Flowing Lines – the Santiago Pilgrimage

A few weeks ago, I found myself traveling to Santiago De Compostela, Galicia.  A journey along lines which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before me will have made over the centuries.  For most an act of faith, along the Way of St James, leading them to the great cathedral overlooking Praza do Obradoiro.  Faced with limited time, my dilemma was, do I experience the ecclesiastical riches that this World Heritage Site has to offer or do I seek contemporary intersections between heritage, landscape and creativity.

Some cities reveal a creative pulse as you arrive on their outskirts, the first indications of life can often be tagging and stickers, as you travel further in you may encounter murals and other street art, which then blends and blurs with public art in the heart of the city.  In the short time I had spent in Santiago De Compostela there was already enough signs of playful creativity…

Dali's PeekEmbelishmentThus I found myself outside the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC) before it opened, and to fill a few minutes began to explore a park adjacent to it.  I soon encountered a large piece by Basque Sculptor Eduardo Chillida, Porta da Música: it is said there is a peculiar sound when the wind blows against it !

Porta da MúsicaInevitably, I was drawn to the ruins of a building,

Wash House ?which appeared to be a wash house,

Flowingand then I began to weave and flow up hill.

Past another ruined building,

A Number of Ruinsthe floor of which the stone slabs had been inscribed with numerous numbers.

Numerous NumbersWhether these stones were an artistic intervention, interpretative device or integral to the work of Medieval numerologist was not revealed.

As I flowed further up, a succession of devices led the water down the hill,

Chain FlowFlowFlow 2Until I encountered a stone cut hole

possible water cistern, grotto,

entrance to an underworld.

GrottoSo having flowed to the source, I was led downhill by a different path,

autumn leaves nestled in dry flowing meanders.

LinesLeading to the remains of a contemporary stone circle, what ancient rites have taken place here?

Stone CircleBut despite the joy of finding traces of contemporary prehistory,

moth-like I was drawn towards the walls of white beyond, to be immersed in a cemetery.

CemeteryI was looking so hard at what I was meant to see, the emptied recesses, names and numbers variously inscribed, that I nearly missed the continued flow of lines, no longer in water but this time a flow of stone.

These tiny traces, I first spotted adjacent to the entrance, and could follow, in one

Stone Flow 1two

Stone Flow 2three

Stone Flow 3four compartments

Stone Flow 4Before they turned the corner.

Stone Flow 5The stone then flowed along the length of another four tombs.

Occasional traces of embellishment punctuated the flow.

Stone Flow DetailAnd round the corner they continued.

Stone Flow 6Meandering across another recess

Stone Flow 7and splashing to the other side.

Stone Flow 8Stone Flow 9And then they stopped… was there no more….it made no sense, why only on this side…

Eyes frantically danced across the compartments, and rested on a plume of feathers on the other side of the cemetery.

Feather DetailsStone Flow 10And there the line was…

And across the gap broken by steps,

Stone Flow 11a sherd of brown glass, marked another point of departure.

Meandering through another recess.

Stone Flow 12Shells caught in the flow of stone.

Stone Flow 13Round another corner it continued, then stone upon stone it flowed up the wall…

…beneath shiny marble progressed

Marble DetailsFurther embellishment of feathers…

Feather DetailAnd there, in the fourth compartment along the flow ceased….

Stone Flow 14

Why do stones flow through the cemetery?

There is intent.  There is an order of stones in the cemetery.

The stones are small, discretely positioned, but not hidden.  In the higher, longer runs of stone, they have been placed at the very front edge of the compartments.  Perhaps seeking to be spotted, yet precariously living on the edge. In contrast, the lower flows of stone which meander and splash across the gaps, hug the wall closely, nervous of being disturbed by passers.

The evident dislocation and obscuration of some stones by small plants, suggests they originally flowed some time earlier this year, it is clearly in a process of decay, but not totally ruinous.  The traces of feather embellishment have a regularity, which suggests further feathers may have been placed to create an overall pattern or design.

We can imagine how it may have looked when first completed, resplendent ! But even in its full glory, how many have noticed the flow of stone within the cemetery.

We can only speculate as to who may have produced this, perhaps furtively, with no one else aware of their repeated visits to the cemetery: an individual act, contemplative, obsessive, beautiful in intent ?

Or was this created collectively as part of an art work, a publicly made installation ?

Widely known, much celebrated in the city,

and very occasionally revealed to the

flowing pilgrim.

————————————————————————————————————————

I flowed through the Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval.  It was was the site of a 13th century convent, and after years of abandonment and neglect, was converted into a public space in 1995, about the process for which more details can be found here.
The core of the city is a World Heritage Site, Santiago de Compostela (Old Town),  characterised by a rich ecclesiastical architectural and continued cultural heritage traditions of pilgrimage. There is also further World Heritage Site designations of locations associated with the pilgrimage routes, comprising Route of Santiago De Compostela and Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.  

8 thoughts on “Flowing Lines – the Santiago Pilgrimage

  1. Really enjoyed the intriguing visual and textual journey through this place. I have the vaguest memory that placing a stone (maybe brought from significant places?) by a grave stone/marker indicates a visit; that the person is remembered, loved, cherished still. This trail of stones is a fascinating elaboration of that idea.

    Even if it is a playful gesture it discloses the power of making lines as a way of crossing, delineating or mapping space.

    • Plethiproject thanks for your comment, and glad you enjoyed the journey. Yes the potency of where the stones may have come from is not something I had considered.

  2. Bravo — your sharp eyes and sharp mind, taking us with you as you flow through these intersections of ‘heritage, landscape and creativity.’ I am particularly moved by the quiet tribute of stones and feathers, which you traced through the cemetery. (Inuit and Inuvialuit people also add pebbles to markers for their dead. Have you seen this elsewhere as well?)

    • Icelandpenny thanks for your comment. Yes it was the quiet understated simplicity of the piece which struck me too. Thanks for reference to Inuit and Inuvialuit tradition, do you know it is single pebbles or is there a cairn built over time?

      • As I recall, visitors to the gravesite simply pick up a pebble along the way and add it, as their sign of respect. I may have a photo of Jessie Oonark’s site, with its pebbles, somewhere and if so I’ll add it to some subsequent post of my own. Oddly, I also saw small pebbles carefully lined up on the edge of a very proper tombstone in Mount Pleasant Cemetery here in Toronto

  3. Very interesting and intriguing. Well-spotted on the flow of stones. Love the enigma of it all and as previous comments suggested, the thought of it as a mark of respect by adding stones to the flow over time.

  4. Pingback: Contemporary Prehistories – the Santiago Pilgrimage | heritagelandscapecreativity

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