Wednesday, May 23, 2012



We ended our trip in Carcassonne, France before we returned to Toulouse before returning to the states.  Just below is a bird's eye picture that somewhat justifies the title of this entry. 

Carcassonne as one can see is a large and well fortified castle that sits atop of a hilltop in southern France close to Toulouse.  There was a lot of development before the castle became what it is today.  Early one in the 2nd century the Romans recognized the strategic advantages of placing a fort a top this hill.  In the 400s the castle exchanged ownership with the Visigoths.  In the 700s the castle was taken by saracens and until the Albigensian Crusades in 1209.  Over the years from 700 to 1209, the castle became a well fortified place for the Cathars.  Catharism arose especially in the 12th and 13th century.  During its rise, the movement threatened the power held by the (Catholic) church.  The Albigensian Crusades began in 1209 in order to destory the movement of the Cathars.  Especially in places such as Carcassonne, Albi, and Montsegur.  The crusade due to the papal decree, put the religious leaders of northern France against the leaders of southern France.  During the siege of Carcassonne which was largely thought to be a impregnable fortress, their leader Raymond-Roger Trencavel was seized during truce discussions.  At this point the citizens surrendered because there was no leadership. 

 This is a picture of the outer wall as well as the height of the inner wall of the city.  It also shows the height of both the walls which further developed the perception that the city was impregnable.

Sam Hutchins

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Toto, I Don't Think We Are In Spain Anymore!

Foix, France

                 Foix is located 30 miles from Toulouse and is situated near the border of France and Spain in the Pyrenees. Foix is the capital of Ariège region which is the least populous in France. Because of its location, Foix has fallen victim of war and conquest. Wars between countries such as France and Spain and England and France have occurred in Foix. Also, cities and regions such as Toulose and Barcelona and Aragon and Castille. Then, there were also wars between counts and kings for this city. The location of the city allows for its use as a refuge. It was used this way with the Cathars and World War II airplane pilots fleeing from the Nazis. The Cathars lived in the castle until the crusades came and brought with them destruction. The castle was not able to be besieged so they decided to burn the town of Foix which was at the bottom of the hill that the castle is located on and to kill the Cathars that had taken refuge in the town and castle. The castle and an abbey are all that are left of the original town. Everything else in the area has been rebuilt since then. 
                Foix is important to the pilgrimage because it is a gateway through the Pyrenees for pilgrims who are traveling either from or into France. Foix’s main attraction is the Château de Foix which was built in the 10th century. It sits up on top of hill which allows a view of the whole town and the beautiful surrounding area. The Château de Foix has two towers that visitors can climb up into and see an overlook of the town, the mountains around the town, and the Pyrenees off in the distance. The castle has a museum that has some of the old architecture pieces from the original structure. It also holds a few pieces of modern art within the castle. 
                I think that Foix is a town with a lot of history. The castle obviously being probably the most important historical activity. But also the fact that the Cathars who are not extremely well known lived in the town makes the historical significance greatly increase. It's hard to understand what the Cathars went through because not many, if any, of us has had to deal with religious persecution to the degree that entire peoples are wiped out. So it's hard to understand what life might have been like back when the Cathars were living there. I find it quite fascinating because it's something so mind blowing that it almost seems unreal.   And the part of myth and legend comes into play. It's incredible to look at a place and try to visualize what happened back then through myths and legends knowing that these might be true or they might just be stories made up around a campfire. No one really knows. But I think that that is part of the reason why I liked Foix or any castle because it combines history, magic, and legends in order to figure out the reality. It's like a jigsaw puzzle where you have to fit different pieces of the puzzle together and some fit and others don't. But it sure is fun!
                 I think that Foix is important to the concept of pilgrimage because in a sense, stopping somewhere important on the Camino is similar to stopping at a castle. On both occasions, legends, myths, and historical evidence all leads people to travel either to castles or on the Camino. The fact that someone somewhere believes that these are important makes stopping there that much more important. It's the fact that believe travel and go to places either because of myth, legend, proof that it is real, answers to questions, or because someone else says that it is important. It's amazing to think about how many people walked the Camino or traveled to a Cathar castle because someone else believed that it was true or real. I think that is why Foix is important to pilgrimage because it could be a stop on the pilgrimage of Cathar castles just like a stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago. 

