Day 5: Puente la Reina to Estella

As of today, we've walked 116km, or 72 miles. Stretching and remedies for sore muscles have become more a part of prep for each day. We got some good interviews, Ron and Lauren have shot lots of stunning footage. Another day living life on the Camino.

We were about 3km away from Estella when Lauren pointed out a small stone church on a hill. A battered sign at the base of a path leading from the Camino said that the church was built in 1020. I'm not sure why, but something came over me, and I knew I had to take off my sandals. We set down our packs and walked towards the church.

The building had been abandoned. A local family burned a fire in a trashcan under the olive trees that surrounded the church. Two Spanish pilgrims slept under another tree nearby. The building was simple. Just stone on stone. There was no door, so we walked inside.

Piled high on two altars, spilling over onto the floor, were hundreds of pieces of paper. Some came from notebooks, others were postcards, some were mere candy wrappers. On all of them were handwritten prayers to God. A few other odd items lay scattered on the altar... A child's stuffed tiger, a surgical mask, a long-dead rose. The scene should have felt creepy, with all the layers of dirt, no light except what leaked through the door entry.

But instead, I found myself moved, moved in a way that I hadn't felt in any of the ornate churches we'd visited. In fact, I'd been having trouble in those buildings. I know that they are supposed to point people to God, and people far wiser than I have explained why, but when I'm inside one I find myself wondering how they built it, or how much money they spent on it that could have been used for something else. (At Roncesvalles, it was the singing, not the building, that made me stay.)

Anyway, I don't know if I was supposed to (or if rules even apply in abandoned churches), but I started reading the notes. One prayed for their child, a son with a heroin addiction. One asked that the people of the world would crave justice, not comfort. One prayed for the loneliness to end. The words of so many people for so many years seeking answers to the problem of pain was more beautiful than any golden altarpiece.

And so I knelt in the darkness, because for the first time I couldn't help it.