Falling Asleep by Candlelight: La Ermita de San Nicolas

Hermitage of San Nicolas

Coming from North America, the oldest building I had ever slept in was probably the apartment I lived in while I worked in Boston last year; it was about one hundred years old. So you can imagine how cool it was when two nights ago I slept in this hermitage, which was constructed in the 13th century.

Dinner in the Hermitage

Like all of my favorite places that I have visited so far, as beautiful as the art might be, or as delicious as the food might be, what makes somewhere really memorable are the people. I was fortunate enough to share the evening with several really awesome folks, including Steve and Kelsey from Saskatchewan (they’re the blondes in front of me), Sharon from Scotland (she’s behind me), and Margarita from Salzburg (she’s the woman on the left).

San Nicolas is run by the Confraternity of St. James from Perugia, Italy, and we were taken care of by a trio of older Italian men. When everyone had cleaned up after a hot day of walking through La Meseta and past the ruins of Castrojeriz, our feet were ceremonially washed by the hospitalero in the same manner that Jesus washed the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper. And then, just like in the New Testament, we ate and drank—a lot. We were served plates full of hot pasta, cheese, salad, and a fizzy sweet red wine that I suspect was homemade.

Morning in San Nicolas

In the morning, instead of being coaxed out of bed by bells, flashing lights, or loud calls of “despiertense!” (wake up!), we awoke to the delicate strains of choral music, followed by the fortifying smell of coffee roasting in the kitchen nearby. Not surprisingly, our Italian hosts brewed the best coffee I’ve had since entering Spain; if there’s been one disappointing aspect to this country it’s that their coffee is at a standard pathetically lower than the rest of the cuisine. Following breakfast, we were given one last blessing before heading back onto the Camino de Santiago.

Powerlines going south

After stopping a couple hours down the road and posting a couple overdue blog posts, I continued until sunset to the town of Villalcazar, where it was back to the usual albergue business; no grandfatherly Italian men to bless us before we slept, and no one to see us off this morning. Considering that San Nicolas only has 12 beds, and there are dozens of people walking any given stage, it really makes me feel like I won the lottery by spending the night there. When I remember the Camino de Santiago, the hermitage of San Nicolas will be the place I recall most fondly as an embodiment of the warmth and fellowship that this incredible journey provides those who walk it.

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2 thoughts on “Falling Asleep by Candlelight: La Ermita de San Nicolas

  1. You are truly lucky to have experienced this, Nathan. These are what PJ and I call the vestiges of medieval spirituality that survive to this day, the signs that we try to find at every church we photograph. Nice post.

    1. Lucky might not be enough to describe how fortuitous it was that I made it in. They only have 12 beds, and I got there late enough in the afternoon that I got one of the last ones. Since I don’t carry a guidebook, the only reason I even knew about it was because earlier that day–about 20 km short of San Nicolas–I was having breakfast at the albergue in Sambol, the next stop after Hornillos del Camino. Apart from nearly taking a firework to the face, nothing was really special about that place, so I asked the hospitaleros in Sambol if they could recommend a cool albergue for the night. Basically, if I was just another Ame rican with a guidebook who didn’t speak any Spanish I probably would hav e missed San Nicolas.

      And that spirituality was really so intense–I was discussing the foot washing the next day with Sharon from Scotland and she was saying how in some ways it’s more humbling to be the person having your foot washed and then blessed and kissed than it is to be the person washing it. It’s one of those things that I want to do someday if I have my own home (or albergue–it’s tempting me)

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