Philip Thicknesse.

A Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) online

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If there is a happy man upon this earth, I have seen that extraordinary
man, and here he dwells! - his features, his manners, all his looks and
actions, announce it; - yet he had not even a single _maravedi_ in his
pocket: - money is as useless to him, as to one of his black-birds.

Within a gun-shot of this _remnant_ of _Eden_, are the remains of an
ancient hermitage, called _St. Pedro_. While I was there, my hermit
followed me; but I too _coveted retirement_. I had just bought a fine
fowling-piece at _Barcelona_; and when he came, I was availing myself of
the hallowed spot, to make _my vow_ never to use it. In truth, dear Sir,
there are some sorts of pleasures too powerful for the body to bear, as
well as some sort of pain: and here I was wrecked upon the wheel of
felicity; and could only say, like the poor criminal who suffered at
_Dijon_, - O God! O God! at every _coup_.

I was sorry my host did not understand English, nor I Spanish enough,
to give him the sense of the lines written in poor _Shenstone_'s alcove.

"O you that bathe in courtlye bliss,
"Or toyle in fortune's giddy spheare;
"Do not too rashly deeme amisse
"Of him that hides contented here.

I forgot the other lines; but they conclude thus:

"For faults there beene in busye life
From which these peaceful glennes are free."


I know you will not like to leave _St. Catherine_'s harmonious cell so
soon; - nor should I, but that I intend to visit it again. I will
therefore conduct you to _St. Juan_, about four hundred paces distant
from it, on the east side of which, you look down a most horrid and
frightful precipice, - a precipice, so very tremendous, that I am
persuaded there are many people whose imagination would be so
intoxicated by looking at it, that they might be in danger of throwing
themselves over: I do not know whether you will understand my meaning by
saying so; but I have more than once been so bewildered with such
alarming _coup d'oeil_ on this mountain, that I began to doubt whether
my own powers were sufficient to protect me: - Horses, from sudden
fright, will often run into the fire; and man too, may be forced upon
his own destruction, to avoid those sensations of danger he has not been
accustomed to look upon. Perhaps I am talking non-sense; and you will
attribute what I say to lowness of spirits; on the contrary, I had those
feelings about me only during the time my eyes were employed upon such
frightful objects; for my spirits were enlivened by pure air, exercise,
and temperance: - nay, I remember to have been struck in the same manner,
when the grand explosion of the fireworks was played off, many years
ago, upon the conclusion of peace! The blast was so great, that it
appeared as if it were designed to take with it all earthly things; and
I felt almost forced by it, and summoned from my seat, and could hardly
refrain from jumping over a parapet wall which stood before me. The
building of this hermitage, however, is very secure; nothing can shake
or remove it, but that which must shake or remove the whole mountain. At
this cell, small as it is, King Philip the Third dined on the eleventh
of July 1599; - a circumstance, you may be sure, the inhabitant will
never forget, or omit to mention. It commands at noon-day a fine
prospect eastward, and is approached by a good stage of steps. Not far
from it, on the road side, is a little chapel called St. Michael, a
chapel as ancient as the monastery itself; and a little below is the
grotto, in which the image of the Virgin, now fixed in the high altar of
the church, was found. The entrance of this grotto is converted into a
chapel, where mass is said every day by one of the monks. All the
hermitages, even the smallest, have their little chapel, the ornaments
for saying mass, their water cistern, and most of them a little garden.
The building consists of one or two little chambers, a little refectory,
and a kitchen; but many of them have every convenience within and
without that a single man can wish or desire, except he should wish for
or desire _such things_ as he was obliged to renounce when he took
possession of it.

