The Albergue at San Nicolas
One of the most memorable nights we spent during our six week journey along the Camino de Santiago was at the Albergue San Nicolas near Puente Itero – a 10th century former chapel recently restored by the Perrugia-based Confraternita di San Jacopo di Compostella.
What was so special about this albergue was not its location but the exemplary spirit of service shown by its hospitaleros. We had stayed in many albergues – but San Nicolas was movingly different.
No fees are charged on arrival, pilgrims being allowed to leave a donation when they left. The albergue itself has no electricity. Lighting is entirely by candles with cooking done on a gas stove. A small adjacent building (fortunately provided with electric lights and hot water) provides toilets and showers.
It was the unique ceremony that took place before dinner that epitomised the spirit of selflessness that the hospitaleros here bring to their task of caring for pilgrims.
At 7 pm, all 12 pilgrims who had been given accommodation for the night were asked to sit in a semicircle in the chapel. Our hosts – resplendent in scallop shell-covered black capes – asked each of us in turn to place one foot in a bowl held by a hospitalero. While another read a prayer of blessing, a third poured water from a special pitcher and washed the foot. After drying it with a towel, the hospitalero kissed the foot. This was certainly a demonstration of the true humility with which these special men accepted their calling.
Following the ceremony, we were asked to sit down at the long table and served dinner by candlelight. Our offer to help with serving was gently declined. In such an atmosphere one could feel a genuine sense of one-ness with our fellow pilgrims.
After dinner we all sat on wooden benches outside the albergue. Soon the glow of the setting sun caressed the landscape. Darkness fell, the moon came out – and after a while we could see above us a spectacular night sky. The stars and constellations were so clear!
In medieval times people believed the sky above their heads was a barrier separating us humans down below from God and his people up in heaven. Given the vista of the sky as we had here, we could well empathise with such a view.
It was certainly an evening to remember. All of us who came here as strangers were realising a simple yet profound truth: There is much more in this world that we have in common than that which divides us.
Read more about Sanjiva Wijesinha’s journey along the Camino de Santiago in Strangers on the Camino.
The e-book edition as well as the ‘Print to order’ paperback edition of Strangers on the Camino is available from Amazon.com
For more details (the article is in Italian but it has some good photos) see this article.