After a 12 mile walk we got to Burgos relatively easily today, and so we had lunch and spent some time in the Burgos Cathedral, officially the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos. It is a beautiful, over the top structure inside and out. Begun in 1221, it reflects French Gothic style and patterns and has had major additions well into the 16th Century. What this means when you see it is that (at least in my mind) it is full of elaborate and excessive design and decoration. Plenty of gold, lots of figures (biblical and otherwise), and the feel of wealth poured out. One fellow pilgrim remarked to us that the interior of the cathedral communicated a “fear of empty space.” There is so little unadorned or unfilled space in this structure. She said she thought there was a word for this concept, and I seemed to remember it from art history class. So I looked it up—and you guessed it—horror vacui—Latin for “fear of empty space.” Gothic architects and artists didn’t invent this idea – you can see this approach in all sorts of art and design, from ancient to contemporary. As a person who values a bit more simplicity (a small candle on a central table, please…), I wonder what this says about the spirituality of the people who built these structures and worshipped in them over the centuries? I wonder if a church like this captures any of our current experience of God or if it is best kept as an art gallery?
Which takes me to my second and related thought. We are now on the verge of beginning to walk the meseta, the vast interior plateau in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, fully one-third of our Camino walk. We start tomorrow and walk this region for about 10 days. Because it is so empty, some people choose to skip the meseta and take a bus from Burgos to Leon. Others bicycle through it because it is so flat and one can do it quickly. I heard one young woman, the first day of her Camino, wonder whether she should avoid the meseta because it is so “boring.” As I think about these responses to the meseta, I wonder if this isn’t also a form of horror vacui? Is this not another type of fear of emptiness? How would you feel about many, many hours of walking flat and straight with very little on the horizon? How would you feel about traveling through land without many buildings, people, or cities?
It is said by some that “the first third of the Camino is for the body, the second third (the meseta) is for the mind, and the last third is for the spirit.” To walk the middle third it helps to be a person who is willing to do some interior work. To reflect. To contemplate. To be open. I really wonder how that will go for us.