Day 13 – Triacastela to Calvor (20.7 km)
Just before seven the next morning I was on my way to the monastery in Samos. It was still pitch dark, which enhanced the brightness of the stars. Everything was quiet except for a rivulet faintly splashing on the left of the road and Amadeus the owl hooting in the distance somewhere in the forest. Slowly the sky changed to bluish-gray which made the valley and the forests appear to be even more black and solid, but suddenly I was able to distinguish individual trees and from there on it became light rapidly.
My morning timing had now changed. Near León the landscape was flat and getting up early in order to miss the midday sun was imperative. Since reaching the mountains, however, leaving too early makes walking on uneven paths in the dark a challenge, although today the first stretch was a tar road. One also does not want to miss seeing the more beautiful landscape and by being over 300 km further west from my starting point, the sun appeared noticeably later, which also changed the timing of the morning routine.
The monastery in Samos, 11.7 km past Triacastela, only opened for visitors at 12:45 – I have no idea why so late, maybe the monks attended prayer sessions. I had coffee, toast and croissants with Antjana from Finland. She was equally disappointed by the late opening times. We both were keen to know the history of this rambling place and see its interior, after all, we had made a five kilometre detour instead of taking the direct route to Sarria, to get there.
Initial structures of the monastery date as far back as the 6th century, when funds were made available by Visigoth nobles and kings to start construction. The Nobles probably trusted that their support would ensure them a place in heaven. However, the early monks and the community they supported were obliterated by the Moors in the 8th century. A new complex with central cloister was built in the 12th century. When I descended from the mountain into the valley, I saw the complete complex with the later renaissance addition, which is considerably larger than the medieval part, and the impressive baroque church behind. On my way down I stepped over a mountain stream from which a small aqueduct delivered water to the monastery. Quite innovative ‒ but no longer in use.
The medieval part of Samos Monastery
Antjana left the bar first and when I followed and passed the monastery once more, I noticed that the large church door was now open. I went up the many steps to the elevated forecourt to enter and found a group of Spanish women speaking quite animatedly to the priest. A little later a Benedictine monk took them on a tour through the monastery. Before the church doors were locked again, three pilgrims and I were asked to leave or join the guided tour. We joined and walked around the sacristy with its ornate cupboards containing a number of monstrances in one part and priests’ robes in another. Next we entered the cloister of the Renaissance structure and I thought it most odd that modern, and in my opinion kitschy murals were decorating the walls: very colourful, with leggy, quite sexy angels and contemporary scenes mixed with religious historic motifs. This was not what I had expected to find in a convent dating back so far.
We pilgrims could not understand any of the monk’s words to the animated Spanish ladies and the visit turned out to be something of a mission. Finally, after two hours hanging onto the ‘beehive’ swarming about the monk – it appeared that the ladies were quite fond of their rather dashing-looking guide – we were finally ushered to a side exit and this was a relief. However, I did solve the puzzle of the colourful wall paintings: the Monastery had burnt down and was redecorated in 1951. This was not the first destruction; in 1533, during the reformation, the complex was sacked as well and at the beginning of the 19th century it had been plundered by Napoleon’s forces.