am so taken by the hostel, that I have decided to stay for two nights, and use
it as a base to visit Fatima today.
Portuguese Marian shrine of Fatima is located in a mountainous region to the
east of Leriria. This involves an approach which is almost entirely uphill
from Leriria. Even before my arrival I have a picture in my mind of the place
in which I expect it to bear a striking similarity to Knock in Co. Mayo. My
anticipation is not misplaced. The two prove to be eerily comparative, from
the massive coach parks on the outskirts, the rain glistening pavements, the
wide tree-lined streets, holy water on taps and in the town itself, the
kitschy, unashamed commercialism touting all nature of religious goods and
plastic souvenirs bearing the legend that you “prayed
for” someone “in Fatima”.
in Knock, alongside such disturbing façade, comes the impressive moving
displays of unadorned, deep
faith. The sight of pilgrims making their way, on their knees, along the
esplanade towards the basilica, and around the apparition chapel, moves me to
a humbling admiration, and respect, of their faith and devotion.
course, motivated and spurned on by the experience of commercial crassness, it
is easy to adopt a cynical attitude to something like the lucrative candle
sales, where various sizes, right up to two-inch diameter, four-feet monsters,
compete in appealing to the heavenly power. The candle stall is essentially a
big steel grid above a wax melting trough. Most of the offered candles succumb
to the heat from below long before they have any chance of burying out of
their own accord.
the basilica I catch the end of mass and am making my way up the aisle to
receive communion, when the lay ministers at the top cease distribution, and I
am left feeling very obvious in mid-aisle, with no reason to continue on up to
the top. Sheepishly, I effect a diversion along a pew to an inconspicuous side
alcove, where I remain for the final blessing.
I emerge from the basilica it has started to rain again. I shelter for fifteen
minutes awaiting an interlude in which to go seeking some place to eat. I find
a place about two-hundred metres down into the town where a meal of vegetable
soup, grilled octopus, chocolate moose, wine and coffee comes to a
considerable 3,600 escudos. In their favour, I dine to the strains of Enya in
I am drawn back to the basilica and environs. This being the focal point and
the only really the only place of interest in the town. In spite of it's
obvious crass elements Fatima is actually having an effect on me. I begin to
feel like I should try to catch a mass in English, so I go to enquire. There
is one in the apparition chapel at seven-thirty in the evening which leaves it
very late (and dark) for cycling back to Leriria. For the next couple of hours
I wander around somewhat aimlessly trying to pass the time. By five-thirty I'm
having serious thoughts about leaving, but something deeper compels me to
six o'clock I'm getting cold, so I go to the basilica to attend sung vespers.
It turns out to be a glorious experience. The vespers are performed by a full
choir, with the assembled congregation joining in. A priest with a rich round
baritone voice leads the singing, and a female soprano sings intervening
pieces. Music is provided by the great organ, which I have never had the
fortune to experience, in such full capacity, in any church I've been in
previously. I don't have a clue what is being sung in Portuguese (It may even
be Latin!) but I sit and enjoy and reflect that it seems a truly fitting way
of communicating with the Almighty. This is surely the choral equivalent of
the great cathedrals. The beautiful service lasts for three-quarters of an
hour, after which I emerge, quite warmed, glowing and beaming contentedly
resume my wandering for another half an hour, before ending up somewhat
transfixed before the candle grid. At quarter-past-seven I glance over to the
chapel, and notice a priest at the altar. When I get over, he has already
commenced, and is proceeding at a rapid pace. It transpires that the priest
who was due to say the mass has had an accident and this priest, on retreat
from Michigan, has offered to stand in.
is a somewhat amusing figure, a bit bumbling and reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart,
as he hesitates and stutters through the liturgy, which he peers at, through a
magnifying glass and jam-jar glasses.
rapid pace means that, even with a homily, we arrive at communion within
twenty minutes. It's all a bit ironic in that I'd rather hoped for something a
bit more "substantial" and meditative, having waited three hours for
it. Instead, by twenty-to-eight, I'm on my way back to Leriria.
Fatima, I suffer the first, (And actually as it transpires, the only), theft
of my trip. At some point during the day the water bottle disappeared off my
bicycle. I'd earlier filled it with holy water from the Sacred-heart spring. I
hope it does some good to whoever took it.
