San Salvador's Hospitality Stands Out
In the small, picturesque mountain town of Rabanal del Camino is the Benedictine monastery of San Salvador. Rabanal is home to a number of high-quality albergues, but even in their midst the guest house of the monastery stands out as unique – and not just because of its two-night-stay requirement!
Fathers Javier, Piers, and Clementi are the three monks who lead daily services, morning and evening, in the lovingly restored chapel in the center of town, and each of them is warm and welcoming to those who are passing by and those staying in the town. Fr. Javier, the prior of the monastery, is the only native Spaniard among them; Fr. Clementi is Korean – perhaps the only resident on the Camino able to speak to the multitude of South Korean pilgrims in their own language – and Father Piers is a venerable, white-haired German whose strong accent belies the decades he spent in Africa doing mission work.
Because of their emphasis on the importance of rest and hospitality, the Benedictines require their guests to stay for two nights, so a lot of pilgrims choose other options; those who are willing to slow down and take a day of rest, however, will find rich reward for their patience. The guesthouse is one of the cleanest albergues I have ever encountered (Fr. Clementi does a thorough job every morning as part of his discipline), and yet it has a charming personality that is often lacking in the larger, sterile dormitories.
Bees and hummingbird hawk-moths buzz around a huge lavender bush in the small courtyard, which is also home to a number of herbs used in the monks’ common meals. For those who love to read, a cozy library is open to all guests, and for those who desire it there is a meditation room where they can sit, kneel, or lie before an icon of Jesus.
For lunch, Fr. Javier makes food fit for a fancy restaurant and waits on the tables in the monastery refectory. After eating in silence (accompanied, in true Benedictine style, by classical music), guests can join the monks for lively – and often humorous – conversation in the monastery courtyard or sitting room. Breakfast and dinner are prepared by a volunteer hospitalero for guests and the monks, and at all meals pilgrims will get a chance to enjoy Fr. Piers’ homegrown vegetables or his homemade jams.
If you plan to walk to Santiago from Astorga or Léon (or farther back), I cannot recommend Rabanal del Camino highly enough. It is a beautiful town, and the monastery is one of the gems of the Camino. If you have plenty of time, why not take a day of rest in this charming place?
Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. He and his wife Stephie's dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. They currently live in Greensboro, NC. hunter@CaminoProvisions.com