Robert Ward

Chapter 1
The Virgin at the End of the World: Finisterre

The Virgin at the End of the World: FinisterreAnd then, in a rear chapel, I came upon an image different from any I had seen on the Camino. It was the Virgin Mary walking upon a storm-tossed ocean with the infant Jesus in the crook of her arm. The gaudy silver crown on her head identified her as the Queen of Heaven, but she had the curly auburn locks and straight, narrow nose of a Galician beauty. As she gazed towards heaven with eyes full of glory, a pair of sodden mariners in oil-skins hauled themselves from the deep by the hem of her gown.

This was the Mary of the local sailors and fishermen. It was not a particularly attractive statue, nor a famous or even a venerable one. In a snide mood, one might call it kitsch; but three weeks in Lourdes and five more on the Camino had worn some of the snide off me and I could see a beauty based not on the judgment of the eye, but of the heart.

As I admired the statue, it occurred to me what a faithful, though silent, companion Mary had been over the past three months. I had hardly noticed her, but she had always been near: in Lourdes as a creature of light and air, presiding over the thousand small miracles that took place there each day; on the Camino as a queen of the earth, enthroned in every church with her child in her lap. Now here she was again, at the end of the world, strolling over the waters of death. Truly, she was Our Lady of the Four Elements, at home on the sea, on the earth, in the heavens. And though I had seen her wear many faces, many names, she was always herself, Mary the Mother of Jesus. Perhaps this was why I had taken her for granted; it was easy to feel that one knew her, when really one knew nothing at all.

I stood in the church, as the shadows of seagulls criss-crossed the floor and waves broke on the shore beyond, humbled by the depth of the love that had crafted this simple statue and placed it here. And it occurred to me that if I were the kind of person who believed in signs, I would take this as a sign that I should write something about the Virgin Mary.

Unfortunately, I am not the kind of person who believes in signs...

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