|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
||1514: St Amaro's Hermitage, Burgos, Castile, Spain
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: St Amaro's Hermitage, Burgos, Castile, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, archdiocese of Burgos.
The building: Plain and baroque at the same time, this stone hermitage
and cemetery chapel was built by Pedro de Lazcano in 1614. The interior
is poorly lit, the ceiling low, and the decoration rustic. The early 20th-century
altar is flanked by a few polychrome statues, apparently of great antiquity.
The west end opens onto a grassy courtyard beside the cemetery where pilgrims
on their way to Santiago were buried if they expired in Burgos or in the
Hospital de Rey immediately to the south. The gate has some very spooky
skulls on it.
The church: St Amaro is reputed to have been a devout Asian (or Frenchman)
who was obsessed with the idea of finding paradise. After several unsuccessful
inquiries, one night God appeared to him and told him to set sail across
the ocean, following the sun. Undergoing many adventures at sea, he finally
arrived at an area of calm which he called Mar Cuajado, or "Still
Sea," known to this day as the Doldrums. There he was captured by a
ship full of monsters who specialised in drowning sailors, but was rescued
by an apparition of a group of women who advised him to empty his bottles
of wine and oil into the sea and then fill the bottles with air. Amaro did
this and was miraculously lifted out of the Doldrums. (He is venerated by
some as the patron saint of marine polluters and space travellers.) After
further exploits he eventually reached paradise, where the gatekeeper allowed
him to take a peek at the Tree of Life and other wonders but would not let
The neighbourhood: Once located outside the city limits, suburban
growth and expansion of the university have now brought the Hermitage within
its precincts. It sits on the west end of Burgos, on the west side of the
park where the largest of the local pilgrims' hostels is located in a number
of wooden buildings. As well, it is a few hundred metres north of the Hospital
de Rey, built by Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of Aquitaine (played so well by
Katharine Hepburn in the film A Lion in Winter) to provide solace
to pilgrims, and about a kilometre north of the Abbey of Las Huelgas, familiar
to canon law freaks as one of the last places a woman held ordinary jurisdictional
power in the Roman Catholic world.
The cast: The young auburn-haired (and going bald) priest may have
been well-known to the regulars in the congregation, but there was no sign
of his name anywhere.
The date & time: Sunday, 30 September 2007, 5.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
As the Hermitage is a cemetery chapel which has acquired its own congregation
of locals and devotees, standing room only was easily achieved with about
80 people. The folding doors at the west end were opened, effectively removing
the west wall, and chairs were planted in the garden and courtyard to accommodate
another 70 or 80. I do not think that many of the worshippers were from
the neighbourhood, given the large number of cars nearby.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The casually dressed and tanned pilgrim stands out among the properly dressed
Castilians, and we received friendly smiles from many of the congregants.
At the peace ceremony, everyone nearby came over to greet us.
Was your pew comfortable?
I took one of the folding chairs in the courtyard. While it was comfortable
enough, I noted that many older latecomers were left standing, and so I
gave up my chair and leaned against the wall by the entrance. My strapping
young Methodist friend from Georgia joined me, possibly fearing what might
happen to her at a mass. Like many pilgrims, this was the first exposure
for her and her Baptist companion to Roman Catholic worship and she was
not certain what to expect.
How would you describe the pre-service
About half an hour before the service, the priest had taken a chair by one
of the stone benches in the courtyard, where he sat in his alb and stole,
reading his breviary and waiting to hear confessions.
What were the exact opening words of the
In Spain, this one is easy, and it is always: En el nombre del Padre,
y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.
What books did the congregation use during the
Spanish RCs do not seem to use prayer books or missals. They appear to know
the rite by heart and are not accustomed to following the readings in a
book or a Bible. This puzzled my Georgian friends, who would have liked
to have been able to follow a text as they do on their home turf.
What musical instruments were played?
There were no instruments, but a woman at the front gave the note on a pitch
pipe before the congregation sang the gloria and, during the communion,
a hymn with a carol-like tune. It sounded vaguely like the music for the
Did anything distract you?
My eyes kept returning to the trees in the courtyard and the sky over the
stone wall. As well, my fellow pilgrims occasionally poked my arm to ask
me what was happening at various points during the service. One of the worshippers
had a cell phone which had the Radetzky March as its ring tone, and sheepishly
exited to take her calls to the grins of her neighbours.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The congregation appeared to be familiar with the young priest, and everything
was relaxed, but with a formal air these are formal people and Burgos
is one of the most conservative cities in Spain (and Franco's wartime capital).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Can't really say how good he was, as his Spanish was too quick
for my limited understanding.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
There was some mention of the Holy Family, I think. He told an anecdote, which went down well with the worshippers.
Which part of the service was like being in
The church being open to fresh air of a late afternoon on one side, while
still being a very full church on the other.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As always, feeling a little out of place and shabby because of the great
care which the Spanish take in dressing. However, my appearance didn't seem
to bother them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Just after the service ended, the priest stepped forth and asked the pilgrims
to come forward. He easily spotted us, and beckoned us to the front. Several
Italians stepped forth and knelt by the altar. My two Georgians looked nervous,
but agreed to follow me up front and kneel by the rail. We were then followed
by three German Lutheran students, who preferred to stand but bowed their
heads as the priest pronounced the pilgrims' blessing. For some reason,
he stopped by one of the Georgians, who was shy and self-conscious and quite
quite lesbian, and bowed very low over her, his hands on her head, and prayed
in a low voice.
How would you describe the after-service
None was on offer.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I liked the scale of the place, and would attend often if it were
not so out of the way.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, even if I'm not really sure why or how.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
My pigtailed Georgian friend, puzzled and a bit tearful and happy and thoughtful
and wanting a stiff drink.
More Camino reports
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.