A pilgrimage of peace
By James Z. Carpio
ON September 13, 2013, Friday, is the Traslacion that ushers in the Peñafrancia Festivities. A multitude of Bicolanos and devotees from all parts of the world will be converging in the Pilgrim City of Naga to take part in the celebration of the feast of our beloved Ina,NuestraSeñora de Peñafrancia.
The farthest point I originated from on a pilgrimage to this momentous occasion was Manila. That is approximately 377 kilometers. By bus, it’s seven to eight hours. By plane, it’s thirty five to forty minutes to the Naga Domestic Airport which is located in the capital town of Pili, Camarines Sur.
Last June, I went with my sister and her husband on a pilgrimage to Reichenau, Germany where the Holy Blood Relic of Our Lord Jesus and the Bones Relic of Saint Mark the Evangelist are located.
On the day of the pilgrimage, it took us roughly forty five minutes from the flat to reach Reichenau. From the parking area it is about a five kilometer walk to the church. My German host told me for it to be a genuine journey of faith one has to walk. The weather was good so walking to the holy building was like a walk in the park. Just the right temperature.
The monastic island of Reichenau which is situated in Lake of Constance, Germany is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The UNESCO website explains this treasure with this brief description: “The island of Reichenau on Lake Constance preserves the traces of the Benedictine monastery, founded in 724, which exercised remarkable spiritual, intellectual, and artistic influence. The churches of St Mary and Marcus, St Peter and St Paul, and St George, mainly built between the 9th and 11th centuries, provide a panorama of early medieval monastic architecture in central Europe. Their wall paintings bear witness to impressive artistic activity.”
We went to the church of St Mary and Marcus near the peak of the island. Reichenau is one of the three sites in Germany of the holy blood relics, believed to be the blood of Christ himself. Relics may seem to have a mystical air about them but they have played an important role in medieval history. The Reichenau relic was famous and revered in the past. It is historical i.e. factual.
It is the most ancient holy blood relic, recorded in history, without legends, rediscovery and claims. The name of the former owner, a Byzantine noble, is included on the reverse of the tiny golden cross supporting the relic itself. The inscription is in Greek. His name and his family records are verified. It has a distinct provenance. The blood was collected by Joseph of Arimathea.
The church is also significant for keeping the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist. When I entered the main doors of the edifice the relic of St. Mark was on my left placed inside a glass and metal casing at shoulder level. Behind the iron gate of the church in Gothic style, is a reddish Baroque altar where you see the cross on the top, visible above the gate. This is the altar of the holy blood relic.
The story in detail goes “The relic of Reichenau was presented by Schwanhilde, November 7th 925. Before she had the relic, it belonged to Emperor Charlemagne, this precious object was a gift to the emperor by Arab Hassan. The story of the relic was recorded by an anonymous monk in Reichenau. The relic contains soil said to be drenched with the blood of Christ, also a part of fabric with blood and a part of the cross. The relic parts are contained in a golden cross with Greek writing on reverse.”
The pilgrimage definitely is a source of energy for the soul. On the other hand there is also a medieval medicinal garden in the vicinity offering cure for the body’s illnesses. This was created by a ninth-century monk, the garden of Walahfrid Strabo, known as Walahfrid the Squinter. He wrote “Hortulus,” translated from the Latin as “Little Garden,” Walahfrid, renowned poet and Latin scholar, served as abbot between 842 and 849. An excerpt from his book; “sweet in smell, full of effective powers and healing to drink”; lily, which when “rubbed mashed on snake bite is healing,” and nepeta, which “closes wounds, restores hair loss.”
I was reminded by the medicinal plants that we have here in Bicol like the lakadbulan, yerba buena, and the guava leaves to name a few. The lakadbulan is a diuretic in hypertension and dissolves kidney stones. The yerba buena is for pain, cough, colds, nausea, and dizziness. And guava leaves for antiseptic. These plants are widely available in the region and relatively easy to acquire. I remember my late mother’s garden. She used to just harvest these vital cures and when neighbors would ask for some leaves she readily shared it with them. The world has a vast forest and many plants are still just waiting to be tapped for cures for common and serious ailments like cancer or tuberculosis.
In the final analysis, to have a wonderful life one must take care of the body as well as the spirit. A pilgrimage to holy places and visiting relics in any place in the world gives a feeling of peace and tranquility for the tired and weary soul. At Reichenau I felt my whole being invigorated.
I end with the special prayer my grandmother taught us. This prayer is short, simple but important to protect us in everyday life: “Jesus, cover us with your most precious blood. Amen.”