Student Adventures Around The World

Liz, Medieval Pilgrimage

liz
Map of Pilgrimage

Liz is among a group of SMU students who are traveling throughout Europe for class credit March 9-18, 2007. The Medieval Pilgrimage, sponsored by the University Honors Program, takes students through France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to experience the actual Pilgrimage of the Middle Ages. The course fulfills one of the Cultural Formations requirements and is team-taught by Honors professors from English, History, Art History, Medieval Studies, and Music departments.

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March 18, 2007

Back to reality
Last night was a perfect end to a perfect trip.  We had a fabulous dinner at a local restaurant in Madrid and spent our time together talking about all the wonderful things we have experienced over the past 10 days. Looking around the table, it really is amazing that I didn’t know most of these people until the beginning of our trip.  We have experienced so much together and the best part about it is that we don’t have to say goodbye.  After dinner (and many heartfelt tributes to our professors), a big group of us headed out on the town to write one last chapter in our book of European adventures….the discoteca!  We had so much fun dancing and laughing and I even taught some local girls the electric slide! Ha!

This morning we are on our way to the airport (sadly) to catch our flight to Miami and then on to Dallas.  Our trip has absolutely flown by and I words can’t even begin to express how happy I am I made the decision to go on this pilgrimage.  Two weeks ago, I didn’t even fully understand what a pilgrimage was, and now it is something I will carry with me forever.  I have made lifelong friends, become even closer with the girls I came with, learned more than I could have ever imagined, got to know amazing professors and alumni, and have made priceless memories I will never forget.  I am so grateful to my parents for allowing me to come on this trip and to SMU for providing the opportunity.  It might not have been Cabo and I didn’t get a great tan, but this first generation pilgrim is headed home with a huge smile on her face!

March 17, 2007

Madrid
Our dinner last night was wonderful!  We celebrated completing the pilgrimage and received thoughtful tokens of our trip from Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Adams.  Today a group of us flew to Madrid to avoid a 10-hour bus ride. Of course, I took it upon myself to play travel agent and get everyone a ticket.  To my surprise, we found a cheap and convenient flight on Spanair, the Spanish equivalent of Southwest Airlines.  Our flight was great!  They definitely fly like they drive here…I think we reached our cruising altitude in less than 30 seconds.  An hour later we were landing in Madrid and ready for our St. Patty’s Day adventure!

When we arrived this morning, we were excited to have the entire day to spend time in the city and explore the museums, shops, and restaurants.  After a little misunderstanding with several cab drivers (we ended up a the train station and had to haul our luggage about 6 blocks), we arrived at our hotel around lunchtime.  After a traditional Spanish lunch at an Italian restaurant (ha!), a group of us made our way to the Prado.  Unfortunately, the line was much to long to go inside, but Kate knew about another museum just down the street.  The Thyssen was wonderful! They had a special exhibit on portraits and we saw the works of artists from Picasso and Monet to Andy Warhol and Frida Kahlo.  We spent the rest of the day walking around and enjoying the beautiful city (despite a couple protests!).  Tonight, we have our final dinner and celebration before heading for the airport tomorrow to go back home!

March 16, 2007

O Cebreiro
I’m sitting on the bus (again), but this time we are finally en route to Santiago de Compostela! We just stopped at an adorable town called O Cebreiro.  The weather right now could not be more perfect to match the setting.  It is freezing cold and foggy and the town is set high in the mountains with an incredibly gorgeous view of the Spanish countryside.  I felt like I was somewhere in Scotland or Ireland.  The little town of Cebreiro is an ancient one with a fascinating history thanks to pilgrims.  It is home to a small church where we gathered for a lecture from Dr. Wheeler to learn about the legend of the chalice.  As the story goes, one day a priest was consecrating bread and wine for communion by himself when a pilgrim appeared at the church.  The priest was surprised to see the man who had traveled so far and wondered why he had come all the way to this little town in the mountains just for a piece of bread.  Suddenly the actual body of Christ began to rise up from the chalice.  The story spread as a mystery until a pope declared it true in 1487.  Today, the chalice is still on display in the church.

Santiago de Compostela
After one of our last bus rides, everyone begins to wake up from their naps as our professors tell us we are getting close to Santiago.  It seems like we have been on the road forever and it’s amazing to think it has only been about 8 days.  Thinking about how tired we are and how much we have seen makes us all realize how incredible it is that there are still people today who make this challenging trek on foot.  In fact, I have some friends at Texas A&M who are walking the pilgrimage this summer and I can’t wait to hear about it.

