Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Melillo's Pilgrimage Day 6 Pena De Francia SPAIN


Pena de Francia’, Spain
After a quick breakfast, we got on the road to visit Our Lady of Pena de Francia’.  It was pretty much smooth sailing and a great ride except for trying to pay the few “electronic tolls” we accidentally drove through (a new system in Portugal).  As we were nearing the border back in to Spain, I went to a Gas Station/Pay Station to pay.  They wouldn’t take my money and told me to go to the border and that I could pay there.  Drove to the Border and stopped to pay my dues for the electronic tolls … they told me that I had to go back about 10 miles TO THE FIRST PAY STATION I HAD JUST STOPPED AT. 
Totally frustrated, we just continued over the border into Spain.  I had obtained the phone number for the Portugal Toll Department and I’ll call to arrange payment … didn’t want to mess up our whole day for about $15 Euro in tolls.
Finally, we were over the border from Portugal and back in to Spain (at least now I felt comfortable that I would be able to communicate much better if needed).  “Princess” took us to a small town with a Church … but nothing else.  We drove around looking for “Pena de Francia”.  We were sure we were at the right place (right!).  We saw a small little sign pointing us out of town to what appeared to be a “Monument” sign so we followed.
Two miles later we came around a bend in the road and there, before us, was a very, very large mountain.  On top of the mountain you would barely see a building. But, there was a large tubular object that stood out clearly so we were hopeful that we were heading in the right direction.
We found a sign at the base of the mountain that turned us on to a different road and indicated that we had “10 miles to get to the Shrine at the top of the mountain” … heck, no big deal … we’ve been there/done that!  WRONG!
As we began to ascent the mountain, it was a gorgeous drive through a forest.  A lot of winding roads at times, but nothing new to us.  Until we reached about the 7th mile.
There was a stopping area on the side of the road which appeared to be for hunters, hikers, bikers, etc.  Seeing the road ahead for the next three miles was, apparently, for those who wanted to turn around after seeing ahead what was in store.  I have to admit that I even thought about using that “turn-around” and forgetting this idea … but we kept going.
I have never seen such a bad road … It was 2 way traffic with barely enough room for one car and the road was falling apart.  I thought … “we’re not turning back now”.  I think I said a quick and silent Prayer and headed up the treacherous road.  As we progressed up this part of the mountain, cars would come by and we would have to pull off far to the right to allow them to pass.  Sometimes, we were hugging the mountain with the car … Most times, we were on the edge of the cliff with a long way down and no guard rails.  I couldn’t even muster up the courage to look down the side of the cliffs or out to the horizon … it was hard enough looking ahead at the road we were traveling.  It was impossible for me to let on or let Susan know how terrified I was because I knew, from her silence, white knuckles and only hearing gasps come out of her mouth that she was at or close to having a major panic attack.  I kept going … determined to get to Our Lady. 
What seemed like a day later, we reached the top of the mountain and arrived at Our Lady of Pena de Francia.  I took the first parking place I could possibly find … I didn’t care at that point if I got a parking ticket or not.  I just had to get out of the car and put my feet on solid ground.  There was a big sign across from us with “something” written on it.  I quickly told Susan … “I’m going to look at the map”.  It didn’t matter what I told her … Susan was frozen solid in her seat.  She just managed a short, low “grunt”.
I have to say that in all of the years Susan and I have been venturing on these types of “personal pilgrimages”, we have never encountered anything like this. 
