Tuesday, January 6, 2009
A pilgrim?! - EEK!!! A pilgrim?! - Cool.
It's not always good. On Sunday morning, I walked through a small town on the Loire - a château, a former abbey, now a 5-star hotel, closed for the winter. Just past dawn, which is to say around 9 am, I went into the church. The abbey is long gone, so the once grand abbey church is now a parish church. The fact that it was formerly an abbey is evident - 11 arches around the apse. I was alone. There was no heat. Nonetheless, I took off my pack and set down my walking sticks. With an information card in hand, I learned about the art and carvings, about the history and significent events of the church. Lots to learn, lots to see in the dim light. It was gorgeous.
After a while, just as I was collecting my things to leave, an old woman came in. I assumed she was a kind person, but when she saw my backpack on a pew and looked over my clothing, I could see she jumped with full abandon to the wrong conclusion. Right there in the apse, she started shouting at me, so loudly I expected lightening to strike at any moment. She shouted and ranted, threatening to call the gendarmerie, the police - shouting that a church is a sacred place, not a campground for vagabonds! I tried to get her to calm down, to explain what somehow my scallop shells failed to do. I'm a pilgrim, not a vagabond. If she had a broom, I'm sure she'd have been hitting me with it. She was relentless. Fine, call the gendarmerie, save me from her. I had a stamp from the chambre d'hôte from the night before 10 kilometers away, I had done nothing wrong.
I was saved by the arrival of another old woman. The first nasty bag holding me by the arm shouting to the newcomer that she'd caught a vagabond, clearly wanting some glory. The new woman took one look at me and smiled - Bienvenue, madame pèlerine, would you like a stamp for your credencials? Sure, why not. I now have proof of my visit to Our Lady of Beaugency. Pray for our parish when you arrive in St Jacques, would you? Of course.
A few hours later, further on in another village, just after I finished painting a frosty bucolic scene of the Loire valley, a couple pulled up on the one-laned road. Pilgrim to St Jacques, would you like to lunch in our home? Oh, yes! (Sundays are difficult days to find anything open and I often don't eat.) I was welcomed into the village home of Odine and Phillipe, who wish to make a pilgrimage to St Jacques soon, now that the last of their children have left home. Utterly kind. Pray for us in St Jacques? Most definitely.