Written by Sr. Sylvia Jopillo, r.a.
Some 500+ kilometers from Madrid tucked on the upper apron of the mountains rimming the Lago de Sanabria in the province of Zamora is the Monasterio de San Martin de Castañeda.
This 12th-century monastery continues to stand among the hills and fields of the tiny town of Ribadelago. It is still known as the Monasterio de Santa Maria, although it currently houses its patron saint's parish church, San Martin de Castañeda.
The church benefited from the cultural reconstruction efforts supported by the government. Constructed by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century, on the outside, the present church exterior was recently renovated but maintained its imposing belfry and giant bells.
As in the olden times, one enters the monastery through an ancient gate. With the long-gone Cistercian monks, the monastery maintains its Romanic architecture, with its dark and cool interiors and retablos or side altars flanked by massive stone pillars.
The domes with their designs and the solid stone baptismal font dominating the side altar lead the eyes to the main retablo, with the antique wooden polychrome statue of San Martin de Castañeda mounted on a horse.
The church layout is in the form of the cross, with its side altars forming arches. The church became the center of the town's farming and fishing activities.
What is striking is the play of light and shadows in the church interiors—the rays pouring from its high windows into the dark interior trigger a sense of transcendence in me. How light and shadows can inhabit the same space, and how clear the boundary where they melt into each other like a liminal space hit me.
This sense of living with contrast showed during a catastrophe in Ribadelago in 1959 when the Vega de Tera dam's retaining wall collapsed. The rushing waters left little time for the Ribadelago's inhabitants to escape.
Reports showed that 144 (out of 532 inhabitants) went missing, and help came late due to the distance and poor road network connecting Ribadelago from the provincial center. The tragedy mobilized a nationwide effort to help the victims' families and the town.
At the site where most of the victims lived stands a mother and child statue to honor those lost to the flood. The surrounding mountains still bear marks by the cascading torrents of water from its summit and into the settlement.
I can sense the spiritual force of the beauty of Ribadelago with its lake and ancient church. Its scarred mountainsides and tranquil Rio de Tera. And yet, I can also imagine how the earth shakes with the rumble of the flood waters that swept everything away.
Over time, the tiny town continues its simple life as the clearness of each summer day and the cold of winter unfold as part of life's seasons.
The shepherds and the cow herders pass through the same trails and narrow roads, the farmers and fishermen harvest chestnuts and trout, and the tourists come with their thirst for rest, beauty, and silence. Everyone goes home with a full heart.
Written by Sr. Sylvia Jopillo, r.a.
After a leisurely four-hour drive from Madrid, the noise suddenly ceases, and an 8-km winding narrow road opens from the Sanabria town in the province of Zamora into the mountains. Snaking through a secondary forest of white birches, willow, ash, and yews, along with scrubs carpeted with ferns and moss, glimpses of the serene lake peek through the trees' branches. How quiet everything is!
The Lago de Sanabria is a glacial lake fed by the river Tera. Forming part of a vast 22,365 hectares of natural park with its mountain ranges and forest, the lake appears like a tortoise jewel in the heart of the park.
It covers 3.48 square kilometers spanning 3.3 km long and 1.47 km wide. Its deepest part is at 51 meters which is suitable for boating and fishing.
The water is incredibly clear in summer, with gentle breezes occasionally rippling through its surface.
The tranquility of the lake is soothing, and I leave behind the noise and summer heat of Madrid! The lake view is a visual feast that compensates for the long drive from the city.
The small town ambiance with its slate-roofed houses and cows browsing on the scrubs completes the quiet that pulls me to contemplate the holy hocks blooming on a doorway and the flowering chestnut trees carpeting the grounds with their dry blooms.
Driving along the lake's perimeter into the Ribadelago town provides another refreshing stop. There is a beach to bathe in and enjoy the warm lake water!
Families come and spend vacations staying in rented quaint rural houses a walking distance from the beach. One can pitch a day tent and enjoy bathing and sunning.
Ribadelago is so tiny but with a combination of wonderful amenities. An accessible sand beach, precious lake views, a jetty for those who wish to swim in deep water, and boating facilities. Even with family vacationers enjoying the beach, the place strikes me as quiet and uncrowded.
It has a few café bars, a simple hostal, and a restaurant with an ample Terraza! I love my lunch of Caldo Gallego, a soup with grelos (a vegetable eaten only stewed), pork bits and chorizos, and a whole grilled trout with a side of lettuce and tomatoes!
Lunch is complete with the local Tinto chilled to perfection and ice cream cake for dessert.
What is impressive is the enormous servings of everything!
Families on vacation frequent the Terrazas and café bars for breakfast and lunch and order bocadillos de jamón for their beach outing. Relaxing 2 to 3 days on the lake is ideal, but my day trip pays me a considerable dividend.
The tranquility of the lake reflecting the blue sky on a clear day makes me feel an inner joy that time stands still, and I can see forever, so I'm coming back for a more extended stay.
Where is Lago de Sanarias?