From hence, by a road more wonderful than safe or pleasing, you are led
on a ridge of mountains to the lofty cell of _St. Onofre_. It stands in
a cleft in one of the pine heads, six and thirty feet (I was going to
say) above the earth; its appearance is indeed astonishing, for it seems
in a manner hanging in the air; the access to it is by a ladder of sixty
steps, extremely difficult to ascend, and even then you have a wooden
bridge to cross, fixed from rock to rock, under which is an aperture of
so terrifying an appearance, that I still think a person, not over
timid, may find it very difficult to pass over, if he looks under,
without losing in some degree that firmness which is necessary to his
own preservation. The best and safest way is, to look forward at the
building or object you are going to. - Fighting, and even courage, is
mechanical; a man may be taught it as readily as any other science; and
I would _pit_ the little timid hermit of _St. Onofre_ to a march, on
the margin of the precipices on this mountain, against the bravest
general we have in America. The man that would not wince at the whistle
of a cannon-ball over his head, may find his blood retire, and his
senses bewildered, at a dreadful precipice under his feet. _St. Onofre_
possesses no more space than what is covered in by the tiling, nor any
prospect but to the South. The inhabitant of it says, he often sees the
islands of _Minorca_, _Mallorca_, and _Ivica_, and the kingdoms of
_Valencia_ and _Murcia_. The weather was extremely fine when I visited
it, but there was a distant haziness which prevented my seeing those
islands; indeed, my eyes were better employed and entertained in
examining objects more interesting, as well as more pleasing. Going from
this hermitage, you have a view of the vale of _St. Mary_, formerly
called la _Vallee Amere_, through which the river _Lobregate_ runs, and
which divides the bishoprick of Barcelona from that of _De Vic_.

Lest you should think I am rather too tremendously descriptive of this
_upland_ journey, hear what a French traveller says, who visited this
mountain about twenty years ago. After examining every thing curious at
the convent, he says, "_Il ne me restoit plus rien a voir que
l'hermitage qui est renomme, il est dans la partie la plus elevee de la
montagne, & partage en treize habitations, pour autant d'hermites. Le
plaisir de le voir devoit me dedommager de la peine qu'il me falloit
prendre pour y monter, en grimpant pendant plus de heux heures. J'aurois
pre me servir de ma mule, mais il m'auroit fallu prendre un chemin ou
j'aurois mis le double du tems. Je m'armai donc de courage, & entre dans
une enceinte par une porte que l'on m'ouvrit avec peine au dehors du
monastere, je commencai a monter par des degres qui sembloient
perpendiculaires, tant ils etoient roides; & je fus oblige de
m'agraffer a des barres qui y font placees expres: ensuite, je me
trainai par-dessous de grosses pierres, qui sont comme des voutes
ruinees, dont les ouvertures sont le seul passage qu'il y ait pour
quiconque a la temerite de s'engager dans ces defiles; apres avoir
grimpe, environ mille pas, je trouvai un petit terrein uni ou je me
laissai tomber tout etendu afin de reprendre ma respiration qui
commencoit a me manquer_." And yet this was only the Frenchman's first
stage on his way to the first and nearest hermitage; and who I find
clambered up the very road we did, rather than take the longer route on
mule-back; and, for aught I know, a route still more dangerous, for
there are many places where the precipice is perpendicular on both sides
of a ridge, and where the road is too narrow even to turn the mule; so
he that sets out, must proceed.

After ascending a ladder fixed in the same pine where _St. Onofre_ is
situated, at an hundred and fifty paces distant, is the fifth hermitage
of the penitent _Madalena_; it stands between two lofty pines, and on
some elevated rocks, and commands a beautiful view, towards noon-day, to
the East and West; and near to it, in a more elevated pine, stands its
chapel, from whence you look down (dreadful to behold) a rugged
precipice and steep hills, upon the convent at two miles distance where
are two roads, or rather passages, to this cell, both exceedingly
difficult; by one you mount up a ladder of at least an hundred steps;
the other is of stone steps, and pieces of timber to hold by; that the
hermit who dwells there says, the whistling of the wind in tempestuous
nights sounds like the roaring of baited bulls.