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Montségur and Pog Mountain!!

History and Info:
There are signs of human settlement in the city that date back to 80,000 years ago.  There is also evidence of Roman occupation, such as tools and currency.  In 1243-1244, the Cathars of the city were killed by 10,000 troops at the end of the Albigensian Crusade.  In March of 1244, the Cathars surrendered and there were nearly 220 burned in a massive fire at the foot of Pog Mountain.  The population of the town is about 108.

The town of Montségur is fairly small.  It has few streets, a few cafés, and a museum, but somehow the town draws people back to it.  The town is most famous for the Château de Montségur, a fortress built on the ruins of the last Cathar stronghold.  Most tourists and Europeans take the challenge of climbing Pog Mountain to get the ultimate reward of the Castle ruins and seeing all of Montsegur.  More reading on the castle can be found here:

My take...
Montségur is quite an interesting place.  Our first exposure to the town was when we were climbing up Pog Mountain to get to the castle remains.  That hike was quite interesting.  For me it was one of the hardest physical things that we've done this entire trip.  Even more so than the walk to the Iron Cross!  There was a steep incline for a lot of the hike and we all were taking breaks here and there to catch our breath.  Once we got up to the castle, I understood how rewarding it was for the climb.  The scenery was gorgeous, and you can see for miles in every direction from outside the castle walls!  One thing that I thought was remarkable was the people that we met up there.  On our hike up we met a group of people from San Diego that were hiking and biking around the castles of France.  They were at least in their late 40s or early 50s.  One of our group members even met up with a blast from her past, one of her high school teachers from Ames, IA.  The most remarkable person was this fragile French woman.  We were about to leave the castle for the hike down, and she had just finished her hike up.  She didn't speak any English, but she let us know that she was 73 years old.  73!!!  She seemed overjoyed that she was able to make the climb up and that she was able to see the sight up there.

The picture to the left is part of the trail that we had to hike up to get to the castle.  The picture on the right is the view once you finish the hike.  Quite a reward, ay?

After conquering the mountain, we headed down to the town to go to the museum.  It was really interesting to see all the artifacts that were found while they were excavating the castle.  There was a video that explained what all the ruins were also, even though it was in French and we didn't really understand it.  A really cool part of being in the town was when we were returning to our cars.  We met a lady that was doing yard work and was from California.  She and her boyfriend are script writers for movies, and her boyfriend had done a documentary on Montségur.  She said that he had been coming back to the town for 20 years, and they as a couple had gone there for two years before they decided to move there four years ago.  She said that she found the town to be peaceful and a great place to focus on her work.  Like I said above in the description, the place really does draw people back to it.

See you in the States!
~Emily K.

The photo on the left is the view inside of the ruins of the castle.  It was quite different from the castle in Castrojeriz.  The photo on the right is Carley having her Titanic moment at a ledge behind the castle.

Both of these pictures are the views from the castle.  Such a stunning view in person.