When we arrive in Santiago, our professors excitedly give us the option to leave the bus and walk the last mile or so to the cathedral.  We were all excited to get off the bus and finish our voyage on foot.  After spending countless hours and days on the bus and at every stop from Paris to here, it is truly overwhelming to see the church for the first time.  It is unlike any we have seen to this point.  Somehow, it appears older than the rest and it very dark on the outside.  The cathedral is massive and looking up to take it all in, my neck begins to hurt.  The cathedral is surrounded by people taking pictures, vendors selling souvenirs, and (of course) our five star hotel that was founded by Ferdinand and Isabella.

Test by Lion
Entering the cathedral, everyone seems to be taking in as much as they can.  It is beautiful inside and we are greeted by a depiction of St. James in a center column with the heads of two lions at his feet.  According to tradition, in order to prove you are pure enough to enter the church, you must place both arms inside the lions’ mouths and if you are unharmed, you are pure of heart and may enter.  I, like everyone else in our group, take advantage of this one final ritual (and great photo opp!) and am pure enough to enter.

We enjoyed our final lecture from our professors and ended the pilgrimage by visiting the tomb of St. James.  It was surprisingly small, but seemed extraordinary as we each passed by, marking the end of our once-in-a-lifetime journey.  We made it!

March 15, 2007

Leon
We had a full day in Leon! Once we arrived at our beautiful hotel, we walked to the Gothic Cathedral in town and had a great tour with a local guide. (It’s funny to watch our professors during these tours because you can tell they are chomping at the bit to add their own commentary! I don’t blame them though…they always end up knowing so much more than the guides.) The outside of the Cathedral was one of the most beautiful yet. The inside was truly majestic and the Gothic style was evident throughout. Dr. Carr once again provided us with commentary from the perspective of an art historian, making the tour that much more enjoyable. We were even able to sit in the actual choir for part of the lecture. It was made of beautiful dark wood and was incredibly detailed. After some free time this afternoon, we gathered on the bus once again and went to San Isidoro Royal Collegiate Church. This was one Dr. Carr was particularly looking forward to and it was definitely worthwhile! The cloister was one of my favorite parts of the Church; it was breathtaking. We’re on our way to another great dinner and tomorrow we will begin our final voyage to Santiago de Compostela!

March 14, 2007

Burgos
Last night was great! Dinner was wonderful (as always) and the nightlife was a lot of fun.  It’s crazy how close we have all become in just a few short days on this trip.  Margaret and I did not know more than a few people before last Friday and we’ve made friends we’ll have forever.  To me, that has been the highlight of the trip because so many of the students on our trip I never would have crossed paths with otherwise.  We really are having a wonderful time together.  I have also loved getting to know the faculty members on this trip.  We are so lucky to have some of SMU’s very best professors with us.  The knowledge they have of everything is amazing.  Seriously, we will stop at the smallest detail on the outside of a church, and they can speak an hour on its significance.  Being around them has made me realize how incredible the quality of SMU faculty really is, especially in Dedman College.  The lectures they have led have been engaging and so interesting. 

Close to Royalty
Today we visited two monasteries and a cathedral.  Our day started at Las Huelgas Monastery, one of the oldest in Spain that was home to the most respected women in the church.  It was beautiful and its history was intriguing.  We spent three hours touring and Dr. Carr lectured the entire time.  To me, the most incredible part of the monastery was the fact that is home to so many royal tombs.  Standing inches away from King Alfonso VIII and his Queen was overwhelming.  It really is hard to grasp how old those tombs are.  After some free time in Burgos, we visited Burgos Cathedral and then the monastery at Santo Domingo de Silos.  We spent about four hours at this monastery and started with a tour of the cloister.  Dr. Carr walked us around and told us the meaning behind each and every detail on each and every column.  I learned so much because I would never have guessed how significant all the details are.  Even the way the feet are depicted means something! We also toured the pharmacy and museum, which was home to artifacts dating back over a thousand years. 