I must now lead you up to the highest part of the mountain; it is a long
way up, not less than three thousand five hundred paces from _St.
Madalena_, and over a very rugged and disagreeable road for the feet,
which leads, however, to the cell of _St. Geronimo_; from the two
turrets of which, an immense scene is opened, too much for the head of a
_low-lander_ to bear; for it not only takes in a view of a great part of
the mountain beneath, but of the kingdoms of _Arragon_, _Valencia_, the
Mediterranean Sea, and the islands; but as it were, one half of the
earth's orbit. The fatigue to clamber up to it is very great; but the
recompense is ample. This hermitage looks down upon a wood above a
league in circumference, in which formerly some hermits dwelt; but at
present it is stocked with cattle belonging to the convent, who have a
fountain of good water therein. Near this hermitage, in a place they
call _Poza_, the snow is preserved for the use of the _Religieux_. The
inhabitant either was not within, or would not be disturbed; so that
after feasting my eyes on all sides, my conductor led me on eastward to
the seventh hermitage, called _St. Antonio_, the father of the
Anchorites; it stands under one of the highest PINES, and the access to
it is so difficult and dangerous, that very few strangers visit it; - a
circumstance which whetted my curiosity; so, like the boy after a
bird's-nest, I _risqued it_, especially as I was pretty sure I should
_take the old bird sitting_. This hermit had formerly been in the
service; and though he had made great intercession to the Holy Virgin
and saints in heaven, as well as much interest with men on earth, he was
not, I think, quite happy in his exalted station; his turret is so
small, that it will not contain above two men; the view from it, to the
East and North, is very fine; but it looks down a most horrible and
dreadful precipice, above one hundred and eighty toises perpendicular,
and upon the river _Lobregate_. No man, but he whom custom has made
familiar to such a tremendous _eye-ball_, can behold this place but with
horror and amazement; and I was as glad to leave it, as I was pleased to
have seen it. At about a gun-shot distance from it rises the highest
pine-head of the mountain, called _Caval Hernot_, which is eighty toises
higher than any other _cone_, and three thousand three hundred paces
from the convent below. Keeping under the side of the same hill, and
along the base of the same pine-head, you are led to the hermitage of
_St. Salvador_, eight hundred paces from _St. Antonio_, which hermitage
has two chapels, one of which is hewn out of the heart of the PINE, and
consequently has a natural as well as a beautiful cupola; the access to
this cell is very difficult, for the crags project so much, that it is
necessary to clamber over them on all-four; the prospects are very fine
to the southward and eastward. The inhabitant was from home; but as
there was no fastening to his doors, I examined all his worldly goods,
and found that most of them were the work of his own ingenious hands. A
little distant from hence stands a wooden cross, at which the road
divides; one path leads to _St. Benito_, the other to the _Holy_
Trinity. By the archives of the convent, it appears, that in the year
1272, _Francis Bertrando_ died at the hermitage of _St. Salvador_, after
having spent forty-five years in it, admired for his sanctity and holy
life, and that he was succeeded therein by _François Durando Mayol_, who
dwelt in it twenty-seven years.

Descending from hence about six or seven hundred paces, you arrive at
the ninth hermitage, _St. Benito_; the situation is very pleasing, the
access easy, and the prospects divine. It was founded by an _Abbot_,
whose intentions were, that it should contain within a small distance,
four other cells, in memory of the five wounds made in the body of
Christ. This hermit has the privilege of making an annual entertainment
on a certain day, on which day all the other hermits meet there, and
receive the sacrament from the hands of the mountain vicar; and after
divine service, dine together. They meet also at this hermitage on the
day of each titular saint, to say mass, and commune with each other.


I cannot say a word to you on any other subject, till you have taken a
turn with me in the shrubberies and gardens of the glorious (so they
call it) hermitage of _St. Ana_. Coming from _St. Benito_, by a brook
which runs down the middle of the mountain, six hundred paces distant
from it, stands _St. Ana_, in a spacious situation, and much larger than
any other, and is nearly in the center of them all. The chapel here is
sufficiently large for the whole society to meet in, and accordingly
they do so on certain festivals and holidays, where they confess to
their mountain vicar, and receive the sacrament, This habitation is
nobly adorned with large trees; the ever-green oak, the cork, the
cypress, the spreading fig-tree, and a variety of others; yet it is
nevertheless dreadfully exposed to the fury of some particular winds;
and the buildings are sometimes greatly damaged, and the life of the
inhabitant endangered, by the boughs which are torn off and blown about
his dwelling. The foot-road from it to the monastery is only one
thousand three hundred paces, but it is very rugged and unsafe; the
mule-road is above four times as far: it was built in 1498, and is the
hermitage where all the pilgrims pay their ordinary devotion.

