Week 3: Classes, Segovia, and the birthplace of St. Dominic!

Week 3 was filled with many new adventures here in Spain! Monday was the first day of classes at the university. I was excited to meet the other students who would be studying with me for the summer. Upon our arrival at the university, the summer program began with an opening ceremony, where the professors and program directors welcomed us and explained the upcoming events. Following the opening ceremony, I attended my first class. The professor is wonderful and the class has been quite interesting so far. This first week, we discussed the topic of mysticism itself, and then began learning about St. Teresa’s life. After class each day I have been working on my research in the library until the bus brings us back for lunch. Monday afternoon, my classmates and I went on a guided walking tour of the city. The tour guides took us to the Cathedral, the basilica, a local palace, and the church of Saint Teresa. Along the way, the tour guide also explained the history of the city and the significance of the stone walls. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how the city developed over time. Wednesday afternoon, a group of the girls and I went to the town pool, which is just up the street from my residence hall. The water was cool and refreshing in the dry summer heat. It was also a great opportunity to chat and get to know the other students. On Thursday morning, my professor took my class to see sights significant to St. Teresa’s life. At each location, we read excerpts from her writings that detain the significance of each place. I then spent the afternoon working on research. I spoke with Brother Carlos, one of the Dominicans here, and he let me use the Friars’ private library!! He and the librarian led me through the cloister to the library, where rows and rows of shelves are filled with old books, some dating back hundreds of years! The library will be an invaluable source of information for my independent study. Friday afternoon, my class and I spent the day in the nearby city of Segovia. Similar in size to Avila, Segovia is surrounded by old city walls and is rich in history. Upon our arrival, local tour guides led us through the old cobblestone streets. Our first stop was the Roman aqueduct. 100_3700 The grand arches were once used to bring water to the entire city. According to the old legend, a farm girl was so tired of going to fetch water that she agreed to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for an aqueduct. However, right before the devil put the last stone into place, the girl repented and the devil did not finish. She got to keep her soul and the city still got an aqueduct. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary where the last stone should be. The tour guide then took us through the old city, where she explained the history of Segovia. On our way to the cathedral, we passed the church where Queen Isabella was crowned queen! 100_3783 Once we arrived at the cathedral, the tour guide took us inside and explained the major highlights. 100_3713 I found it interesting that the cathedral in Avila was the first gothic cathedral in Spain, and the cathedral in Segovia was the last! A unique feature in this cathedral was the twin set of organs in the choir. During big feast days, the organists would play off each other, back and forth. After exploring the cathedral, my friends Madeline and Goli and I went to the castle. 100_3743100_3756100_3779 This massive palace was home to twenty-two different kings and queens throughout history. I felt just like a princess as we crossed the bridge to enter the front gate. Suites of armor, swards, and artillery filled the grand halls and beautiful artwork decorated the walls. We concluded our visit by climbing the tower to the top. The spectacular view overlooked the entire city. From the castle, we make our way to the cave of St. Dominic. This sight is now part of the university, but used to be a Dominican monastery. This was the spot where St. Teresa had a vision of St. Dominic. 100_3795 He gave his blessing as she set off to form her order! After fetching the key, we opened the gate leading to the courtyard and chapel. When we opened the door, it was like entering the Secret Garden; very peaceful and quiet. Behind the altar there is, what appears to be, the original cave walls! 100_3808 Before departing for home, my class and I stopped by the church where St. John of the Cross’ remains lay. 100_3688 We prayed together and admired the beautiful golden altar. Saturday, I left for another exciting adventure to the town of Caleruega, where St. Dominic was born! The trip took longer than I expected, but it was well worth the wait. Upon my arrival, the Dominican friars welcomed me to their house, fed me lunch, and got me settled in my room. In the afternoon, the friar who works in the library was kind enough to pull books from their private library that would be beneficial to my research. He then graciously gave me a tour of the town. He first showed me their convent and the three chapels. We then went into the basement where there is the Wine cellar of Blessed Juana, St. Dominic’s mother. In this spot, she prayed for more wine to give to the poor, and the Lord graciously answered her prayers. 100_3822 Father explained that part of the convent and the nun’s cloister was the house where St. Dominic grew up. 100_3842 The newer part of the friar’s house was built in the 20th century. He then brought me into the church next to the nuns’ monastery. One part of the church was built in the sixteenth century and the other was built in the thirteenth century and was part of the house. The newer part of the church contains Blessed Juana’s relics. The remains of the Venerable Felix (St. Dominic’s father) and the Venerable Antonio (St. Dominic’s brother) are found in the vestry. The crypt contains St. Dominic’s Well, which appeared in the place where St. Dominic was born. 100_3831 The friars were kind enough to give me a drink of water from this holy spot. The walls are decorated with mosaics depicting St. Dominic’s nine ways of prayer and the five members of his family. The librarian then took me into the nuns’ cloister, which contains a museum about St. Dominic. One of the rooms used to be a hospital where blessed Juana and her sons would tend to the sick and injured. One of the most interesting pieces, in my opinion, was a statue of the Annunciation. Mary is pregnant, but is also wearing a chastity belt, symbolizing her purity. 100_3845 I then climbed to tower, located in the courtyard. St. Dominic’s house was also used for defense, and the tower overlooked the entire town. The land extended for miles in every direction. The librarian let me study in the library until it was time for mass at the Church of Saint Sebastian, the place where St. Dominic was baptized. 100_3896 There is a plaque were the baptismal font used to be, but the Spanish king later moved the baptismal font to Madrid. After dinner and recreation time with the friars, I studied in the library until bed. In the morning, I spent my last few hours perusing the books in the library, praying with the friars, and enjoying a delicious breakfast. 100_4000 The friars brought me to mass at the 13th century church inside the monastery, where the nuns’ angelic singing filled the entire room, and then they kindly drove me to the bus station for my return trip back home. After an exhausting weekend of traveling, a friend and I concluded the evening with a delicious cone of gelato!


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