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Spanish Secrets: Seek And Ye Shall Find - A Spanish Secret

Craig Briggs goes in search of the Holy Grail and the Arch of the Covenant.

Throughout the ages, brave young men have dedicated their lives in pursuit of a noble quest. Leaving behind family and friends, they’ve embarked on a single-minded search to discover a lost relic, a mysterious object, lost to mankind through the passage of time and the ravages of conquest. Legend has it that this sacred artefact can unite peoples and gives its possessor limitless powers.

In recent years, companies and individuals have made vast fortunes from stories concerning these searches. A young Harrison Ford carved his Hollywood success in a film. Dan Brown’s subliminal mix of history, literature, art, imagination and theatre made him a household name world-wide, and a multi-millionaire.

The objects to which I refer are the Holy Grail and The Arch of the Covenant.

As a welcome distraction from converting our ruined farmhouse into a rural holiday retreat, I decided to embark on a quest of my own.

Unlike those noble knights of ancient times, before riding-off into the sunset I decided to do some research. If only they had possessed a Pentium III and the all-knowing Google, they too could have had a good night’s sleep.

I was pleased to find that both the Holy Grail and the Arch of the Covenant were paraded through the streets of Ponferrada. This world-shattering event takes place on the first Saturday which follows a full moon in July. Fortunately for me, the event was on the forthcoming Saturday, and Ponferrada is only an hours’ drive away. What a stroke of luck!

That weekend I prepared myself for the task in hand. Tyre pressures good - fuel tank full - cash in wallet.

I decided to leave my trusty sword and shield at home. My only defence would be quick wits and razor-sharp intellect. However, I had heard that looking directly at the Arch instantly rendered the viewer blind. I don’t really go in for that kind of superstitious mumbo-jumbo but, just in case, I decided to pack my sunglasses.

Our arrival in the town coincided with the opening of a medieval market. Ancient craftsmen clad in traditional dress plied their trades. A stone mason chiselled away at a lump of rock, his touch and feel as delicate as any between mother and child. Falconers displayed their birds of prey. Wise owls swivelled their heads to amuse the gathering masses while eagle-eyed hawks stared on.

A skilled carpenter chipped a rough-cut log into a smoothly-rounded tankard. Jewellers pieced together polished stones to produce sparkling pieces of jewellery. A craftsman worked a tanned hide, scratching and scraping, scoring and rolling before embossing his work with a quality of art that most tattooists can only dream of.

Ancient street entertainers circled the square, amusing the swelling crowds. An illusionist taunted his audience with a knotted rope, leaving adults and children alike wide mouthed in awe at his dexterous deceptions.

A medieval-style Celtic gaita (bagpipe) band marched around the square, accompanied by a mischievous 12-feet-tall witch. She danced on stilts like a cat on hot-bricks. Assembled in another dark corner were the macabre tools of the Spanish inquisitors – an appointment best missed.

All provided us with a fantastic spectacle of medieval festivities, sights, sounds and now smells. Drifting through the heaving masses floated the aromatic flavours of a barbecue banquet.

With time running out on my quest to locate the Holy Grail, the first clue flashed in front of me. A Knights Templar, cloaked in white and emblazoned with bright-red crosses caught my eye – then another and yet more. Could following these servants of the Pope lead me to my goal? We mingled into the crowd and gave pursuit.

With the clock reaching midnight an orderly company of knights, 200 strong, marched slowly towards the castle. Each carried a flaming torch to illuminate the way. Their charge was the safe keeping of the Grail and the Arch. With none of the farthest crowd appearing to go blind, I chanced not wearing my sunglasses and waited for the procession to near.

First to appear was the Arch of the Covenant - a large chest, looking similar to a wooden blanket box, adorned with two golden figures knelt in prayer. Two rows of Knights carried the icon head-high for all to see. This was closely followed by the Holy Grail – a carved stone chalice, showing signs of its age. The dignified procession climbed the walkway to the castle gates. Heavenly lights, looking very much like fireworks, guided their course.

With their sacred charge complete, the location of these two ancient relics once again became a closely guarded Spanish secret – at least for another twelve months.

And for all you disbelievers just take a peek at my photo gallery in Open Writing.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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