roncesvalles, Muslim forces entered Europe and advanced far into France – over these Pyrenees. If it had not been for an unexpectedly powerful and organised Frankish army, and one of history’s most competent military leaders, there would have been no Western Christendom to survive by the skin of its teeth.
No, he wasn’t a French cabaret singer. Charles Martel means Charles the Hammer. He wasn’t nice. But because of him we can follow this Way of Saint James, as his grandson followed it.