We enter the Church of Santa María in O Cebreiro and, even though it is a sunny Sunday and there are some more people strolling around us with their cameras, we can to some extent conceive what the pilgrims arriving here in winter must have felt, weakened by their climb up the mountain and by undergoing perils and travails that it is hard for us to imagine nowadays. It is in this small church, a womb of holy, Romanesque stone, that I can best see the religiosity of the Way.
The only disturbing feature here is the insincerity of a Gregorian chant, background music that perverts this place. It is legitimate for tourists to use a church to satisfy their curiosity instead of praying, so long as they do not prevent others from praying; but it is a lamentable mistake for the clergy, no less, to turn this sacred place into stage machinery complete with sound track, a static videoclip, even if with a music born for worship. Is it not?
In a side chapel the grail of O Cebreiro is on display; it is at the centre of the shield of Galicia, and is one of various grails in Europe. The grail is the sacred receptacle of the Celts and the wineglass used at the Last Supper, in the Christian version of the myth. The grail is the unattainable purity that should always be striven for. The grail is that which does not exist and should be sought. The grail is what is most ancient and should preside over the horizon.
A parishioner prays on her knees to this modest chalice. Behind her a man videos the chalice and the woman praying. Behind him I contemplate the two of them, and want the whole scene to have a meaning that embraces them both, and even involves me.
The chalice is modest yet it irradiates its imposing presence. Small, crude and lovely. It comes from a remote time, charged with the mystery of origins and of legend. Many years ago a priest was saying mass one snow-laden Sunday, and the only member of the congregation was an old man who had come from a great distance, defying the fearful winter. As the priest consecrated the chalice and the wine, he was thinking how absurd and simple was that man who was making him say mass for him alone; and at that moment the wine became Christ’s blood. A lesson in faith.