I returned to the Way to Santiago on 23 January 2008 to unearth the first, second and third stages. The paintings of the Virgin of the Pyrenees, Roncesvalles, Alto do Perdão, Santo Domingo de la Calçada, Viloria de Rioja, Saint Juan de Orteja, Saint Antan and Castrojerriz.
Four months had elapsed when we arrived in Saint Jean Pied-Port. Everything was covered in snow, the road that took us to Roncesvalles had been cleared, but when we looked on either side we could see snow a meter high. Even so, it was impossible to make it to the Virgin of the Pyrenees to dig up the paintings. The climb up is very steep and the very narrow road had been closed.
When we reached Roncesvalles we met our hospitable friends Orietta and Acácio. Right then it started to snow again and it grew intensely cold, but it gave me great pleasure to dig up the earth, the mixture of earth and snow, and it was so good to find the paintings!
I was a bit frustrated not to be able to remove the paintings of the Virgin of the Pyrenees… where my hand touches the sky. The different moments of interference in the canvases were subtle; I had laid one on top of the other, so those in the middle suffered less interference.
When we got to Alto del Perdón, there too the snow made it impossible for us to climb up.
I started to panic a little, thinking that I was not going to have any paintings for my exhibition in May.
We went back to the Templar Chapel that had impressed us so much the first time. The Virgin of Eunate is seated on the throne with the child Jesus in her lap. This time she held a sprig of wheat in her hand.
When we entered the chapel, there was a woman performing a strange dance, gyrating around herself like the Sufis do. With one hand pointing to the sky and the other to the earth … an alliance between the sky and the earth, the meeting of two energies, masculine and feminine, THE NEW ALLIANCE.
One day I lay down in a field of wheat in the French Pyrenees, feeling the earth underneath me and looking up at the sky. I had the feeling of perfect communion. When the energy of the sky descends to earth like Jesus, and the energy of the earth rises to the skies, the Great Mother.
On that day I felt that this place was open for me to do my work. I fetched a roll of canvas and said to Paula: “I’m going to do a large painting.” I measured the North portal, the entrance to the chapel. A woman appeared, with a soft, sweet expression on her face, and asked what I was doing. “I work with nature, the energy of the ‘Great Mother’. I’m starting a big painting.” She asked if I worked with earth and I said yes.
I began making the impression of the stones on the ground, as if they were stamps. Then I went over to the South portal. It was so windy there that I had to hold the canvas down with heavy stones. I discovered the vertical lines on the ground. I went to the East portal, where the altar stands, and then to the West portal. The columns and some stones traced the ground. I carried the big canvas to the land surrounding the chapel and painted with the earth. I placed stones and spread natural pigments and left it there for one night.
The next day we were going to fetch the canvas and leave for Madrid and Jerusalem. When we arrived, some cars were parked and we guessed there was going to be a Mass. We entered the church and saw some people holding lit candles. It was the feast of the day of the light that came to the world. We were very moved by this inspired Mass.
The lady who had been there the day before was called Mariam. She invited us to have some hot soup; she was a hostess in Saint Mary of Eunate. I called her over to see the result of my work. She is a painter too and uses earth for her textures. This meeting was very special.
27 January, SAN ANTON, CASTROJERÍZ , SAINT JUAN DE ORTEGA E VILLORIA DE RIOJA
On the 27th we went to San Anton to fetch a painting that I had left there. It was easy to find, but the same thing happened as with the Santo Domingo canvas.
Next we went to Castrojeriz. The wind was so strong it made one hallucinate. I had only ever experienced a wind like that twenty years ago in Ireland, when some ships sank and many people drowned.
The Castrojeriz paintings vanished without even a trace, just as in the two previous places. I was petrified, and thought: I’m not going to have any paintings for the exhibit on the 13th of March!
On the 30th of January we went to Saint Juan de Orteja. Now the road that was closed earlier was cleared and we could get through. But there the same thing had happened. This time, however, there were traces, but the Road had taken the pictures. And these paintings were precisely the ones that I put in the publicity leaflet, and they no longer exist.
In January it was really difficult to recover the paintings at Alto do Perdão and Virgem do Caminho. I would pick them up in March.
The next day I decided to go to Viloria de Rioja and do some work for a night in the – now totally destroyed – house where Saint Dominic was born. I also took the canvas that I had wrapped around the tree in Santo Domingo de La Calzada. And I also worked on two other smaller paintings, one in tones of blue and the other in green. For the first time I worked on the Road with fire. I left these pictures there for one night.
SANTO DOMINGO DE LA CALÇADA
We stayed several nights in Santo Domingo. On the first night it continued to snow so heavily that the next day Orietta and Acácio were marooned in their village.
We went down to where I had left the long canvas with the story of the Saint in the dry river-bed. We tried to find it, but gave up because the snow kept falling.
Then we decided to make a picture with the snow that would fall during the night, so I rolled another canvas around a tree and we stretched the stick to mark the creases, just like we do in a woodcut. This was deep integration between work, snow, cold and nature.
The strong energy of that moment made Paula and me feel nothing else besides the effort made by working for three hours in the cold, with the snow falling on top of us.
The next day I returned with Acácio to try to retrieve the canvas in the river. It had stopped snowing, and with him it was easy to find the picture.
The canvas had a different material from the others that I had used up till then, and although I had worked with several materials, this had never happened before. The whole part of the canvas that I had painted peeled off like bark, leaving only the cloth, and leaving me deeply disappointed.
To make up for that, the other paintings that I had left out for the snow to work on, plus the one I had wrapped around the tree, turned out magnificent.
We went to Viloria de Rioja, where Acácio and Orietta have a hostel, and where I had also left five paintings. Despite the snow, it was an easy place to dig them up.
I feel that my pictures seek energy from the earth, just as we feel when we do cundaline exercises and feel the earth’s energy rising through our feet and hands and passing through our body. The energy of the Great Mother.