Words by Manni, Photos by Mimi
In my quest to understand the roots of Andalusian culture, I needed someone to take photographs of my finds. Who shares my love of Andalusian life and love of getting up ridiculously early to go on adventures to the back of beyond? Mimi of course!
Being a guide I have been studying Andalusia for years and my investigations often lead me back to the civilization of Al Andaluz, the Moorish kingdom that flourished here from the 8th century. When the Moors dared cross the Straits of Gibraltar in 711, they suffered little resistance and settled the Visigothic colonies. Therein lays my quest. I learnt that the famous horseshoe Arabic arch, that we are all familiar with, was actually copied from the Visigoths. Great in theory but I wanted proof. So when a friend told me about the oldest surviving church in Andalusia with a Visigothic arch in its interior, my heart skipped a beat.
That afternoon I tracked the church down and Carlos, the Hermit of Andalucía, is now my friend. He has helped me further down my line of investigation. When he first showed me the Visigothic Arch, my delight was reflected in his.
So, for our first adventure, it only seemed right that I take Mimi to meet Carlos, to witness for herself the 2000 year history of his Hermitage.
Manni tugged at a string attached to a small bell on the outside wall. We were interrupting Carlos´ devotional life of prayer, meditation and solitude. A small window opened and out popped his grey white beard that frames his timeless face. His eyes shone with the light of a man who knows exactly his place in this world.
“How wonderful to see you again,” he beamed. “Thank you for coming to see me.”
He launched into his history, enough to fill volumes and spoke with thoughtfulness of someone who talks little.
We climbed the Roman tower that was added to by the Arabs and finished off by the Christians and then entered the main building. Carlos showed us a copy of his book and architectural plans for a planned restoration project signed by him. He caught my questioning eye and confirmed that yes, before his calling to a devotional life, he was an architect and a draughtsman. He took us through a hallway with stunning “hidraulico” tile flooring and placed his hand on a door handle. It seemed like we had seen the entire building and this felt like the back door. When he opened the door, Mimi´s face was a picture as her gaze stretched into a three nave chapel.
“What? I don´t understand. From the outside it doesn´t seem big enough! Where does this fit into the building?” she asked.
He showed us the Roman Ara (altar) that bears a Visigothic inscription and supports an arch of the central nave. We were spellbound; amazed that it was all still here. The Visigothic arch beckoned us from the left of the main altar, still there after 1500 years and proof that yes, the Moors were great recyclers of good ideas. He also showed us Andalusia´s very own Rosetta Stone; a visigothic design of a Rosette in remarkable condition.
Carlos looked at us and decided that yes, he was going to show us his very private dwelling place; that inner space where he spends his days in devotional meditation. Mimi didn’t feel it was right to take photos. Sometimes you just have to put your camera away and concentrate instead on acknowledging this man´s humanity. His life was represented before us in photos, books, documents, rosaries, candles, keepsakes and writings. All of it was immaculately tidy; signs of true discipline.
He wished us well and escorted us to the gates after our morning with him. He embraced me and gave Mimi two soft kisses on either cheek. He smelt of soap.
We drove away in silence as sometimes it´s better simply to say nothing. We hope you enjoy the photos.
Manni & Mimi