I've been waiting for you since the 14th century” said Brother Benedict, our guide and Monk at the Santa Maria de Ripoll Monastery. We had arrived on a beautiful sunny day in Costa Brava, Spain and and as I looked out the bus window catching a glimpse of nuns dressed in white, I was excited to be able to tour such a significant piece of Catalan history.
Brother Benedict had a quiet demeanor and talked quietly yet clearly to our group as he told us about this church dating dating back to 888. The history of the monastery is fascinating and I made sure to give our esteemed monk my full attention. It was here that Catalunya was born. Before the monastery was built, the region had been abandoned due to invasions from Africa to the south and other parts of Europe to the north. But as people came back to Catalunya after conquering the invaders, it was rapidly rebuilt during the 10th and 11th centuries.
The Monk walked silently as if in meditation to the tomb of Count Wilfred the Hairy near the back of the Church. As the rest of the group lingered behind to take photographs, he walked ahead alone and suddenly noticed that nobody was following except me. Astonished, he asked where everyone was. I replied, “No need to worry, everyone is taking photographs of the arch, they'll be along soon”
I diligently took notes during the tour and learned that the Catalan Flag was formed at the time of Wilfred the Hairy's death. Count Hairy was mortally wounded in battle and with his own blood on his hands, he ran his fingers along a golden shield just before his death creating the symbol of Catalunya.
The Monk Walked On
We had been taking part in the In Pyrenees travel blog trip put on by the Costa Brava Tourism board and every day of our tour was a mystery. We received our itinerary the night before each event and it didn't leave for a lot of time to do any research on our destination. Dave and I both tend to turn off our brains when we are being lead around by a guide, and today was no exception. I followed the tour and listened carefully believing without question every single detail told to me.
I was thrilled when Brother Benedict said yes when I asked him if I could take his photograph. We've had our fair share of encounters with Monks in Asia, but it was a first for us in Europe. He was so friendly and open to all of us taking his photo and asking him questions.
My favourite moment was when he took us up to the balcony overlooking the court yard and as he peered over the gardens, we all snapped our cameras feverishly until he turned around and caught us. He didn't mind one bit though and laughed, “Is this ok for you?” Wow, this Monk has a sense of humour.
We learned more from Brother Benedict about the significance of the design and artistry on the walls and pillars and were told that the symbols displayed the story of the bible. Since most people couldn't read back then, pictures and sculptures depicted history and told stories. We also were shown an alabaster window. Alabaster was used before the invention of glass because it allowed sunlight to shine through but also kept the cold wind out. The Spanish Pyrenees can be quite cold so they couldn't just leave the windows wide open all year long.
Brother Benedict talked and talked and I continued to listen. He went through the lifecycle of one year of life depicted on the arch of the front door of the Monastery. It's an impressive arch that is now covered by a glass structure to protect it from the elements. Now everyone can enjoy Santa Maria de Ripoll for years to come now that it will never see wind or rain again.
There were subtle hints throughout the tour that things were amiss with this Monk, but I was too wrapped up in the story to notice. When I asked Brother Benedict his name, he replied “my real name?” I didn't want to offend him so I said, “whatever name you prefer to use.” That is how I came to know him as Brother Benedict. Later I asked him how long he has been at the Monastery, to which he replied “Do you mean how long have I been a monk?” I said, yes sure. He then laughed and said, “I've been waiting for you since the 14th century” Hmm, but you said that when we first arrived. Is there a Monk code that we are no allowed to know how long someone has been one?
Sure, he had messy hair, but I thought to myself, if I were a monk I wouldn't comb my hair either, I mean who am I trying to impress? And yes, he wore tennis shoes, but I've seen Monks in Asia wearing everything from flip flops to Nikes and even the Dalai Lama wears Gucci. But I paid no attention to the little details. Introduce yourself as a Monk to me and I'll believe it!
If I didn't have to go to the bathroom after the tour, I never would have realized that I had been duped! The washrooms were at the gift shop and as I came out of the bathroom, Brother Benedict came strolling in and took off his robe to join the cashier behind the counter. I fell for the charade hook line and sinker.
He must have had a huge laugh with his co-workers about this crazy lady who totally fell for his act. I found out later, that people can book a themed tour of the Monastery. I guess the Nuns that I saw in white when we first arrived were also fakes from an earlier tour that day. I didn't know that we were on a themed tour, I simply entered the church was greeted by a Monk and went with the flow the rest of the tour. Ah InPyrenees people, you'll never catch me off guard again. Or maybe you will, I'm just that kind of gal.
Costa Brava Tourism was responsible for my Monk Encounter in the Pyrenees. They got me good. Check out more things to do in the Pyrenees and the Northern Spanish Coast at the Costa Brava website