What did the artists of previous centuries know about Mary Magdalene? Was she depicted as the woman at Jesus’ side more often than we suspect – and symbolically coded very deliberately? These and similar questions I ask myself time and again when I enter a church where I see a Mary represented with long red hair and in red-green garments. All are hints at the fact that this is not intended to be Mother Mary but Mary Magdalene, just like in the small church Santa Barbara in A Coruña, ca. 80 km north of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
In this specific case she is shown sitting next to Jesus on a cloud, which is indicative of his mother at a first glance. Maybe the commissioner only wanted the glass window to show Mary’s admission into heaven and did not know that the artist painted Mary Magdalene instead of Mary? Or maybe he instructed the artist to depict “Mother Mary” with long red hair in green-red garments, knowing well that he made Mary Magdalene sit next to Jesus by doing so? This always comes to my mind when I see depictions of this kinds in churches.
Am I in Ireland? Or on one of the Mediterranean islands Minorca or Corsica? Or maybe even on the Azores? … One has such a fixed idea of Spain and its landscape. Especially if you have already seen a lot of this country. But Northern Spain – particularly the region around Santiago de Compostela – is a whole lot different from the rest of the country. I love the small houses and the stone walls overgrown with ivy and ferns that are so typical for this stretch of land.
Paper doesn’t blush, but frequently reality is entirely different … This experience Gerd and I have to make again and again when we are planning a spiritual journey. We peruse guide books for weeks, plan great routes and then, when we are on site, the first challenges arise: sites and places that were described as being well worth visiting in the books turn out be not very attractive, hotels and restaurants fall short of our expectations, or we unexpectedly stumble on a great object of interest in the middle of our planned route which we do not want to ignore and would like to fit in in our itinerary someway.
Thus, hardly a day goes by in the course of our preparation trip where we do not have to replan. Nevertheless, we look forward to new impressions and experiences every morning and collapse into the hotel bed bone-weary but content in the evening.
Many of you surely know Paulo Coelho’s bestseller “The Pilgrimage”, in which he describes his impressive spiritual experiences on the Way of Saint James through Northern Spain. Certainly this worldwide bestseller helped the region awaking from its deep slumber. But still it seems as if this clime had not suffered from the flow of pilgrims and tourists, because it still appears to be very pristine and authentic.
Ever since I mentally accompanied Coelho on his peregrinations – in the meantime I have read some books of other authors who followed this pilgrims’ way – my interest in this area has awakened. Therefore, what could be more reasonable than planning and organising the spiritual journey after next in 2016 for like-minded people in the “land of Saint James”? No sooner said than done! As of today Gerd and I are touring the region around Santiago de Compostela and are exploring sites and places that seem to be “worthy” of a spiritual journey.