A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 13 January 2008

A Bath At Last

It was just 8 more kilometres to the village of Saint-Antoine, where I spent the night in the gîte d'étape. I was the only occupant. At this time of year there were few pilgrims compared with the summer months. But I preferred it that way. The pilgrims you did meet were normally very unusual and interesting people - not your average holiday pilgrims, as it were.

Alison Raju explains the origin of the name of this village in her guidebook The Way Of St James: Le Puy To The Pyrenees: The village takes its name from the religious order of the Antonins, who set up a hospital (the present chateau) for people suffering from ergotism (a disease also known as 'St Anthony's fire'), which was very prevalent in the Middle Ages. It was contracted by consuming cereal products (such as rye bread) contaminated by the ergot fungus, and resulted in a gangrenous condition of hands and feet. There was a similar such hospital further along the pilgrim road to Santiago in Spain, shortly before Castrojeriz.

I was now in the département of the Gers (the photo is a typical view).The next day an easy 23km walk - through rolling harvested fields of corn and sunflowers - brought me to the very old town of Lectoure. Here a Christian couple, Patrick and Veronique, took me in for the night at little cost. (There's a network of Catholic families and religious bodies extending welcome to pilgrims throughout the whole of the Chemin and the Camino.) They gave me the run of their beautifully appointed bathroom. I made full use of it! They had an enormous bath as well as the usual shower. It was the first bath I'd had for ages. Luxury! I slept well on a big double mattress in their attic bedroom. The next morning they invited me to share breakfast with them: fresh orange juice, coffee and croissants, bread, butter, home-made fig and apricot jam, fruit and yogurt...

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