I come alongside the monastery of Batalha, the first thing that strikes me
about the huge impressive gothic structure is the infrequency, up to now, of
such similar encounters on this trip. There is something of a shock factor
attached to coming upon something like this in a literally rural setting,
similar to the experience of seeing Salisbury cathedral or the Chateaux of the
Loire Valley. It is very refreshing to find such outstanding structures amidst
green fields, rather than coming upon them through a tangle of medieval
interior delights as much as the exterior. It is the most beautiful, sparse,
austere and appealing kind of gothic, and I find it a serene and inspiring
ornate cloisters provide more of the, now familiar, calming effect that
cloisters have come to represent for me on this trip.
the refractory, the tomb of two unknown Portuguese soldiers is flanked by two
present day soldiers who come rigidly to attention at the approach of a
tourist, but assume a more relaxed stance, even an "at ease" posture
once one moves away out of vision.
on the road, two miles out from the town of Allocobaca, having satisfied my
revised mileage quota (Of a mere four miles) before lunch today (Which has
more significantly taken me over the 1,700-mile marker) I stop at a roadside
restaurant. However, it has taken me until four-thirty in the afternoon to get
this far, and most places have long since stopped serving lunch, as I expect
has the place I choose.
when I enquire about food, I am motioned to take a seat in the front porch and
the olives and basket of bread arrive promptly, followed soon after by a
half-litre jug of red wine. Having been shown no menu, I contemplate what
might be on offer. It turns out to be pork chops, served with chips and a
fried egg, accompanied by a big dish of green salad tossed in vinaigrette. It
is only towards the end of the meal that I actually begin to give some thought
to my current financial state, and whither I will have enough cash to pay. I
seem to remember having a 2,000 Escudo note, but it could be a 1,000. I put
such thoughts temporarily to the back of my mind as a big bowl of fruit salad
arrives. This is followed by a cup of coffee and a fistful of roasted
I investigate my wallet to discover that it is a thousand Escudo note after
all. My change totals a further 400 escudos and the 1,650 Escudo bill
therefore poses something of a dilemma. I hold up a 1,000 Spanish peseta note
to see if it is acceptable. After some hesitation and discussion within the
landlord returns and takes the 1,000 Peseta note and another 1,300 Escudos. I
am beginning to think that this is a rather poor transaction on my part, when
he return with a 500 escudo note, with the result that I have ended up paying
about the equivalent of 1,550 escudos.
is growing dark, but I decide to make a run for the town of Caldes da Rainha,
some twelve miles away, since it has a camping ground indicated in my map. In
the town itself, there is no apparent reference or signposting for the site.
It becomes fairly obvious why, when I do find it. The gates are padlocked
closed, and appear to have been for some time. The sign lettering is gone from
the wall, leaving a dirty trace of what used to be "Camping
next town, Obidos, doesn't seem all that far away on the map, so I decide to
head there instead. Half an hour later, I arrive at the foot of the walls of
the town, which itself is perched up on a hill. Every approach into the town
seems to be up steep cobbled streets, so I temporarily abandon the bike at one
of the gates, to check out my options within. After a fruitless search, I
return to the bike and decide to circumnavigate the town, and approach it from
the other side, where the incline seems to be less steep. At ten-thirty, I
finally locate a house with private rooms for hire. When I ring the bell, an
upstairs window opens, and a man sticks out his head to enquire whither I am
seeking a room. When I confirm that I am, he opens the door by means of some
sort of pulley mechanism from upstairs, but soon also arrives down to help me
with my luggage.
am shown to a rustic old charming room, with wooden floors and a big brass
double bed, at a rate of 3,500
escudos for the night. Adjacent to the bedroom is an equally charming sitting
room, with a cask cabinet containing a bottle of port and an almond aperitif,
which the Landlord encourages me to “…feel free to partake of”. Then, he
retires to his private room and, after I shower, I settle down to avail of his
offer and dip into sections of the excellent Portugal,
The Land and it's People by Marian Kaplan, which is lying on the table,
amongst other reading material. The
reception of RTE is incredibly clear, but I doze off while listening to it and
reawaken at 1.30am, only long enough to turn off the radio and notice that it
is raining again outside.
predictably, it’s raining.
about ten o'clock, I head out to an adjacent café, to breakfast on a ham
sandwich and a custard filled pastry. Afterwards I head down the street, to
visit the town's most celebrated gem; The church of Santa Maria featuring
paintings by the female artist Jose D'Obidos, so called because of her
associations with the town.
the courtyard, in front of the church, I encounter the stereotypical American
coach tour. They could have come straight from Killarney. I enter the church
along with them and eavesdrop on their guide’s exhalation of the church's
characteristics. Afterwards, she is quizzed, quite at length, by some of the
group. A few of them seem particularly obsessed by the absence of the Stations
of the Cross in this, and many other, Portuguese churches. (They've obviously
been in quite a few). They leave shortly afterwards, leaving me a silent
church all to myself. However, as I leave the church and meander further along
the street, I encounter the spread out shrapnel, which seems to have bombarded
every shop and nook and cranny in the town. An attempt to buy some postcards
takes fifteen minutes as the shop assistant waits on one American woman, who
debates buying knitwear for, what seems to be, her entire extended family,
whilst all the while expressing concern about colours, quality, exchange rates
and whither she'll fit it all in her luggage.
I finally get to pay for my cards another woman bustles her way up to the
counter holding up a traditional Portuguese purse screeching; "Excuse me please, could you tell me how much this costs in US dollars?'
© Peter Jordan, 1999-2001