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1888: Santa María del Camino, Carrión de los Condes, Castile, Spain
Santa María del Camino, Castile, Spain
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Santa María del Camino (St Mary of the Way), Carrión de los Condes, Castile, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Palencia.
The building: Dating largely from the 12th century, the church is also known as Santa María de la Victoria, commemorating King Vermudo I's victory over the Moors. It is a large church, with several interesting side chapels. There are some outstanding examples of art, including a frieze depicting the Adoration of the Magi and King Herod ordering the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and a Romanesque statue of the Madonna and Child.
The church: There is a legend that, during the Islamic period, the town had to surrender 100 virgins (or 30, in another version) in tribute each year. In answer to the townspeople's prayers to be freed of this burden, the Moors were attacked by a herd of bulls and driven away, leaving the town's virgins in peace (or at least from the Moors).
The neighbourhood: Carrión de los Condes is a welcome stop, rising oasis-like to the pilgrims hoofing it 20km over the barren meseta from Frómista, and there are several pilgrims' hostels here, as well as a more comfortable three-star hotel, formerly the Royal Monastery of San Zoilo. Santa María del Camino sits in the east end of this dusty and hardworking prairie town, surrounded by small shops, a school, and some bars and restaurants, with small apartment buildings around it. Much of the town was destroyed during the War of Independence against Napoleon. Shipmates who are fans of Charlton Heston may recall from the film El Cid how he executed the counts who had disrespected his daughters, an incident said to be responsible for the name of the town. The Cafeteria de Carrión is just down the street, although I cannot vouch for the fare.
The cast: No idea.
The date & time: Monday, 5 October 2009, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Pilgrims' Mass.

How full was the building?
There were about 55 in a nave that could hold 200. Along with the usual mix of Spaniards of varying ages, I counted 17 pilgrims.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received several nods of greeting. One of the hostels is around the corner from the church, which accounted for the pilgrim attendance. I had passed three Korean women earlier, looking quite exhausted, singing a hymn I did not recognise.

Was your pew comfortable?
I had a fair bit of legroom, as I was by one of the passages between the pews, so I was relatively happy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The regulars were greeting each other and taking their seats. The pilgrims were peering around at each other to see if they recognised any of their comrades from previous stops. Occasional waves and grins signalled success.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were some pamphlets in the pews concerning a local fiesta.

What musical instruments were played?
None, but a harmonica came in later on.

Santa María del Camino, Castile, Spain

Did anything distract you?
I was seated in a row behind a tall shaven-headed pilgrim wearing a kilt, along with his very curvaceous companion. I was wondering how the Spaniards regarded the wearing of a kilt in a church. As well, I was seated near the only black pilgrim I had seen in several weeks – he, too, was tall, and very solid in a football-player manner, his hair in a shoulder-length cascade of dreads.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the usual novus ordo mass, but we were treated at the end of it to the veneration of the relics of one of the local saints. The three Korean women felt that they were called upon to do something; they stood at the front and sang (in Korean) "Amazing Grace", and then the doxology of Thomas Ken (1637-1711), who is called the father of modern English hymnody. These were spontaneously accompanied on the harmonica by the skinhead. The priest beheld this with bemused astonishment, but just continued to hold the relic for those who wished to venerate it. He then gave us the traditional pilgrims' blessing and, after he finished, kept his composure as he was embraced by the young Koreans.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – I couldn't understand a word. He was using an appalling sound system.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
See above.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness of parishioners to this singularly odd group of people who had landed in their midst. A small girl ran up to the black pilgrim and gave him some of her candy. He smiled and gently thanked her and they formally shook hands.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was a bit disconcerted at the impromptu concert, but nobody seemed to mind, so I suppose it was all right.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not too much. I chatted briefly with the kilted pilgrim and his girlfriend. He was no Highlander, but rather German, and the girlfriend was Lithuanian. They had met on the Camino two weeks ago. They both spoke halting English. He provided me with a bit too much information on how he found the kilt to be a comfortable garment for hiking.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I took a glass of Campari on the main drag, as the restaurant at my hotel did not open for another hour, and received nods of recognition from parishioners as they began their pre-dinner stroll up and down.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It had a nice and comfortable scale about it. It was more Anglican in flavour than the large RC barns I had encountered in Canada.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Well, we were all tired that day, and the veneration of the relic, the impromptu hymn and the harmonica somehow seemed to fit together. The logic was impeccable, if inexplicable.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How people had come from the ends of the earth to be together in this dry and dusty market town in the middle of nowhere.

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