So, I walked over (steadying myself) and looked at the sign, making believe that I was reading it (just in case Susan was watching).  I collected myself, calmed down and returned to the car.  I found Susan still frozen in her seat … hadn’t made a move I don’t think.  I opened her door and stood to be sure she was okay.  I wanted to laugh at that point but I knew better.  Her first words were … “Do we have to go back down?”.  At that point I tried to make her laugh to snap her out of it to no avail.  I almost had to pull her out by the legs to get her out of the car.  She slowly got out and started babbling about something.  I couldn’t understand a word,  I could tell she was literally “weak at the knees” but I managed to compose here … somewhat, I think.  (No, I’m not a lousy husband … I knew exactly how she felt but I couldn’t let her know that.)
So, once stabilized, we began our walk to the Shrine … forgetting anything and everything we had planned to bring with us … including “the cane”.  At that point, it didn’t matter and we proceeded to the Shrine and entered.
We hadn’t yet attended Sunday Mass.  It seems to us that on our previous journeys, we reach a point that we are Blessed to walk into a Shrine as Mass is just beginning.  This was the first time on this pilgrimage that we walked into the Shrine of Our Lady of Pena de Francia and Mass began.  We were both thankful to Our Lady for that.
We entered a pew and the first thing we saw was the Statue of Our Lady of Pena de Francia situated high above the Altar.  She was beautiful and I instantly relaxed (a bit) as Mass began.
During the Readings and the Gospel, which I could not understand,  I meditated on the experience we had just encountered.  I recalled our first trip to La Salette, France which is situated high up in the Alps.  I suppose I felt some resemblance of terror at I drove climbing that mountain.  That drive, however, was like a “Super Highway” compared to the drive we had this day.  I recalled that when we had reached the top of LaSalette, there was a sign that read “Come to me children … do not be afraid”.  Since that time, I have said that they should have placed that sign at the bottom of the mountain up to LaSalette … at Pena da Francia, they should have a billboard with lights flashing the words. 
As Mass continued, I had been completely calmed … by the Mass, by my Prayers and meditations … and by seriously “putting my trust in Her”.  It was a wonderful feeling (still didn’t know how Susan was doing, though.)
After Mass, we took photos of the Shrine and we were Blessed to be able to walk up behind the Altar to venerate the real Statue of Our Lady of Pena de Francais.  We had the opportunity to actually touch the statue of Our Lady.  I can’t explain the feeling I had when I touched Her … it was almost “electrifying” … and I will leave it at that.  I wondered and later said to Susan … “Maybe I was Blessed to have received a “little sign” from Our Blessed Mother”.
As we were getting ready to depart, we met the Padre who had Celebrated Mass.  He came to us but it became apparent that we had that “language barrier”.  I could tell, though, that he clearly knew we weren’t from here and he was asked where we were from (thanks to all of our Hispanic friends … we at least can “comprehend” some Spanish!)  We told him that we were from North America … United States … Florida.  He looked utterly amazed.  I don’t think many people from the States travel to this wonderful, but hard-to-get-to Shrine.
We then left the Shrine to finish exploring the grounds.  There was a small Chapel to our Lady.  Once inside, we noticed that there was a very narrow and steep climb to get to the actual Cave of Our Lady where Simon finally found the statue in the 1400’s after searching at the behest of Our Blessed Mother for over 5 years.  We climbed down to the Grotto/Chapel (see photos), Prayed and climb back up to make room for other pilgrims who had arrived.
Although we had left virtually everything in the car when we first arrived and were traumatized, during Mass as I calmed, I did manage to remember and Pray for those of your Intentions that were specifically slated for The Shrine of Our Lady of Pena de Francais’.  Susan confessed that she “forgot” and she felt bad … her “intention” was there to Pray for all of your needs.
Well, now it was time to leave and I knew I was going to have to deal with a very delicate situation with Sue.  So I made the way slowly, walking toward the car.  I kept leading us closer to the edge of the cliff (without barriers) to try to get Sue to look down and overcome the fear that was still apparent on her fact … she wouldn’t bite.
We got in the car and I decided to take it very slow to begin the trip down the mountain.  I slowed down and stopped about 100 yards from the Shrine when I saw a very small Chapel and, believe it or not, a tour bus parked there.  I wondered how those people felt, in a bus, those last 3 miles of the trip up the mountain to the Shrine.  And how many cars had a problem (or ended up off the cliff) trying to allow the big bus to pass them. 
