MY CAMINO – More of the Meseta

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[My apologies for being absent so long.  I’m eager to finish the posts about the Camino journey, but after being away for six weeks life caught up with me.  I’m back to blog about the second half of my walk across the north of Spain.  When we left off, I had just finished a very long walk on a changeable weather day that was also Easter Sunday.]

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After a Sunday much like the first Easter weekend itself (a dark gloomy morning that cleared and finished with magnificent sunlight), the wonderful weather continued as the optimism of new birth invigorated the soul .  I left Fromista in the dark and enjoyed one of my favorite sunrises.  As I’m bound to do, after 3 kilometers I took the road less traveled as I followed a small “river”  (Rio Ucieza) west rather than follow the main road to Carrion de los Condes – the site of my first planned “nero”.  The path was uncharacteristically overgrown and the morning dew got my feet wet for the first time on the trip.  I loved the solitude though.  I ran into a local Spaniard and his dog collecting snails for his next Sunday paella.  Before long a veered away from the river and the more rural path into a small town and then on a hard dirt path along the main road.  I reached carrion before noon.  if you hike the Appalachian Trail a “zero” day is a rest day ( a day of no hiking – zero miles) and a “nero” is almost a zero day.  I had planned to read, write, rest and resupply in Carrion.  I was the first to check into the Santa Maria albergue – part of the Santa Maria church complex.  The hostel is run by the nuns who sing folk songs with the pilgrims each evening.

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As I enjoyed the sunshine and relaxed in the church courtyard I ran into and greeted a remarkable number of fellow pilgrims I had seen previously along the way. I joined in a communal meal preparation and sat down with 15 pilgrims from all over the world, including Jacob from Poland (who I’d spend the evening with in Finisterre 2 weeks later).  The evening was spent in the bottom bunk in a room with 10 bunks, which was occupied by 20 year-old college students from Japan, a 65 year-old from Austria, George from Arizona, “Lynn” – a 55 year-old from British Columbia, a 30 year-old German woman with a very bad leg injury, and a young Korean woman (“Lee”) between jobs slept in the bunk above.

I rested up for two more long days in the meseta and then on to the great cathedral town of Leon.

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Celebrate National Running Day 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 4, is National Running Day.

National Running Day is held annually on the first Wednesday in June, and is a day when runners everywhere declare their passion for running. This tradition was started in 2009 to give tribute to our sport and to unite those of us that love to run. For various reasons, many can’t, so I give tribute tomorrow to those that can’t but want to.   My run tomorrow will be dedicated to you.

I run because

 

For more information on National Running Day visit: http://www.runningday.org/

If you are looking for some things to do to celebrate National Running day, the top five (5) things I plan to do to celebrate National Running Day are:

  1. Sign up for a race.
  2. Tell my running partners how much I appreciate their company.
  3. Get a massage – reward my legs and give thanks that I am able to run.
  4. Buy a pair of shoes and donate a pair of shoes to a charity.
  5. Eat junk food and not feel guilty about it! I earn it.

What are your top 5 things?

Whatever you do, do it with passion. Whether you are slow or fast, don’t forget to thank God for giving you the gift to run.

 

– Coach Dan

Coach Dan Blankenship

Coach Dan Blankenship

 

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MY CAMINO – the Meseta II

MY CAMINO - THY CAMINO:  The Camino de Santiago and The Walk Before Us

MY CAMINO – THY CAMINO: The Camino de Santiago and The Walk Before Us

After a good rest at my favorite albergue, as usual I woke early and as usual planned get an early start on the day’s walk and my second day in the meseta.  So as to not disturb those sleeping I carried my gear downstairs and packed to leave.  A pair of Frenchmen joined me as they too were heading out early.  We “knew” each other from other short “visits” on the Camino, but we shared little due to our language barrier.

We had rain on the very first day leaving St. Jean and climbing over the Pyrenees.  Since then, the weather has been nearly perfect, but this morning it was cold and gray and raining lightly. The Frenchmen headed out before me as I grabbed a cup of coffee and croissant. I was out as usual before sunrise on a very cloudy rainy morning, it was dark.  And, with a path that led through trees outside of town, finding the way marks was difficult.  I actually stopped before exiting town trying to use the light from a lamp to see the next yellow arrow. I used this pause to put on my rain jacket, pull out my headlamp and put the rain cover on my pack.  It looked like the day would be challenging.

