I drove to Aljambra to celebrate the Eucharist this morning for a congregation of fourteen. At the end we sang 'Happy Birthday' to Jean, who had turned 90 since she was last in church. I'm told that in her day she was a professional singer. She still sings with enthusiasm, but finds it hard to join in fully as she's become extremely deaf. Aware of this, I gave her the print out of my sermon text to take home with her at the end. An unlikely gift, but it drew a lovely smile from her.
Afterwards went on a rather special journey north, climbing up the western flank of the Almanzora valley on the A399, over a pass through the sierras to Oria at 1,025m, then across high rolling plains to Chirivel, then on the faster A92N eastward down a wide valley flanked by the Sierras de Maria to the north, and the Sierras de las Estancias to the south, to reach the hamlet of Los Gatos where David and Cath have made their home since retirement, about 10km from the historic town of Velez Rubio in a house they have named 'Casa Cymru'. Wonderful.
The Marques de Velez was an important and powerful figure in this region, and the name Velez crops up all over Andalusia, perhaps because the name identified a military clan that had played a key role in the reconquista. The first Marques took over the town subsequently known as Velez Blanco a few kilometres to the north of Velez Rubio. There he had constructed an imposing castle on the site of the 10th-11th century Moorish citadel, in the 16th century.
Velez Rubio lower down the mountain side expanded in the 17th century, and acquired an imposing church in late Renaissance style, said to be the largest in Almeria Province. It's certainly a testimony to the power and wealth of the Velez dynasty, which had control of large amounts of territory seized from the Moors. The family maintained vast stretches of forest in the sierras for hunting, and much of the forest is still there, looked after under the authority of the Parque Natural de Maria de los Velez.
After an excellent lunch, David and Cath took me on a two hour tour around just one possible route in the Parque Natural. There are several more awe inspiring journeys to be made through the sierras of this region, each very different from the other, such is the variety of terrain. The climax of our trip was a stop as the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, just opposite the visitor centre that has been established for a botanical garden which reaches up the flanks of the Sierra Maria.
The chapel will hold 150 people, and apart from its sanctuary altarpiece, it is a simple building, breathing serenity. Out in the front courtyard is a small enclosed garden, in the centre of which is a sundial that has a cross inclined at an appropriate angle to serve as a sundial. There are marble plaques flanking it, with text that points of the sacramental quality of the passage of time. As it was coming up to five, the visitor centre and the botanical garden was already closed, but the views with the setting sun lighting the landscape were a great compensation.
We made a brief stop in Velez Rubio on the way back to Casa Cymru to take a look at the church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion. We were fortunate in that it was open. When we went inside we found that a Holy Hour of sacramental adoration was drawing to its close, a beautiful coincidence at the end of an awe inspiring beautiful ride through glorious landscapes, towns and villages. Photos I took (here) can only convey a partial impression of the beauty of this area.
It was dark when we got back, and soon I had to be on the road again, heading down the A92N to the intersection with the A7 at Puerto Lumbreras, for the last stretch of the journey back to Mojacar. It's just an hour's journey to the coast where I'm staying, but it's such a different world.