Thunderstorms were forecast for today, so it was a good day not to be off wandering about in the Galician mountains. We thought we would go to church instead, so set off at about 8.30 am to find an open church. We had forgotten that we were in Spain. At the time decreed from the foundation of the universe as the optimum hour for consulting the Almighty, that is, 10 am on a Sunday morning, all the churches in this city were locked up. At the cathedral an old bloke was sweeping up the yard with a broom and a pan with a long handle but he was the only sign of life. It was time to go and ask the locals when the churches might be open. None of them knew but one asked a tourist who had a guide book, which informed us that mass was said hourly in one of Astorga´s many churches, and that there was a roster of where you might find the live action on any given hour. The roster was in the porches of all the churches, but of course the porches were behind the locked doors which were behind the locked gates. The book informed us however that it was the Cathedral´s turn at 12.00 pm and the little church beside the cathedral had services at 11.30 and 12.30, so we chose 11.30.The Bishop's Palace at Astorga: setting the standard for episcopal housing - an example all dioceses should follow.
Apart from the obvious linguistic differences and the presence of statues everywhere you looked, it was just like a service in St. Francis Hillcrest C.1988. I kept looking for Graham and Alison and Brian amongst the music group. They even had a genuine antique overhead projector with transparencies for the choruses. There were lots of children, who read lessons and lead prayers. After the service we poked our noses into the next door Cathedral, which is very much a working church rather than a tourist magnet like it´s more glorious sibling down the road at Leon.
Astorga cathedral has a whacking great choir smack in the middle of the nave which leaves two smallish spaces for worship, one at either end, each big enough for a couple of hundred congegants. Around the walls are a dozen or so side altars, so it seems this was not so much a place for great festive occasions but a place for the saying of votive masses. Two masses in a day is enough for any Protestant, so after lighting candles for Margaret Sykes and for our children we ventured out into the just waking town.
Well, partially waking. They still take Sunday seriously here and the only shops open are cafes, bars and souvenir shops. The town itself looks and feels like Assisi though without the Disneyish quaintness and perfection. It is about the same size as Assisi and follows much the same city plan because its antecedents are similar; it too is a Roman city built an a long thin ridge for defensive reasons. A long main street winds from one end of the town to the other passing through various plazas and with narrow side streets running off in unpredictable patterns. It is, as we found, quite possible to familiarise yourself with all of the old part of the city in an hour or two. We dodged the rain, found a place to buy bread but nowhere to buy anything to put on the bread. We are back in our ancient albergue to while away a quiet afternoon and will hit the road, in our raincoats, according to the forecast, early tomorrow morning.