The trail was an earthen path that widened into a narrow, two-tract lane – about the width of a car.  The official “way” was removed from but paralleled the main road between Hontanas and Castrojeriz. The path didn’t appear to actually be a country road – maybe a rarely-used trail for some farm equipment.  Because of the previous night’s rain there was considerable puddling and in the very limited early morning light I had to watch my steps if I wanted to keep my feet dry.

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The day brightened a little.  I turned off my headlamp.  I had covered about 5 kilometers in just over an hour when I turned left and came out on the paved road.  Considering the remoteness of these towns and the early morning hour, I was surprised (and just a bit concerned) when I saw a car stop at the intersection of the road and the Camino path – and seemingly wait for me as I approached.  As I got closer the passenger got.  Glimpsing up, I was relieved  – very surprised (because I was certain that only the “Frenchmen” and me had started out early), but relieved – to be greeted by George (from Arizona), with whom I had shared the paella dinner the night before.

George directed his flashlight beam at my shoes as he said, “somebody took my boots this morning.”  I guess somewhat defensively I said, “well, these are mine – I’m sure.”  He quickly agreed that the Vasque Mindbenders that I was wearing were not the boots he was looking for.  I explained about how the Frenchmen and I were the only other ones out early and that they were probably 20 or 30 minutes ahead of me because I waited to have a cup of coffee before leaving.

My walk continued on the road through San Anton and into Castrojerz, an interesting town with castle watching over its medieval streets.  After a cafe con leche and a brief rest, I made the gradual (but significant) climb in a light rain up to Alto de Mostelares.  I enjoyed a brief break at the summit in a shelter with Frida and Jen (from the albergue the prior night).  We then had a very steep downhill to a relatively flat and mildly rolling path for the rest of the day.  I passed Frida, then she caught back up in the town of Itero de La Vega where we searched for lunch spot, but most things closed – Easter Sunday.  Finally, we had to double back to the albergue at entrance to town – where we lunched on bocadilla of ham and cheese and ran into Jen (again), Carmen (from the day before), and David (from the albergue the night before).

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The day started to clear.  Rain gear came off and skies brighten.  Most of my fellow pilgrims were stopping in Boadilla del Camino (our albergue in Hontanas had recommended another new albergue there), which would make for a 28 km day. I decided, however, to push on another 6 kilometers to Fromista (making its a 21-mile day) as part of my plan to shorten my time in the meseta.  Sun begins to peak through as I walk through Boadilla. The trail then followed a canal that cut through the agricultural landscape, so the terrain were perfectly flat, so I made good time heading towards and into Fromista.  Low on euros, job one was finding an ATM, which I did right away.  Unsucesssful at the Santander cash machine, I ran into the Frenchmen, who had left the albergue just before me that morning.  Fortunately an ATM across the street had an adequate supply of euros and I restocked.

I secured a room at the San Martin hotel and headed for an outdoor table to put my feet up and relax.  While enjoying my afternoon cervesa, Ciaran from Ireland (another pilgrim about my same age) joined me in the café.  Two days before his son was to start the Camino, Ciaran decided to go as well (how’s that for planning!).  Now his son was  a few days ahead of him, but they’d meet up in Santiago.  (I was see Ciaran several  times in the days to come – and, we would finish in Santiago at the same time and see each other at the Pilgrim Mass.)

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Showered.  Walked around town.  Stopped in church long enough to focus on the day (it was Easter Sunday), give thanks and offer prayer.  Back at the hotel I ordered some wine and pasta and worked on photographs, journal and blog.  I called Cheryl and enjoyed a good night’s sleep in a private room – my second one after 13 days on the Camino.  My second day in the meseta was not the monotony I had anticipated.  The landscape had included traversing a high ridge and the scenes were more varied than the first day, including an interesting medieval town, a canal cutting through the agricultural plains, and the more modern town of Fromista.