Lifestyle of the Monks
After that, one of the monks was kind enough to spend about an hour with us telling us the history of the Gregorian chants we were about to hear.  We were then treated to hearing the monks in action at their vespers.  This was a service unlike anything I have ever attended.  The chants were truly mesmerizing and so calming.  After the service ended, we got to go downstairs and see the original monastery grounds dating back to the 11th century.  The lifestyle of the monks is so intriguing to me.  Since these monks are Benedictan, they have to cut off all ties to their families.  They never leave the monastery and have no connection to the outside world.  Their dedication to their calling is amazing.  We are headed back to Burgos now for a very late dinner (although right on time for Spain!) and then it’s lights out!  Tomorrow we are leaving Burgos and going to Leon!

March 13, 2007

St. Jean Piet de Port
I loved this town!  We stayed at Hotel Eskualduna last night in Basque country which has been run by the same family for four generations.  We were welcomed very late at night with an amazing homemade French dinner and some of the best wine we have had yet!  Our stay was really great.  This morning we had breakfast and left early to spend some time in town.  We walked the same way the pilgrims would have down narrow streets with welcome signs all along the way.  The town has amazing views of the countryside!

Crossing into Spain
After we left St. Jean Piet de Port, we drove down the twisty roads along the border and finally crossed into Spain!  It was pretty uneventful and we only realized we had moved into Spain when the words on the signs changed from French to Spanish.  The country was beautiful.  Huge rolling hills greeted us everywhere and mountains in the distance made for an incredibly picturesque drive.  The first place we went in Spain was Roncesvailles and we spent time with a local guide at the gothic collegiate church.  It was really different than the others we have visited and had a beautiful courtyard that led into a separate chapel with the tomb of Sancho the Strong who was 7’4”!  The windows in this part of the church were different and seemed more modern; almost resembling a cartoon.  Our next stop was Puente la Reina where the highlight was a beautiful medieval bridge dating form the 11th century that the pilgrims used to cross.  Its structure was remarkable and it made it hard to believe how old it was. 

The Story of the Chicken
We also visited Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a church with a very amusing history with the legend of the chicken.  As the story goes, a young man was wrongfully accused of a crime in the town while on pilgrimage with his parents.  The judge ordered his immediate execution and his parents sadly continued on their way.  When they came back, they found their son was still alive (but still hanging) because Santiago (Saint James) had allowed him to stand on his shoulders so that he would live.  When his parents went to the judge, the judge did not believe them and said that if the boy was alive, the chicken in his soup would come back to life.  Sure enough, the various parts of the chicken gathered themselves together and the legend of the chicken was born.  To this day, the church has live chickens on display to remember this story. 

After our long day of visiting many towns in France and Spain, we finally arrived in Burgos.  The city is wonderful!  It’s a smaller city of only 125,000, but it is full of beautiful buildings and monuments.  The shopping is also great!  We are going to dinner tonight at a very nice restaurant in Burgos and then out on the town!

March 12, 2007

I’m sitting on the train from Paris to Toulouse with Margaret enjoying the beautiful scenery of the French countryside.  We left this morning at 6 AM and should arrive around noon.  We’ll have the whole day to sightsee in Toulouse and then make our way to the hotel.  Dinner last night was great at Altitude 95 at the Eiffel Tower.  The view was amazing!  I got in touch with my friend Maegan, an SMU junior who is studying abroad in Paris this semester, and she came to our hotel for a while to catch up.  It was great seeing her and hearing about her incredible experience in France. 

The day in Toulouse
Today was wonderful!  We finally got to Toulouse by train and spent most of our time in St. Serin, a beautiful church in the middle of the town.  It was definitely different from any of the cathedrals we have seen so far.  The architecture was Romanesque and appeared slightly more modern.  We had another great lecture from Dr. Carr who taught us about what every last adornment on the outside of the church meant.  Toulouse was an adorable town and is surprisingly the fourth largest city in France thanks to its huge University population.  We’re back on the bus now headed to Hotel Eskualduna for a traditional French dinner and (finally) some rest!

March 11, 2007

I can’t believe I am sitting here in Paris at Notre Dame Cathedral listening to a Gregorian Chant Mass. This is an absolutely beautiful church and its magnificence is truly overwhelming. The outside of the building is breathtaking. There is so much detail in every inch. It is truly amazing to think about how many people have sat in this same place over the past hundreds of years. I look around and see the most incredibly diverse group…people who live here and came to worship just like its any other Sunday, tourists from around the world like our group, and Catholics who have dreamed their entire lives about attending mass at Notre Dame. The Catholic tradition here is truly amazing, but so different from what I am used to at home. It makes me realize how different Christianity can be all around the globe, but our fundamental beliefs are what unite us all.