So we peered into the Chapel and as I watched Susan try to get up and down the steps, I knew she was “acting brave” but panicking again.  She was a trouper, I have to say.  She was trying so hard not to let on.
You know, going somewhere always seems a lot longer to get there than it is returning.  Right:  WRONG on this occasion for Susan.  I felt calm and fearless (thanks to Mass) and I was actually enjoying the view as we made our way down.  We never had to pass a car and I quickly entered a little “stop for a photo opp” area that I saw after traveling down only 3 miles so that Susan could catch her breath.  We got out of the car, took some photos and got back in to resume our descent.  Susan told me that she was “fine” but I knew better when, later that day at our hotel, I saw the photos she had taken (or tried to take) on our way up and down the mountain … about 20 of the photos did not show the scenery … they were of the dashboard of the car as she was crouched down trying not to look out.
It is fun as I write this to tell you that we have laughed about this experience ever since (well, ever since Susan came back to normal).
We had about a 2-1/2 hour drive to get to our hotel for the night.  On the way, we stopped at the only pull-of-the-road area I could find so that we could have our “pre-made” lunch ala Susan.  It just so happened that the parking area was directly in front of a cemetery … ugh!
As we were having lunch (the wonderful sandwiches that Susan had made the night before), I saw that Susan was looking around the car … on the floor … in the back seat.  I asked her what she was looking for and she said that she was trying to find her sunglasses.  (See Photos).  It wasn’t easy for me to tell her that SHE WAS WEARING HER SUNGLASSES!  We both roared with laughter and all of the day’s events ( what beautiful memories for both of us).
We arrived at our hotel around 6:00 P.M.  It was a beautiful 12-room Inn in the middle of no where that we were going to be visiting … a stop on our way to our next Shrine.  The hotel was located in a very small but quaint town.  We met one of the owners, Beatriz (Hi Beatriz!!!) … who spoke excellent English and appeared to be very happy we had arrived.  As the evening went on and we were able to spend time with her, we learned that we were the very first Americans to visit their hotel. 
The hotel and our room at __La Concordia in Monzon de Campos_ was filled with a lot of love and detail.  You could feel it present everywhere.  Beatriz, her Mom & Brother own the hotel and restaurant and have owned it for many, many years.  After her Dad passed away, Beatriz returned home to help with the family business and it is now the “three of them” that take care of this absolutely wonderful hotel/restaurant)  (Be sure to see the photos!). I had to give her this plug she was our Angel of the Day.
We worked on some of our Trip Reports in our room to try to play catch-up.  We got re-organized after a grueling (but wonderful) first week and, around 10:00 P.M. We went to the Lobby & Restaurant to send out a Trip Report to all of you and to check our e-mails. (in our slippers)   We enclosed another map of our first week.
After arriving at the restaurant, we were once again greeted by Beatriz and had a glass of wine.  We decided that we were, after all, hungry for something “small” to eat before retiring  (Our normal schedule at home is to be in bed by 10:00 P.M. if not sooner)
Susan & I shared the dinner since it was so late.  It was delicious.  Beatriz, after cooking it and we finished, sat with us for a while in between her duties and we showed her the photos we had taken at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pena de Francia.  She had not heard of this Shrine but we feel certain she will now explore it.
We laughed and joked with Beatriz and had a wonderful and relaxing time.  However, my bed (a King-
Size with wonderful duvet) was calling me again.
We bid farewell to Beatriz, promised to stay in touch (and to tell all of you about her absolutely wonderful accommodations for your next trip to Spain), and retired to our room.
We walked into our room and within all of about two minutes … it was “ night night” … we were both out like a light after an exhilarating day.
Tomorrow … on to Our Lady of Covadonga, Spain.