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MY CAMINO – the Meseta

MY CAMINO - THY CAMINO:  The Camino de Santiago and The Walk Before Us

MY CAMINO – THY CAMINO: The Camino de Santiago and The Walk Before Us

Upon leaving the great cathedral city of Burgos, the pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago enters a region known as the “meseta.” I had read about it in Camino guidebooks, and I had heard about the meseta – both from people who completed the Way and from Spanish pilgrims familiar with this part of their country. For many this region is thought to be the most challenging on the Camino – not because of any physical challenge relating to the severity of the terrain (such as climbing through the Pyrenees), but as a result of the mental challenge relating to the monotony of the topography.

“Meseta” is simply the Spanish word for “plateau.” Meseta refers to the high, plains of central Spain.  While the meseta occupies a large portion of central and northern Spain, my walk on the Camino was in the northern part, just below the Cantabrian Mountains, just west of the Pyrenees and extending across most of the northern edge of Spain to Galicia in the far northwest.  One well-written website about Spain describes the meseta as follows:

Largely treeless and windblown, the Meseta is blistering hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. During the growing season, the northern Meseta shimmers golden with cereal crops and then retreats to a dusty dryness, while in the southern half vineyards, rows of olive trees and the saffron-producing crocus carpet the otherwise barren plateau. Flocks of sheep roam large stretches of the Meseta, moving south along ancient rights of way (“las cañadas”) in the fall and returning north in the late spring.

This region is largely known as “Castile” politically or “Castilla Y Leon,” which is the largest autonomous political subdivision in Spain. It plays a critical if not dominant part in the history of the Iberian Peninsula and the evolution of what is now the country of Spain.  The region is home of the Castilian language, which we know today as “Spanish.” The northern part of the meseta historically is dominated by landmarks, villages, monuments, and other remnants of both Roman history (as gold was discovered in the mountains just to the north, which was mined and transported for the empire) and the Reconquita (as Christians retook the land for the Moors/Muslims).  El Cid – one of Spain’s national heroes – and Don Quioxte – the protagonist from one of Spain’s most influential works of fiction – are from the meseta region.

 

I was prepared for boring, flat and open vistas.  When thought of from a negative perspective, this landscape lacked definition or interesting landforms.  With endless fields of wheat, the colors were dominated by basic, vibrant hues (blue sky, white clouds and green fields) with little variation or nuance.  From a positive perspective, the meseta recalls American landscapes like Montana and its “big sky” with brilliant cloud formations against a spectacular blue background and grounded by a verdant, green base.  Yet, the “warnings” I had received to prepare for long, flat, straight pathways near roads, led me to develop a plan to reduce my time in these area.  While I was averaging 20 to 30 kilometers a day, I determined that if I could add 10 km a day, I could turn 5 days in the meseta into four days.  Physically I figured that the flatter terrain would also make it easier to press for longer daily walks.

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I started my assault on the meseta by leaving Burgos before sunrise.  As I approached and then walked right next to and past the cathedral on my way west out of town, I watched the moon as to hung between the cathedral’s tall, Gothic spires.  I had hoped to be hiking by 6:00 a.m., but the albergue was locked down (and we were locked in) until 6:30 a.m.  After passing by the cathedral in the limited morning light, I started looking for yellow arrows to show me the way out of the city on the Camino.  Just a head of me I saw a woman (“Carmen”) glancing around, like me, for some indication as to which streets and what turns to take to leave the town and enter the meseta.

I caught up to Carmen (who is from the southeast of Spain) and we worked together to find “the way.”  A few minutes later we ran into “Lynn” from British Columbia and the three of us headed out into the broad landscape as the sun was rising.  (Little did I know then, on Day 12 of my journey, that despite separating and reacquainting various times, the three of us would walk the final 20k together into Santiago 17 days later. But – that is the way of the Camino.)

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The first 11 k of the meseta lived up to its reputation.  We met “Ricky” from Japan on his first day the Camino – he started that morning in Burgos, which reminds that not everyone starts in St. Jean.  Many Spaniards start in Pamplona or Burgos or Leon.  In Puenta La Reina (on my fourth night) I had dinner with Frank from Austria who had actually started his walk – his Camino – in Austria.  A few nights later I would bunk with friends from Holland that started in Holland and walked the entire way over three years – this year they were finishing the last third and planning to arrive in Santiago about the time I planned to do so.  (I would see Ricky many more times over the next 17 days and – amazingly – would see him too in Santiago.  Again, that is the way of the Camino.)