These are all pictures of the castle.  The middle one shows the height that we had to climb!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Bilbao was founded as a village by Don Diego Lopez de Haro V, Lord of Biscay, on June 15th 1300 on the opposite river bank of an existing fishing settlement (now known as Bilbao la Vieja, "Old Bilbao").In the 15th century, wars between noble families disrupted the city, which had reached a population of almost 3,000.In 1511, the Consulate of Bilbao was granted to the city by the Spanish Crown, this allowed Bilbao to be the main export port for Merino wool from Castile to northern European cities. Bilbao became the most important commercial and financial hub of the Spanish north coast during the Spanish Empire era. The swords exported from Bilbao were known in England as "bilboes", and are mentioned by name by William Shakespeare. The 19th century's industrial revolution was crucial for Bilbao, with the development of strong mining, steel and shipbuilding industries. At the beginning of the 20th century Bilbao was the wealthiest city in Spain, where the main banks and insurance companies were established. Bilbao was besieged four times during the Carlist Wars, but due to the defenders, it was never conquered.
The city's heavy industries fuelled Spain's economy and thousands of immigrants from central and southern Spain moved to Bilbao, the city and surrounding towns expanded greatly and sometimes chaotically. In 1983 heavy floods struck the city, killing many people in the province and causing great damage to the old part of the city. Since then the "Casco Viejo" (the old district) has been renewed, along with the general trend of renewal seen all around the city. The city has recently undergone major urban renewal, in order to move away from the region’s industrial history and instead focus on tourism and services. The developments are centered on the new metro system, designed by Sir Norman Foster and, most of all, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum by Frank Gehry.

Relevance to Pilgrimage: Art Pilgrimage

Guggenheim-Voted by many as the single most impressive work of contemporary architecture in Spain, The Guggenheim is poised along the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao in the Basque Country to the Atlantic Coast. The Guggenheim is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and it displays exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists. Several masterpieces exhibited here have been signed by artists such as Chillida, David Salle, Jeff Koons, Louis Bourgeois and Robert Rauschenberg. As one of the most talked-about Spanish museums, the Guggenheim stands out for the contemporary artwork it houses. The museum’s permanent collection is 20th century art—traditional paintings and sculptures. The highlight of the collection, and its only permanent exhibit, is The Matter of Time, a series of weathering steel sculptures designed by Richard Serra and housed in the 430-foot (130 m) Arcelor Gallery. Compared to other great works of architecture in the world, the building has been hailed as a “single moment in the architectural culture” because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.” The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts. It has over a hundred exhibitions and more than ten million visitors.

History of Guggenheim:
Well before the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened its doors to the public on October 19, 1997, the new museum had numerous artists, architects, journalists, politicians, filmmakers, and historians that visited the building site in the four years of its construction anticipating the success of the museum. The Guggenheim was built out of limestone, glass, and titanium. The city wanted to enhance tourism and as a plan to do so Thomas Krens, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, met repeatedly with officials, signing a preliminary agreement to bring a new Guggenheim Museum to Bilbao. An architectural competition led to the selection of California-based architect Gehry, known for his use of unorthodox materials and inventive forms, and his sensitivity to the urban environment. Gehry’s proposal for the site on the Nervion River ultimately included features that embrace both the identity of the Guggenheim Museum and its new home in the Basque Country. In 1992 Juan Ignacio Vidarte, now Director General of the Guggenheim Bilbao, was formally appointed to oversee the development of the project and to supervise the construction. Groundbreaking took place in 1993 and in 1997 it was completed.

The city of Bilbao is a very large city nestled within rolling hills and alongside the Ria de Bilbao. A very bustling and busy city with many people and a lot of red and white striped flags posted everywhere we went symbolizing their loyalty to the Bilbao soccer team. As with every urban environment, you can expect high prices, traffic, and small parking spaces. The city did have an artistic feel in reference to the many art museums located within the city, specifically the world renowned Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim was an oddly shaped structure without any right angles within the structure. Twisty, turning, and rounded edges make up the entire building. The building itself is art itself! Inside, there are three levels of exhibits. The top level was comprised of photograph exhibits, architecture art exhibits, and large canvas paintings. The second floor was comprised of the works of David Hockney. I noticed he focused primarily on vivid colors and landscapes in almost all of his works; there were several depictions of the Grand Canyon in Arizona and mountains in New York. There was even an exhibit that had many screens each depicting different scenes that were similar, making them appear like they were meshed together creating a larger portrait, when in actuality the images did not carry over. The bottom floor had a lot of paintings and portraits. It also housed one of the largest exhibits in the world which consisted of trippy architectural exhibit with rounded wood slates stood up. The Guggenheim was unlike any art museum I have ever been in (not like I’ve been in a lot though) and I could definitely see how someone could spend hours examining different pieces of art.



