We need more darkness within our buildings. More contrast. More depth.
I spent five weeks this summer walking the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage 1,000 kilometers across northern Spain. Fortunate to receive a UTSOA travel scholarship to partly fund my journey, I sought to study refuge in its manifold manifestations along this medieval and flourishing path.
I woke before dawn every morning, gathered thirty or so pounds on my back, and set off. Alone. Always alone, for I wanted to live the insecurity, quiet, and solitude of true pilgrimage. Anxious, exhausted, eager, contemplative–however I started my day–I inevitably confronted frustration and fear along the way. I dwelled in vulnerability, never sure exactly when and where I would sleep each night.
While hiking, I longed for shelter every day. Rest. A chance to sit or lie still. I craved relief from the blazing, relentless Spanish sun. I learned the best way down any street was along its tree-planted side; its shade certainly compensated for my few extra steps. During long, hot stretches, my body cried out for water, now, despite my best attempts to ration my supply.
I longed for thick, shielding walls. As these photos and sketches show, I discovered this reprieve, again and again, in “dark” and dimly-lit interiors. Churches, attics, monasteries–these warm, oftentimes candlelit, spaces always gave me pause. I could sit, close my eyes with ease, exhale with relief, and fortify my spirit for the exertion ahead. One afternoon, two peregrino friends and I encountered the Romanesque Church of Eunate. Abiding within this small, dark sanctuary, we were each overcome with tears. Its still, graceful atmosphere granted us immediate and unsolicited repose, its alabaster slit-windows radiating the faintest glow of sunlight.
We regularly praise the beauty of light and its sometimes ephemeral, ethereal presence. But only by embracing darkness can we grasp light’s transformative mystery. They work in tandem, light and darkness, and enrich each other as loving partners do. Darkness cradles us with its warmth, and we should be ever mindful of its subtle gift.