Today our bus took us the 25 minutes from Alba de Tormes for a day trip into nearby Salamanca. Salamanca is an ancient city, dating back to Roman times. In fact, we were dropped off at a bridge that dates back to Roman days (which is still standing and is in great condition).
Today, Salamanca is known for its university, which was established hundreds of years ago. Some great saints studied and lived here, including St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Because of this, there are many religious orders that have houses here in Salamanca, since they would have been able to send their novices to study at the University.
We were given a great tour of the city, learning its history and seeing some great sites. We visited the cathedral here, which, in my opinion, is one of my favorites that we have seen so far. Not only is it beautiful with a lot of history, but it is also very prayerful. Sadly, many of these great old churches throughout Europe are seen as tourist attractions to a lot of people, and not as much as houses of prayer and worship. It can be hard to sit and pray in a place where people are walking around talking and taking pictures constantly. But, since Salamanca is not as big of a tourist destination, there were not very many visitors to the cathedral here, and we were able to enjoy the silence and pray. It was a wonderful experience.
What was also interesting is that the Salamanca cathedral is actually two cathedrals connected. There is the original 13th century cathedral, which shares a wall with a later 16th century cathedral. The plan was for the “new” cathedral to replace the old one. But they never tore down the old cathedral, and now they are connected and share a wall. It was fascinating to see the the different styles of art and architecture present in both, side by side.
After our tour we took some free time for lunch, spreading out throughout the old part of town to find different diners and cafeterias. Several of us took the opportunity to eat at one of the most unexpected restaurants in Salamanca, a 50’s diner. They served great hamburgers in a fun setting.
We all made our way back to the cathedral for Mass in one of the side chapels, which was somewhat exciting, as it allowed us to get in behind the gate to the chapel. These old gothic cathedrals were built with many side chapels going all the way around the building, each with an iron gate to close it off. Once upon a time there would have been Mass celebrated in each of these chapels, as concelebration did not take place back then. Now that is not the case, and the gates are all kept locked. You can see in, but you can’t go in. But, since we had Mass in one of these chapels, we had the opportunity to go inside and close the gates behind us, giving us an up front view of a beautiful chapel full of art that would not have been visible otherwise, as well as an opportunity for private prayer away from the few tourists that were inside.
After this we made our way back to Alba de Tormes, where we had some free time for prayer and relaxing. We met up for our next theological reflection in the evening, this time on the Incarnation, followed by dinner and our first post card party, writing out postcards to all the benefactors who supported us financially through our fundraiser ‘desert meals’ throughout the year.
It was a late night, but that was ok, as tomorrow is a free day!