Eight hundred and fifty paces distant, on the road which leads to the
hermitage of _St. Salvador_, stands, in a solitary and deep wood, the
hermitage of the _Holy Trinity_. Every part of the building is neat, and
the simplicity of the whole prepares you to expect the same simplicity
of manners from the man who dwells within it: and a venerable man he is;
but he seemed more disposed to converse with his neighbours, _Messrs.
Nature_, than with us. His trees, he knows, never flatter or affront
him; and after welcoming us more by his humble looks than civil words,
he retired to his long and shady walk; a walk, a full gun-shot in
length, and nothing in nature certainly can be more beautiful; it forms
a close arbour, though composed of large trees, and terminates in a view
of a vast range of pines, which are so regularly placed side by side,
and which, by the reflection of the sun on their yellow and well
burnished sides, have the appearance of the pipes of an organ a mile in
circumference. The Spaniards say that the mountain is a block of coarse
jasper, and these _organ pipes_, it must be confessed, seem to confirm
it; for they are so well polished by the hand of time, that were it not
too great a work for man, one would be apt to believe they had been cut
by an artist.

Five hundred and sixty paces from the hermitage of the Holy Trinity,
stands _St. Cruz_; it is built under the foot of one of the smaller
pines; this is the nearest cell of any to the convent, and consequently
oftenest visited, being only six hundred and sixty steps from the bottom
of the mountain.


I am now come to _St. Dimas_, the last, and most important, if not the
most beautiful of all the hermits' habitations. This hermitage is
surrounded on all sides by steep and dreadful precipices, some of which
lead the eyes straight down, even to the river _Lobregate_; it can be
entered only on the east side by a draw-bridge, which, when lifted up,
renders any access to it almost impossible. This hermitage was formerly
a strong castle, and possessed by a _banditti_, who frequently plundered
and ravaged the country in the day-time, and secured themselves from
punishment, by retiring to this fast hold by night. As it stands, or
rather hangs over the buildings and convent below, they would frequently
lower baskets by cords, and demand provisions, wine, or whatever
necessaries or luxuries the convent afforded; and if their demands were
not instantly complied with, they tumbled down rocks of an immense size,
which frequently damaged the buildings, and killed the people beneath:
indeed, it was always in their power to destroy the whole building, and
suffer none to live there; but that would have been depriving themselves
of one safe means of subsistence: - at length the monks, by the
assistance of good glasses, and a constant attention to the motion of
their troublesome _boarders_, having observed that the greater part were
gone out upon the _marauding_ party, persuaded seven or eight stout
farmers to believe, that heaven would reward them if they could scale
the horrid precipices, and by surprise seize the castle, and secure the
few who remained in it; - and these brave men accordingly got into it
unobserved, killed one of the men, and secured the others for a public
example. The castle was then demolished, and a hermitage called _St.
Dimas_, or the Good Thief, built upon the spot. The views from it are
very extensive and noble to the south and eastward.

And now, Sir, having conducted you to make a short visit to each of
these wonderful, though little abodes, I must assure you, that a man
well versed in _author craft_ might write thirteen little volumes upon
subjects so very singular. But as no written account can give a perfect
idea of the particular beauties of any mountain, and more especially of
one so unlike all others, I shall quit nature, and conduct you to the
works of art, and treasures of value, which are within the walls of the
holy sanctuary below; only observing, what I omitted to mention, that
the great rains which have fallen since the creation of all things, down
the sides of this steep mount, have made round the whole base a
prodigious wide and deep trench, which has the appearance of a vast
river course drained of its water. In this deep trench lie an infinite
number of huge blocks of the mountain, which have from age to age caved
down from its side, and which renders the _tout au tour_ of the mountain
below full as extraordinary as the pointed pinnacles above: beside this,
there are many little recesses on the sides of the hill below, so
adorned by stately trees and natural fountains, that I know not which
part of the enchanted spot is most beautiful. I found in one of these
places a little garden, fenced in by the fallen rocks, a spring of so
clear and cool a water, and the whole so shaded by, oaks, so warmed by
the sun, and so superlatively romantic, that I was determined to find
out the owner of it, and have set about building a house or a hut to the
garden, and to have made it my abode; but, alas! upon enquiry, I found
the well was a holy one, and that the water, the purest and finest I
ever saw or tasted could only be used for holy purposes. And here let me
observe, that the generality of strangers who visit this mountain, come
prepared only to stay one day; - but it is not a day, nor a week, that
is sufficient to see half the smaller beauties which a mountain, so
great and wonderful of itself, affords on all sides, from the highest
pinacle above, to the foundation stones beneath.