 The original town of Santiago was nothing more than a monastic development that housed one dozen monks, given the role of looking over the grave of St. James after its discovery in the 9th ce4ntury. It is the capital of the region of Galicia. Many visit the city because of the historic culture, its unique buildings and architecture; its many districts and quarters, all of which have a historical reference. It consists of the old town and new town. Within the old town there are many narrow winding streets full of historic buildings. The new town all around has less character though some of the older parts of the new town have some big apartments in them. The greater city of Santiago de Compostela has a population over 100,000 people and is regarded as the third most important place in Christendom due to it holding the resting place of the apostle Saint James.
Significance: St. James was buried here. In 813, according to medieval legend, the light of a bright star guided s shepherd who was watching his flock at night to the burial site in Santiago de Compostela. The shepherd quickly reported his discovery to the bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro. The bishop declared that the remains were those of the apostle James and immediately notified king Alfonso II in Oviedo. To honor St. James, the cathedral was built on the spot where his remains were said to have been found. The legend, which included numerous miraculous events, enabled the catholic faithful to not only maintain their stronghold in northern Spain during the Christian crusades against the moors, but also led to the growth and development of the city. The cathedral is the final destination for thousands of Christian pilgrims who walk the way of St. James pilgrimage across Galicia in order to reach this impressive city and visit the tomb of the saint himself.
The city of Santiago itself was very contrasting. On one hand, it’s a city centered on the pilgrims and the importance of reaching their final destination. On the other hand, the city had its own businesses and economy it thrived on. Also, with the old town and new town being present within smaller vicinity, the contrasting features of modernization and the old style of architecture threw me for a loop.
The cathedral was a very large and beautiful structure, inside and out. It was centered in a large square and with its size, it couldn’t be missed. It was one of the largest cathedrals we’ve seen yet, that’s for sure. Inside, there were confessionals lined along the right side for any pilgrims or anyone wanting a confession before or after mass. The relics of Saint James we’re behind the alter of the church under a huge statue of Saint James. Traditionally, pilgrims are to touch or kiss the shell that is located behind the alter. Under the alter, was the crypt of saint James located at. Interestingly, when they opened the crypt of Saint James nothing was there, which sparks another controversy. Is it possible that God took the relics back up to Heaven? Is it possible the relics were stolen? Were they ever there? I have my own belief so I’ll let you decide. The pilgrim mass we went to was for all the pilgrims who had come from near and far to Santiago by the way of the Camino. Of course, others could attend as well. We ended up meeting a few pilgrims from the U.S. outside the cathedral and heard their stories of the Camino. They were a group of older couples who had come from several states and had enjoyed singing so they walked and drove the Camino, stopping in churches and various other sites to sing. At the end of the mass, there is a huge incense burner hung from the ceiling of the cathedral that is suppose to swing and bless the pilgrims with burning incense. Unfortunately, this tradition was not carried out on the particular day we attended but nonetheless, it was a very powerful mass.
Santiago as a city holds a lot of religious affiliation and symbolism. It also has its own identity aside from the relation to the pilgrimage and Saint James. Personally, I enjoyed the religious affiliation and spirituality of the city but not the city itself.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Leon Lights