The hiking was comparatively easy.  Good conversation (see previous post) provided considerable interest, where the landscape offered little.  As predicted, Day 1 in the meseta was a long haul, made challenging mostly because of the sameness of the steps.  Carmen enjoyed our conversation, at least in part, because she said she could practice her English with a Canadian and an American.  Our destination was a small town named “Hontanas.”  As I began to tire I was slightly distressed because I knew we had gone over 30 kilometers, but I could not yet see the village.  We only “found” the town when we were right upon it because it sits low, almost below – protected from – the plain.

Late in the day we neared the tiny hamlet of San Bol.  We were tempted to stop, take off our packs, rest and drop our hot, dusty feet in the fountain there to test the pilgrim legend that such a soaking in this special fountain cures the weary traveller of all foot pain.  Yet, when we saw that it involved a detour – even though it was just a half of a kilometer – we marched on because our destination was less than 4k ahead.  Tired and ready to stop, we eased ourselves down into the town that had been all but hidden from us.  Carmen headed for the municipal albergue and I went to the private one across the street.  We met later for a celebratory cervesa (beer).

Carmen and cervesa on the one street town of Hontanas

Carmen and cervesa on the one street town of Hontanas

My albergue that night would prove to be the nicest pilgrim hostel of the trip.  It was relatively new, so everything was clean and worked well.  The shower was roomy with a changing area plenty of hot water and no timer shutting off the flow every three minutes.  This hostel featured a beautiful courtyard with large picnic table where I met Frida from Germany, Jen from Australia, and David from Denver.  That evening I joined Jen and Frida around a large dining room table to enjoy a large “family-style” paella with other new friends from Arizona, Holland, France, and Florida.

Paella

 

 

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“Marriage Isn’t for Me” (Covenant Love II)

No one has shown me better how to be in the world while not being of the world more than my wife Cheryl. My tribute to her is throughout the book itself. For her remarkable patience, quiet example, and unwavering love, I am eternally grateful.  (excerpt from the “Acknowledgements” in The Race Before Us)

[I will get back to the Camino, but today is my wedding anniversary.]

Recently, I offered a post – “Faith, Sex and Covenant Love” – that challenged readers to consider the biblical model for marriage by pointing them to a message by Tim Keller about “Covenant Love.”  That post also mentioned a number of “coincidences” that had suggested the topic to me.  (And, I know some will not believe this, but the evening after I made that post I received an email with a blog post from someone who had not read my post.  In her post was this quotation from C.S. Lewis:

“if you believe in God, there is no such thing as a coincidence.”

As I said in that earlier post:  “I am increasingly skeptical about coincidences.”  So, what’s the point?

A couple of days after the “Faith, Sex and Covenant Love” post – another coincidence – I ran across a news story about a blog post that told a story about a father’s advice and an exhibition of covenant love.  There’s little else I can say other than to urge you to read – “Marriage Isn’t for You” below.  (I think this is what Tim Keller meant when he spoke about covenant love.)

Marriage Isn’t For You

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.

Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be justfriends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself,you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you.Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

Marriage is about family.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

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Special thanks to Seth Adam Smith for these words of wisdom.  Even when we don’t necessarily realize it, God has written His rules on our hearts.  Our job is to recognize these truths and not suppress their full expression.

And, Cheryl – our marriage is for us, I pray that I show you it’s not about me.  Happy Anniversary.

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THY CAMINO: Pilgrims, Pilgrimages, and Indulgences

If you walk the Camino de Santiago, you will be referred to as a “pilgrim” or, in Spanish, a “peregrino.” You need to pick up a “Pilgrim Passport” in St. Jean (or from one of the many confraternity associations around the world), which document provides access to the various “albergues” (“pilgrim hostels”) set up along the way to Santiago. In most towns and villages along the Camino various bars, cafes, and restaurants offer a “pilgrim meal” at dinnertime, which consists of a starter, entrée, dessert, bread, water & wine for a modest price (usually 9 or 10 euros). And, when you finish the Camino in the city of Santiago, the evidence that you have completed the trip and are entitled to receive a “Compostela” is your pilgrim passport, which has been stamped at 30 to 50 (or more sites) you stayed at or visited on the Way. The point here is that the idea of being a pilgrim or being on a pilgrimage is at the very core of attempting to walk the Camino de Santiago.