Mary Our Mother pray for us.

God Bless

Tom and Susan


  This is a story about pilgrimage - the journey of uncovering the divine. It's about the perseverance it takes to stay awake to the calling of our hearts. Staying awake is a central theme not only in this story but also in the gospels. What staying awake might mean and how we might accomplish it, is for each of us to find out in meditation and prayer.

In Salamanca, Spain
On September 4, 1401, in the city of Paris, capital of France, a child was born to pious and religious parents, Rolan and Barbara. He was christened Simon. They were quite well off; their property was more than sufficient to maintain a family of four. Early in youth, however, Simon despised wealth although his parents could well afford his wishes. When his parents and his only sister died, Simon inherited all their property. To avoid trouble which he thought might ensue from his possession of such wealth, he sold his patrimony and donated the proceeds to the church, the poor and the destitute, and to charitable institutions. He then applied for a position as chamber boy in a convent of Franciscan church in Paris.
Simon frequented the church and would spend hours in prayer before the altar of the Virgin Mary. Many times, in his deep meditation, he would ask the Holy Virgin to inspire him what he might do to please her. Once, while he was absorbed in the spiritual contemplation of the beauty of the Holy Mother, he lost consciousness. His prayer then found its answer for he heard a clear voice that tried to rouse him from slumber: “Simon, wake up; be on the watch…. From now on your name will be Simon Vela. Go to Peña de Francia west of this country, and there you will find the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For five (5) years Simon Vela traveled far and wide among caves, hills and mountains, in search of Peña de Francia but he could not find the place. He wanted to give up the search, and was in fact already on his way back to Paris, when one night he heard the same voice once more saying: “Simon, do not give up the search; do not give up what you have begun. Persevere and your labors will be recomposed.” This suddenly buoyed up his spirits and so he resumed his search the next day.
Simon went to the Church of Santiago de Galicia. And while he was passing the market place of Salamanca, he saw two men quarreling. One was seriously wounded and fell at Simon’s side. The offender was caught by the crowd who milled around them and he brazenly remarked: “Had I killed my enemy, I would have escaped to Peña de Francia where no one, not even the king, could find me.” Simon was overjoyed when he heard this for now he knew that such a place did actually exist.
Several hours afterwards he resumed his way to the church of San Martin. On his way he met a man selling charcoal. Simon asked the man where he came from, and the man said he came from a place called Peña de Francia. This was the second time that Simon heard the name of the place mentioned. He then begged the man to guide him to the place called Peña de Francia but for some reason the latter refused to do so.
Simon traced the road through which he thought the man has passed. He then reached a villa called San Martin de Castañar on May 14, 1434. He went to church and after the mass, he asked a man to kindly indicate where Peña de Francia was. The man took Simon Vela to a place some distance from the church and pointed to him a hill in the far distance saying that the hill was the Peña de Francia he was looking for. Simon was very grateful and thanked God for having found the man who showed him the place of his dream.
Simon then set out for the place indicated and, after a long weary journey, came to a steep rocky hill. By this time his supply of provision had already been depleted and he was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger. The climb over the hill had considerably weakened him but he lost no heart for he knew deep within him that God had not forsaken him to a fruitless and useless search. And indeed how right he was for on the road otherwise abandoned he found a packet containing a loaf of bread and piece of meat. This relieved him so much until night overtook him and he sought shelter in a cave. Inside he prayed for guidance and soon he was lost in deep slumber.
Early in the morning of the next day, Simon began the search for the shrine in every cave where he had slept the night before. He felt distressed and discouraged for his seemed as distant as it was when he started. He knelt and prayed for strange and courage. And soon he heard the same voice he had heard before sounding clearly through the cave: “Simon, be awake: do not sleep.” Simon continued the search with more zeal in the morning of the next day. At a distance on a rocky hill, he saw a glaring and dazzling light filling the place with its brilliance. Trembling with joy, he approached it and there he found the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus in her arms sittings on a golden throne. He Knelt before her and prayed with all the fervor of his soul. Overflowing with ineffable joy he said: “Oh, Lady, the dream of my soul, the inspiration of men and women! My labors are now ended. Many years have I traveled far and wide to seek you and to drink in the beauty of your eyes! Do not forsake me: be my protection.”
In sympathy for Simon, the Lady answered: “Simon, rejoice! Your constancy will be rewarded. Your dream will be realized. Your labors are now ended. Take heed and keep in your heart what I wish you to do. Dig in this spot and take what you can see and place it on the summit of this rocky hill. Build on this hill a beautiful dwelling. You are to begin it and others will come to finish it.. This must come to pass as it has been the wish of my child.” Then the Lady suddenly disappeared and Simon was left standing alone and rooted in the spot with wonder and awe.
On the morning of May, 1434, on the spot where the apparition of the Holy Virgin disappeared, Simon began the work of digging and excavating. He, however, heard the same voice again saying: “Simon, do not attempt to undertake that big task alone. Undertake it in the presence and with the help of two, three, or more persons.” Evidently this was to avert any doubt or suspicion from people as to a veracity of the miracle and the credibility of Simon. So Simon went to San Martin de Castañar, a nearby town from the spot, and asked five men to help him. They were Anton Fernandez, Pascual Perez, Benito Sanchez, Juan Hernandez and Antonio Sanchez, the parish scribe of the place.
These men thought that they were digging for hidden treasure but they were informed that they were going to dig for the objects worthier than world goods their hearts could cherish. They dug and dug, clearly following directions from divine inspiration, and, finally, on May 19, 1434, after removing a huge stone, they found imbedded among the rocks, the most coveted image of the Holy Virgin with the Child in her arms... the Black Madonna. Right then and there, all five men received special graces from the Lady. Simon Vela, who suffered a head wound during the excavations was instantly cured; Pascual Sanchez' defect in the eye disappeared; Juan Fernandez was relieved if stomach trouble that had been nagging him for ten years; Antonio Fernandez who had been deaf could hear; and Benito Sanchez' crippled finger was healed. The official document of these miracles and this discovery, duly signed by those present and a Notary Public, is preserved in the archives of San Martin de Castanar.
Three years after the discovery, the Dominican Order opened a Hermitage and Guest House for Pilgrims on this Holy Mountain of the Black Madonna. It stands to this day, though only one single monk remains, who runs it. The present Church dates from the 16th Century.

You can still visit the 'Gruta de la Virgen', the Grotto where the statue was found. It is inside of a Chapel called La Blanca. Some think of it as the Crypt of the Santuary.

Many Miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Pena De Francia and She is also coveted and worshiped in a Major shrine in the Phillipines