            Originally, Leon was a Roman encampment that was founded in 29 B.C.  In 910 the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Leon.  This was an important establishment in Medieval Spain.  The city was then sacked in 987 but soon after repopulated again by Alfonso V of Leon.  In this process due to the city’s size it became an important stop for pilgrims.  In 1188 the city hosted the first European Parliament demonstrating more of the importance the city had during this time. 
            The city as we experienced is user friendly in terms of walking and being able to visit some of the more important parts.  Our group stayed in the university district which worked nicely and each of us was allotted a larger room.  The rooms we shared were large enough on both nights to grab items from the grocery store located across the street and cook in.  On the first night our professor and accompanying faculty member cooked for the group and on the second night the students cooked for the group.  Yes the students did volunteer for this job and yes both meal were as the Spanish would say, c’est delicioso.  Please do not check my grammar but roughly translated it means, it was delicious.  Given our two night stay there was enough time to see the important components of Leon in relation to the Camino as well as get a taste of the local flavor. 
            There are two major establishments that are important to the Camino.  One of them is called the Santa Maria de Leon Cathedral.  It is also known as the House of Light or Pulchra Leonina.  It was started in the 15th century and finished in the 16th century.  What is special about this cathedral is the over 1,800 square meters of mostly original stained glass windows.  In addition to this the cathedral houses a museum.  This museum has close to 1,500 pieces of sacred art from pre-historic times up until the 18th century.  The outside of the cathedral is known for its French style Gothic architecture.  The region is not known for this style which makes the cathedral especially significant. 
            We visited the cathedral first and for me it was one of the moments in life that make summation difficult.  From the previous description, you know the numerical value of the stained glass windows and you know the Gothic style outside is impressive.  The difficulty lies in the description of the ineffable.  How does one accurately do that?  At this moment and forevermore perhaps I may find this task impossible.  However, I will give it the old college try.
            The outside of the cathedral is impressive with high flying buttresses and a façade that rivals the ocean.  I recall staring at the cathedral thinking that it was a joke or some type of mirage.  Alas, all the stone and the sweat put into making this structure were and is still real.  When approaching the structure your head is immediately drawn upward at the majesty of the structure and as you approach the cathedral your attention is drawn slowly down from the top to the bottom; slowly examining all the fine details of the cathedral to make sure it is in fact real.  In many ways from the outside the cathedral was one large piece of eye candy.
            If the outside was eye candy the inside was Candyland.  For me, it was a moment that took my breath away which is difficult for me because I really enjoying being able to breathe.  I walked in knowing the information about how much stained glass there is and how the outside looks.  My words fall short of being able to lay two eyes on a row of original stained glass.  For me with stained glass it is more than art in the tapestry way because light and especially light from the sun is what breathes life into the stories the glass tells.  These stories in many ways are played right in front of you.  If you let your imagination wander you can see the passion of Christ retold by the hand of someone from 4 or 5 hundred years ago.  There are also stories of kings and queens, bishops, or even of the spring harvest that during the day are laid out for all the visitors.  At this moment I revert back to the question of how does one explain the ineffable?
            Even in all the glory, there were a couple downsides.  The stained glass is so beautiful that you want to take the care and inspect every piece and yet these pieces are not in the reach of giants let alone a couple of students from Wartburg.  There is a certain desire unfulfilled like the dessert missed during the perfect dinner.  Understandably, there was construction going on to help support the walls of the cathedral which took a little away from the beauty.  This was understandable because we found out during the 19th century the whole building almost collapsed due to structural integrity.  Overall, well worth the time of the students.  For me, the cathedral was an experience that gripped and moved you but as you walked out the large wooden doors you were set down gently back into the real world.
This is a picture from inside the cathedral that gives a small taste of the feeling the stained glass gives.  It is a good demonstration also of the variety of colors that the different windows had.  You can see some of the construction towards the top.
There is also the Basilica of San Isidoro.  This basilica is unique in that it is in an old Roman temple that was converted to Christianity when Christianity spread to the region.  Much of the architecture from the early Roman times is still present even though the walls have been painted over.  St. Isidore or Isidore the Laborer was a part of several interesting events.  On one occasion he brought back his master’s daughter to life.  He also caused a fountain to burst from the ground for his thirsty master.  One day he was late for work because he was praying and an angel was seen doing his work for him. 
The Basilica was a different and yet important place because it housed so much of the history of this region of Spain.  Leon had been home to this Roman temple and there were pieces of art, clothing, or other artifacts spanning the history of this region.  The cathedral was a glimpse into the past of Spain, to me the Basilica and the museum were an interactive timeline into the history of Spain.  While the cathedral could move one to tears, the basilica brought one to thought.  Especially seeing one right after the other, you almost imagine yourself suited up in 15th century attire walking the streets and feeling such a different culture to what I am accustomed to.  I am left with the question of whether exploration and experiencing the world in this way is worth the time, energy, etc.  Shortly after I am answered with a resounding... Si!!!