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Historically and generally speaking, a “pilgrim” is thought to be someone on a religious or spiritual journey – typically an actual, physical journey. Most undertake some spiritual journey in their lifetime (examining the “big questions” of life, like – why am I here?), which can be thought of as a pilgrimage, but it is more common traditionally to think of pilgrimage as a physical movement involving a spiritual motivation. Think of the “American Pilgrims” – a religious group seeking to preserve their interpretation of proper worship, who travelled to Holland and then to “Plymouth Rock.” Thomas Merton said: “The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of the inner journey. The inner journey is the interpretation of the meaning and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.”

In a very real sense, God sent Abraham on a pilgrimage. Christians and Jews have undertaken pilgrimages to the “Holy Land” (Jerusalem) for thousands of years. Other religious orders emphasize pilgrimage – one of the five major tenets of Islam is that Muslims are to journey to Mecca (the “Hajj”) at least once in their lifetime.

Originally (in medieval times), the individuals on “the Way” were out for much more than a physical challenge or a walk of spiritual discovery. One resource says, “A major motivation [for medieval pilgrims] was orandi causa – in order to pray, to seek forgiveness, to fulfill a vow, or to petition St. James for a certain blessing, such as healing.” Another source says, “in any case, the gaining of the plenary indulgence became a dominant motivation for the pilgrimage.”

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To understand the historical Camino then we probably need to understand what is meant by “gaining a plenary indulgence.” What is an “indulgence” (or a “plenary indulgence”) and why would someone want (or need) an indulgence? I grew up in a Congregational Church in Connecticut. For the last 28 years I’ve attended a Lutheran Church. Neither of those denominations to my knowledge discussed or provided indulgences. The historian in me recalls that one of Martin Luther’s major criticisms of the “church” included the idea and the practices relating to indulgences. In my next “Thy Camino” post, therefore, I will explore this idea of indulgences and how it fits into a life of faith and what it means for the modern-day “peregrino” on the Camino de Santiago.

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MY CAMINO – Burgos (Day 11)

As I have indicated before, walking or hiking (you certainly do both) the Camino de Santiago is a far cry from the Appalachian Trail or other more wilderness adventures.  The nature of the path on which you travel and the environment through which you travel are both quite varied.  After 10 days of hiking I had climbed over the Pyrenees on paved roads, rocky slopes and snow-covered trails.  I had followed a mountain stream through wooded terrain on a soft earthen path, walked through small towns and villages on quiet streets, climbed the Alto de Perdon on a hard, gravel surface, and walked through the streets of Pamplona where the bulls famously run each July.  So entering the city of Burgos on Day 11 by way of a long, earthen path following a river that turned into a park and eventually a city sidewalk was much like a microcosm of the first 10 days.

One blogger aptly summarized the walking and hiking as follows:

Modern-day pilgrims on the Camino Francés pass through Basque country and right by the site of a battle in the French epic The Song of Roland. They walk through Pamplona (right up the street where the bulls run every July), Burgos and León (both of which have stunning cathedrals laden with images of St. James), and Ponferadda (which boasts a castle built by the Knights Templar). They also cross over mountains and a vast plain known as the meseta, pass by cornfields, sunflower fields, vineyards, and even a free wine fountain, ramble past groves of olive, fig, almond, walnut, and chestnut trees, and trudge through the mud on rainy Galicia’s frequently flooded roads and hills.

 

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Both for modern as well as medieval pilgrims, the “magnet” drawing walkers into the city is clearly its famous cathedral.  After traveling through a a variety of villages with simple, 12th century Romanesque churches, the architecture displayed by the cathedral reminds the pilgrim of the march of architecture as well as the refinements to the Gothic style, which replaced the Romanesque.  The Catedral de Burgos, in fact, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Architecture historians remark how Our Lady of Burgos is a living exhibition that summarizes the evolution of Gothic architecture.  The more obvious elements of the cathedral (the spires) exhibit a “high” or later Gothic with significant ornamentation.

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Prior to the Gothic style, architects had to use much thicker walls to support the structure.  Such building methods permitted only modest windows.  The genius of Gothic architecture was the ability to build taller structure, but with simpler walls – this allowed for the large and long windows – which permitted much more light into the churches – emphasized by the use of stained glass.

 

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

 

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