The Madrid Airport was a ghost town when I arrived. Don Carlos Lopez, the Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain, was waiting for me when I passed through the doors after going through customs and certifying that I did not have COVID. No one was in the waiting area other than Don Carlos, who commented on how he had never seen the airport so vacant.
The Bishop drove me to the Hotel Principe Pio, located across the street from El Palacio Real (The Royal Palace). You have to request the view, but it’s always a joy to look out at the palace, which is Spain’s version of Buckingham Palace, but not nearly as ornate.
After I showered and unpacked, Don Carlos and I set off on a one-day religious pilgrimage. We do this every time that I come to Spain. The Bishop practices his English, and I practice my Spanish. We talk about our families, our ministries, our reading lists, our countries, our friends and about Spanish history and culture. There is no end to Don Carlos’ knowledge about Spain.
This time, he chose to take me to see the Monastery of Santa María El Paular, which is a former Carthusian monastery, located 85 kilometers northwest of Madrid in the town of Rascafría, where Don Carlos owns a house and hopes to retire one day.
Rascafría is located in the Valley of Lozoya near the Sierra de Guadarrama – a chain of mountains separating Madrid from Segovia. King Henry II of Spain ordered the monastery to be constructed in 1390 A.D. It took 50 years to finish building it.
Today, El Paular, is to Castilla y Leon as Monserrat is to the people of Catalonia. We walked through the inner cloister. Each of the four cloister sides has a different architecture. Lining the walls are 52 paintings by Vincenzo Carducci of the founder of the Carthusians, St. Bruno, depicting his life, his miracles and his monks.
Each monk had his own monastic cell and said his daily prayer alone in his cell and only came out once a week to attend church. Food was brought to each monk and given to him through a small window next to his door. It must have been an incredibly isolated life.
We later joined the monks for one of their daily prayer services. I was jetlagged and was trying hard to keep my eyes open, but it was wonderful to stop, be quiet and pray in the company of men who have dedicated their lives to prayer.
Later, we had lunch in the restaurant in Rascafría, where Don Carlos first took his wife, Anan, over thirty years ago when they were newly engaged. We had sopa Castellaña, which is a regional dish made of bread and eggs, water, milk and broth.
We ended our trip by visiting the nearby medieval walled city of Buitrago. We walked the remains of the ancient walls and talked about all things Spain. Tomorrow, I head north to Oviedo, where I will begin the Camino Primitivo in two days.
Spain is my relaxing place. I slow down, stop, listen, and look around. We all need such a place, if we are to be human beings and not human doings.
With love and prayers,