Monday, July 10, 2006


First, the mystery of the name. How do you really say it? "Javier" is pronounced Hahv-yayrh. It is the "Spanish" way of writing and saying "Xavier," which is pronounced "Zhahv-yehr"(with the "Zh" representing that sort of buzzy "sh" sound you find in French, as in Jean Valjean). The Basque language abounds in X's and K's, but the X's are rather soft.
On our way from Zaragosa to Javier (from Aragon to Navarre), our driver pointed to some cyclists on a path to our left. That path was the Camino de Santiago, and the cyclists were bike pilgrims. They were our first glimpse of Cammino pilgrims. We would see many in the next several days.
Finally, signs started to indicate that "Javier" really was getting close! Karen was still fiddling with her camera, over which we had all been praying. I said a short, intense prayer to Blessed James Alberione, reminding him of his promise to look after those who dedicate themselves to evangelizing with the media, and then I suggested that Karen take the lens off and then replace it. Praise the Lord! The error message went away! And Barbara had the nerve to insist that it was HER prayers to the Blessed Mother that had obtained the critical grace. (Oh yeah? Then why was it MY suggestion, after praying to Bl. James, that worked the miracle?) It would be an ongoing question. But this was the first chapter in the life of Karen's "magic camera." We wondered if we going to experience another Manresa, getting to the Xavier castle just as it was closing, so as soon as we pulled into the parking area (a good distance from the castle itself), we started striding down the road.
The Xavier castle (as you can see) really is a castle-castle: turrets, battlements, drawbridge, slits in the wall (even in the chapel!) for shooting arrows at your oncoming enemies... And this is where the future missionary grew up. The former stables, running in a semi-circle around the lower level, have been transformed into a museum. Everything is pretty bare, actually, although one room was furnished as it would have been in the early 1500s, and the family chapel is as it was then, with a large Christ Crucified whose expression is so serene, it is called the "Smiling Christ," and the frescoed walls covered in dancing skeletons. (Who could fear death, having learned to pray in such a setting?) The chapel is narrow and small--maybe eight people could stand in it comfortably--with a rounded apse area. Rather incongruously, the exterior door near the chapel leads to an outside "patio of arms" where soldiers and horses would have been mustered for battle. An earlier building that would have been known to St. Francis was torn down in the late 1800s to build a small basilica. I have to hope that the building was irreparable; it seems a pitifully stupid thing to tear down part of a saint's house in order to build a church--especially, as it turned out, when that church takes attention away from the parish church built by the saint's own parents on their property, which is still the parish church of Javier.
We didn't even know about that other, older church, where St. Francis had been baptized, but as we were taking some final pictures of the castle, Barbara was approached by a friendly man who spoke English. He turned out to be Father Antonio Falces, SJ, the parish priest of Javier, a native of the town and graduate of the vocational school built (by the same person who commissioned the basilica) behind the castle. He had been in India for 38 years. (That certainly explained the English!) Father Falces explained that the parish church had been built by the Xaviers on (and with) the ruins of an earlier church. The rectory and courtyard were also built by the Xaviers. Even though the 1901 basilica gets all the attention (even from Jesuits, who tend not to notice the teensy church with the pagan or early Gothic graveyard with its strange round stones poking out of the ground--one of them even carved with a pentagram!). The courtyard featured interesting cobblestones which we would see throughout the rest of the trip. We went into the church (it had been ruined and rebuilt yet another time since Francis' childhood) to see the statue of Mary that Francis would have venerated as a child, and also the very ancient baptismal font where he became a Christian. It had been covered with silver bas reliefs, but all the precious metal was stripped away by Napoleon's army (the same team that demolished the monastery at Montserrat). Above the baptistry was a loft where the local community of sisters were beginning Evening Prayer, so we continued our visit as silently as possible, but for the click of shutter buttons, and then slipped away.
We were going from one castle to another. Our next destination was the town of Olite. We would be spending the night in the castle of the Kings of Navarre.


Anonymous said...


Karen said...

You are all so very wrong. There was a committee meeting, chaired b the saint who got us to Spain in the first place!