One in a million
Being in Paris, especially around so many different people, I realize two things: 1) I am just one person in a sea of millions, and 2) Dallas isn’t as diverse as I wanted to think it was. The world is such a huge place and there is so much to experience. I am having one very unique experience in my own little corner of the world, but there is so much to see and do. I am grateful to have this opportunity to study abroad (although briefly) and experience just a little bit more of this world. I am so glad SMU creates opportunities like this for its students. The faculty on this trip are world class leaders in their fields and I feel so fortunate to experience France and Spain with them as our guides.

All of this and class credit?!
A Medieval Pilgrimage…not exactly the way I thought I would be spending my senior year spring break! Ha! While all of my friends are in Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica, I am touring Europe with a few complete strangers and three of my best friends- Margaret, Katy, and Kate - and I couldn’t be happier. This is an experience I will truly never forget and I am so glad I took the leap of faith to be here. I cannot believe I am getting course credit for something so wonderful! Anyway, back to mass…

What’s really neat about being here and trying to participate in the mass is that I can’t understand a single word they are saying, but I feel like I do. It is some weird sixth sense of comprehension. This whole experience is just amazing. I can’t believe that 36 hours ago I was sitting in my room at my sorority house in Dallas and now I am at a mass at Notre Dame. I am truly blessed.

Exploring Chartes
After mass at Notre Dame, we boarded the buses and left for Chartes, a beautiful town in the French countryside about an hour and a half outside Paris. The drive was gorgeous and the town is adorable! The entire town is surrounded by a river and sits up on a hill. The church we went to see is called Cathedral Notre Dame Chartes and was truly amazing! The stained glass windows were breathtaking and Dr. Adams and Dr. Carr each lectured on the church’s history. We had a lot of free time to explore the town which was nice. A few of us found a beautiful view of the countryside and some amazing gardens.

We are now back on the bus on the way home to Paris. We are having dinner tonight at the Eiffel Tower and then headed back to get some rest (finally!). Normally, I would love to go out, but we have to be on the bus at 5 AM! We will be traveling tomorrow by train to Toulouse. Today has been wonderful…I still feel like I am dreaming and none of this is actually happening, but I love it!

March 10, 2007

Today has been absolutely exhausting but truly wonderful. We landed in Paris at about 10 AM and we greeted by Dr. Wheeler and our new tour guides, Cova and Alex. We immediately started our day by going to Sainte Chapelle. It was absolutely gorgeous. The building isn’t too elegant from the outside (like many in Paris), but once you walk in, it is stunning. It is two stories tall, with the first dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the second telling the story of the Bible in the extraordinary stained glass. The attention to detail was amazing, especially given the age of the church (built 1242-1248). I don’t even think I can appreciate it fully at this point in my life. To think that the Church was designed to house the relics of Christ’s passions (especially the Crown of Thorns) is completely astounding.

In the afternoon, we visited the Musee de Cluny (Cluny Museum) and saw some amazing pieces of art. My favorite was the Unicorn Tapestries. They were s beautiful and it is incredible how they have kept their colors for so many years. At the end of our tour, we attended a musical performance; quite an interesting experience. Again, everything was in French but it was still entertaining. It was cool to see so many different instruments (horns especially) that were played during the Medieval ages. As tired as I was, I’m glad I got to experience it.

Tonight we are going to dinner at a French restaurant and then out on the town! Paris is truly a beautiful city and it will be so pretty tonight. Our hotel is about 50 yards from the Eiffel Tower so the view is going to be remarkable! More to come tomorrow…

March 8, 2007

As I sit here and pack for what should be 10 incredible days in Europe, I am both excited and nervous. Most of my friends have asked me about my spring break plans and when I try to explain to them what a Medieval Pilgrimage is, I can tell I am only further confusing them and myself. The truth is that I don't know what to expect. I am a senior advertising major with very little knowledge on the subject I am about to be immersed in for the next 10 days.

What attracted me to this trip? The opportunity to tour France and Spain, two countries I have never been to, with the best and brightest of SMU's students and faculty (not to mention the 3 credits!). The fact that SMU has some of the best professors in their fields who are willing to take a group of 40 students to Europe for 10 days is amazing. That's what makes SMU special...people who go above and beyond to make learning an experience, not just a requirement.

While most of my friends are planning on a week at the beach celebrating their last spring break, I am finishing my final readings before the trip. Although I have no idea what the next 10 days hold for me, I am anxious to begin my Pilgrimage and meet new friends!