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Monday, March 25, 2013

Saints On A Hilltop

I want to try something a little different - because I could tell you about my latest adventure, yes, I really could, but I'd prefer to take you with me. So humour me for a little bit.

Imagine a hill. A small hill, very quaint-looking, covered in greenery, and on top, a watchtower. You like watchtowers. You like high places in general, because they're calm, deserted, and just slightly dangerous. You somewhat expect you'll be able to reach the top by car, but a staircase, wide at the bottom, narrow with a precarious railing at the top, is all you need to realise your mistake. You can walk, or you can leave.

You walk. The first few steps are easy, and you stop a few times to photograph the remnants of a storm. Trees split in half. Landslides. Fortunately, the day is clear, sharp, and even though it's windy, it's manageable. You feel safe among the wreckage. You keep climbing steps. Two thirds of the way up, you look down, and snap that view, too. On the horizon, the ocean, and the sky looking like a layer cake - golden and misty over the water, topped with a thin strip of blue-grey clouds, finished off with an endlessness of powder blue. The last few steps are horribly narrow, the railing horribly unsteady under your fingertips - you pull your hand away to find it coloured with specks of orange-brown rust.

You take a few seconds to catch your breath, to take in your new surroundings. You've reached the top. The watchtower rises in front of you, a wooden cabin on concrete stilts. To your left, another building, small, abandoned, a door of vertican iron bars left ajar. Inside, a blanket. You exchange a look with your travelling companion, and it means keep your eyes open, we may not be alone. You explore for a few minutes. You spot a railing on top of a boulder and decide it's there to keep people from falling - therefore, people can get up there. You walk around it, trying to find some sort of makeshift stairs. There are none. But there is a wide crack, and if you jam your back against one side you might be able to use your feet against the other, and hoist yourself up. It works. You're about as tall a the watchtower now, and wondering why it was even built when there was a perfectly good boulder a few feet away.

But that's not all. As you're about to start the long way back down, you realise you haven't fully explored the small building. You walk around it. There's another door. But this time, there are no blankets.

(Capela de S. Brás - Monte de S. Bartolomeu, Nazaré)

I did a bit of research on the place last night, and against all odds, it really isn't abandoned. It was built in honor of S. Brás (that would be Saint Blaise, for the english speakers), whose relics were supposedly brought here back in 711, and the locals still gather here every year on February 3rd, to celebrate his feast day. Unrelated, but still somewhat interesting, there are two tombstones in the chapel (you can see them on the photo above, the stone slabs on the floor), dated 1839 and 1859.

Not bad for a random adventure, if I do say so myself.

And also, a slight reminder that even if places of worship come in all shapes and sizes, they all pull at my heartstrings with the same mix of wonder, discomfort, respect, and inadequacy.

Oh, the woes of the aesthetically driven skeptic.

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