Northern Spain is truly beautiful and so different from the plains of central Spain. It is lush and green. And HILLY! Wow. I had no idea how rugged it is in the north, even though we had visited Santander last fall with the Benitos, and yes, Santander is hilly (at least you travel through a very mountainous region to get there), but I wasn't aware of how extensive the mountain ranges are. They extend west from the Pyrennes all the way to Santiago de Compostela. As moisture comes in off the Atlantic, it hits the mountains and just dumps water, like all the time. It looks like the islands of Hawaii, except about 20 degrees cooler. They have winters and there is snow on the peaks year-round but down near the coast in the cities it's quite pleasant. Especially in the summers when Madrid is sweltering. Wealthy Madrileños all have a home somewhere up north to escape to in summertime.
Oviedo is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias in northern Spain. The Kingdom of Asturias began in 720, with a Visigothic Aristocrat Pelagius`s revolt against the Muslims occupying most of Spain at the time. The Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 took control of most of the peninsula until the revolt in the northern mountains by Pelagius.
The LDS Church has a thriving branch there that is filled to capacity every Sunday. They moved a couple of weeks after our visit into a new facility.
|On train leaving Madrid. High-speed trains are MUCH more comfortable than airplanes. Leg room!|
|From the train going through the Picos de Europa mountain range south of Oviedo. The deciduous trees were still dormant. It must be spectacular in late spring, early summer. But always green and usually misty. Shangrila.|
|Downtown Oviedo early Friday evening in a light drizzle. Awarded as the cleanest city in Spain.|
|The town park, where they change the date in the grass daily.|
|A small plaza on the way to the cathedral. Lots of statuary. A terrific and well-hidden art museum in a little street off this square.|
|Oviedo Museo de Bellas-work of Dionisio Baixeras-"Felicidad"-1886. I love this painting; the photo doesn't do it justice. Kids, for our 50th wedding anniversary I want this painting.|
It wasn't open while we were there. My biggest regret was not being able to go inside. The reason for wanting to? In the Cámara Santa (Holy Chamber or Crypt) it houses what is reputed to be one of the most incredibly interesting relics of ancient Christianity:
The Sudarium. Google it. It's worth it. The arca santa (pic below) houses the ancient relics, including "the cloth". Unfortunately, the Sudarium itself is locked inside and cannot be viewed, for reasons that are self-explanatory when you find out what it is, but still it would have been fascinating, just to see "the arca santa".
|Arca Santa de Oviedo. I wasn't able to see this; it was inside the cathedral.|
|Plaza Mayor, town hall in background, with Viv and Sister Hunt, on our way to the cathedral.|
Saturday morning we left to visit Covadonga, on the way passing through Congas de Onis (the following 4 pictures), a picturesque town in the foothills of the Picos de Europa mountains of northern Spain. The river Sella flows out of the snows and springs of the mountains, beautiful, clear, clean water, but very cold.
|From the old medieval bridge of the river. The water is deceptively deep because it's so clear.|
|The trees along the river park are trimmed and grafted together to form an interesting canopy in the summer.|
|Atop the ancient bridge with the Picos de Europa mountains to the south behind us.|
|I climbed down to the river, mainly just to give Vivienne fits as she yelled at me from the bridge. I wanted to see if the water was really cold. It was|
is a mountain village and takes its name from the Sacred Cave of Covadonga. In 722 AD, Iberian Christians won a namesake battle over the Muslims here.
The Holy Cave of Covadonga
Here was the first Christian victory in Spain over the Arabs and Berbers invading from north Africa under the Umayyad banner, and is often considered to be the start of the 770-year effort to expel Muslim rulers governing Iberia during the Reconquista. The Christians had fled to this cave and from there successfully repelled the Muslim attacks, killing their leader and many of the soldiers. It represents the turning point in Muslim conquest of Europe. From there, over the next 770 years the Christians slowly drove the Muslims from the continent, Isabella and Ferdinand finally expelling them in 1492, the same year they financed the sailing of Columbus to the new world.
Therefore, Covadonga is sort of "holy ground" to the Spanish. Muslim chronicles about the Battle of Covadonga say that in this cave fled the Spanish leader, Pelagius and his forces, feeding on honey the bees left in the crevices of the rock. Christian chronicles claim that a miraculous intervention of the Virgin Mary occurred, in essence, that she appeared to Pelagius in the cave and promised him victory. In any event he was successful, a shrine has been built in the cave, from which flows a beautiful mountain spring, and here Pelagius, first king of Asturias, and his wife are buried. He died in 737. Pope John Paul II visited here and anointed it a holy shrine, the site of a divine miracle.
|Vivienne at entrance to the cave. No pictures allowed inside.|
|I surreptitiously took this photo of the sacred shrine. The little arched wall to the right is the tomb of Pelagius|
We drove out of the mountains and down to the seaside village of Lastres for lunch. It's a quaint fishing village that gets its fair share of tourists. There was a little restaurant with a great view, and fresh fish!
|A delicious 3-course meal. The 1st course salads (not shown) were fantastic. De-boning the fish for the 2nd course took some work.|
|After lunch we drove to the sea shore. It was raining so I was the only one the braved the elements for this awesome shot. To me there was something primordial about it, the smell, the sound, the view.|
|Us with Elder Quesne (pronounced Kane) from England.|
|Lunch at the Hunts apartment after Church with all the missionaries in Oviedo. President Jackson at the far end. There were 10 investigators at church. Diligent and happy missionaries.|