But I should have told you, that there are other roads to some of the
hermitages above, which, by twisting and turning from side to side, are
every week clambered up by a blind mule, who, being loaded with thirteen
baskets containing the provision for the hermits, goes up without any
conductor, and taking the hermitages in their proper order, goes as near
as he can to each, and waits till the hermit has taken his portion; and
proceeds till he has discharged his load, and his trust, and then
returns to his stable below. I did not see this animal on the road, but
I saw some of his _offerings there_, and you may rely upon the truth of
what I tell you.

Before I quit the hermits, however, I must tell you, that the hardships
and fatigues which some of them voluntarily inflict upon themselves, are
almost incredible: they cannot, like the monks in _Russia_, sit in water
to their chins till they are froze up, but they undergo some penances
almost as severe.


_Pere Pascal_ having invited me to high mass, and to hear a Spanish
sermon preached by one of their best orators, we attended; and though I
did not understand the language sufficiently to know all I heard, I
understood enough to be entertained, if not edified. The decency of the
whole congregation too, was truly characteristic of their profession.
There sat just before us a number of lay-brothers, bare-headed, with
their eyes fixed the whole time upon the ground; and tho' they knew we
were strangers, and probably as singular in their eyes as they could be
in ours, I never perceived one of them, either at or after the service
was over, to look, or even glance an eye at us. The chapel, or church of
this convent, is a very noble building; and high over the great altar is
fixed the image of the Virgin, which was found eight hundred years ago
in a deep cave on the side of the mountain: they say the figure is the
work of St. Luke; if that be true, St. Luke was a better carver than a
painter, for this figure is the work of no contemptible artist; it is of
wood, and of a dark-brown it is of wood, and of a dark-brown or rather
black colour, about the size of a girl of twelve years of age; her
garments are very costly, and she had on a crown richly adorned with
_real_ jewels of great value; and I believe, except our Lady of
_Loretto_, the paraphernalia of her person is superior to all the saints
or crowned heads in Europe. She holds on her knees a little Jesus, of
the same complexion, and the work of the same artist. The high altar is
a most magnificent and costly structure, and there constantly burn
before it upwards of fourscore large silver lamps. The balustrades
before the altar were given by King Philip the Third, and cost seven
thousand crowns; and it cost fourteen thousand more to cut away the rock
to lay the foundation of this new church, the old one being so small,
and often so crowded by pilgrims and strangers, that many of the monks
lost their lives in it every year. The whole expence of building the new
one, exclusive of the inward ornaments, is computed at a million of
crowns; and the seats of the choir, six and thirty thousand livres. The
old church has nothing very remarkable in it but some good ancient
monuments, one of which is of _Bernard Villomarin_, Admiral of Naples; a
man (as the inscription says) illustrious in peace and war. There is
another of _Don John d'Arragon, Dux Lunæ_, who died in 1528; he was
nephew to King Ferdinand. But the most singular inscription in this old
church is one engraven on a pillar, under which _St. Ignatius_ spent a
whole night in prayer before he took the resolution of renouncing the
world, which was in the year 1522.

After mass was over, we were shewn into a chamber behind the high altar,
where a door opened to the recess, in which the Virgin is placed, and
where we were permitted, or rather required to kiss her hand. At the
same time, I perceived a great many pilgrims entering the apartments,
whose penitential faces plainly discovered the reverence and devotion
with which they approached her sacred presence. When we returned, we
were presented to the Prior; a lively, genteel man, of good address;
who, with _Pere Tendre_, the Frenchman, shewed us an infinite quantity
of jewels, vessels of gold and silver, garments, &c. which have been
presented by Kings, Queens, and Emperors, to the convent, for the
purpose of arraying this miraculous image. I begin to suspect that you
will think I am become half a Catholic; - indeed, I begin to think so
myself; and if ever I publicly renounce that faith which I now hold, it
shall be done in a pilgrimage to _Montserrat_; for I do not see why God,
who delights so much in variety, as all his mighty works testify; who
has not made two green leaves of the same tint, - may not, nay, ought
not to be worshipped by men of different nations, in variety of forms. I

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Online LibraryPhilip ThicknesseA Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) → online text (page 8 of 11)