The Via de la Plata Revisited

It’s two years ago this week that I set out from Seville to walk the Via de la Plata, one of the many pilgrimage routes that cross Spain to Santiago de Compostela. And while I’ve spoken of many shows and events where I’ve displayed the prints that were the direct result of that trip, I just realized I’ve never sat down and written the what and why of them all. So here goes.

It might go without saying, but even though a pilgrimage is in some ways very linear (after all, it starts in one place and ends in another) the process of imagining a way to depict it in prints is not linear at all. In fact, it took over a year after I returned from the Via de la Plata to figure out how I wanted to make these prints. So in these several posts about my Via de la Plata prints, I might repeat myself, go in circles, get lost, or go sightseeing – perhaps like doing the pilgrimage itself after all.

A hot dry dirt road outside of Zafra.

First of all, it was hot. Very hot. There was a heat wave. I want to say I remember news broadcasts where they gave the temperature as 42 degrees Celsius, but since that would make it around 107 degrees Fahrenheit, perhaps my memory is faulty. But then again, it really did feel that hot.

So one of the ideas I wanted to convey in my prints was the heat, and the experience of walking long miles with a (too heavy) pack in the shadeless countryside in the heat. Yellow was my go-to color in a lot of the prints, along with other primary colors.

(A note and an apology about the color in some of the print images; I’ve gotten to the stage where my prints are too large to put in my scanner, so most of these were taken with my much-abused digital point-and-shoot camera. I’ve tried to photoshop the colors to where they should be, but the images are still a little off.)

First 4 churches
La cuestiĆ³n palpitante, a monoprint and ink transfer drawing of the first 4 churches on the VDP

The other way I experienced the heat was somewhat hallucinogenic. I had trained, and I drank a LOT of water, and of course I wore a hat and sunblock, but still… being out in the heat can addle your brain a bit. I definitely could relate to desert saints and mystics who saw visions and imagined signs. When I began working on these prints, I looked for a medieval image of the sun or some sort of mandala image that I could use to represent heat and light and vision, and bonus points if I could find one from Spain.

San Isidro diagram
A diagram explaining the workings of the universe from a 13th century copy of San Isidro’s Etymologiae. More info here:

I was very pleased to find that San Isidro had done just that. In his Etymologiae he presented a diagram that served my purposes very well.

Isidro circle walkers
Como mechas ardientes, a monoprint with linoleum block figures and circle

And San Isidro (Saint Isidore of Seville, in English) was a major feature of this pilgrimage. After San Isidro died, his body was carried from Seville to Leon, and as it happens the route was pretty much the same as the modern Via de la Plata. So all along the way I encountered not only shrines and chapels dedicated to San Isidro, but the timing of my walk corresponded to a wave of local ferias and processions honoring the saint.

Modern chapel of San Isidro
The modern ermita of San Isidro, looking like it’s about to take off into outer space

San Isidro procession
San Isidro procession in Villafranco los Barros

Here is a print combining San Isidro’s wheel, his procession, the hot sun, the distant mountains, and with a background of a map.

San Isidro procession
Parece mentira, monoprint with linoleum block and chine colle

Coming up in future posts: strong women, famous artists, and rough stones.

Author: Melissa

3 thoughts on “The Via de la Plata Revisited

  1. I love your prints and you have captured the image and the feeling of the heat. I remember it well!

  2. Hi Christine! and thanks! Have you walked some more of the VDP this year? I need to get back and finish one of these days.
    I just heard from Jacques, who has now done the Camino Portugues.

  3. Hi Melissa
    I ‘ve just returned from Santiago,walking the last 350km with a friend. I found it as difficult as ever but this time my feet held up well. I am impressed with anyone who does the VDP in one go,such as Jacques,it’s the most difficult of all the caminos. In Santiago we had to stand in line for 1hour to recieve our compostellas, it was horrible after the peace of the VDP. I’m thinking of the Portugues next year as Jacques said how enjoyable it was.
    Best wishes

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