Sam Hutchins

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Villafranca del Bierzo

Villafranca del Bierzo

Villafranca del Bierzo is a town located in the province of León in the Castile-León region in Spain. It is situated between two rivers, the Burbia and the Valcarce, and is on the west end of the Bierzo basin. By the 12 century, because of its location, Villafranca attracted many merchants and pilgrims from France, Italy, England, and Germany as well as Catalán, Jewish, Flemish, Portuguese, and Scandinavian people. In the 15th century, documents from that time period say that Villafranca became a very urban area. These documents say that there were urban related problems such as crime and that there were also many poor people living on the streets. Everyone was considered a peasant and as such, they sold their wares in doorways of their houses because of the lack of money. Between the 12th-15th centuries, the Osorio family ruled Villafranca. In 1486, the Catholic Monarchs put in place the Marquesado de Villafranca. The second Marqués, Pedro Alvarez de Toledo who had served Spain many years as viceroy, built a castle in Villafranca. The development of the town had many setbacks such as the Plaque in 1589, floods in 1715, and warring nations using Villafranca during warring times in the early 1800s. Villafranca at one time was the capital of the province of Bierzo for two years. Today, Villafranca still holds its late medieval and Renaissance or “old town” feel especially along the Calle de Agua and the narrow streets that run parallel to the river.
The importance of Villafranca del Bierzo in relation to the pilgrimage is that it is a resting place for pilgrims. Pilgrims who have fallen ill or are injured are able to stay at Villafranca at hospices to get treatment and to rest themselves. One of the major places in Villafranca is Iglesia de Santiago. Iglesia de Santiago is a church that allows pilgrims who are unable to continue to Santiago de Compestela to go through the rituals and ceremonies that would have been performed at Santiago had they made it there. In other words, these pilgrims are able to be in the same ceremonies as the pilgrims who make it all the way to Santiago without actually having to journey to Santiago because of their illness or disability.
Important monuments in Villafranca del Bierzo include the Iglesia de Santiago as mentioned earlier, Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia de San Nicolás, Igelsia de Santa María de Cluniaco, Convento de las Franicanas reformadas, Calle de Agua, and Castillo. Because Villafranca is served as a resting area, there are many hospices located throughout the town. Some were for specific pilgrims only such the San Lázaro of the 11th century which was used for pilgrims with leprosy while some were for everyone such as Colegio de la Divina Pastora. 

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 This is the cathedral of San Nicolas in Villafranca del Bierzo. 

This is the church of Santiago in Villafranca. The Camino goes literally right by the church on its way through town.

This is the church of San Francisco which was located about two or three blocks away from our hotel.

For more pictures and info about Villafranca del Bierzo, check out this virtual tour and website.
This virtual tour actually goes inside the churches and the castle. Check it out!

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Relection by Ashley 
                 Although we stayed in Villafranca, one of the down falls was the fact that all of the churches were closed and shut down. For some reason, all of the churches except for one during Mass are closed for the time being. It's sad because then we don't get to see what the pilgrims before us get to see and it kind of takes away from the pilgrimage a little bit. Granted, there are many churches along the route that pilgrims get to go to, however, by missing out on these churches, pilgrims might not see a need to go this route and eventually leads to other towns as well as this one being wiped off the map of travel.
                 This town is one of my personal favorite towns because it provides a warm comfortable community. The atmosphere of the town is one of welcome. Even waitresses can be extremely welcoming. Our waitress that night was very kind to us. She treated us like we were family and I think that was why I liked this town so much because it is like a family in a sense. Everyone helps everyone else and they look out for each other. Plus, how many waitresses do you know who would invite you back into their home to cook for you? Yeah, she was great.
                 Anyways, like I said, this town is one of my favorites and I hope that you get that feeling of homeliness too.

Buen Camino, Amigos!