Have you ever felt that you have been transported back in time? Or maybe, to the set of a movie?
There are some places on earth that have this effect to them. You get to them, and you can see the blue skies, feel the fresh air. Maybe smell the scent of food being cooked somewhere. On occasions, you can smell the ocean. You look around you, and you can find yourself facing an amazing natural or man-made structure. A place that resonates with age, that makes you feel the events it has witnessed. You can imagine maybe a priest, a knight, a princess or even a dragon walking where you are standing.
I have felt that several times in my life. Both in my country, and in some other places. but last week I had a deja vú-like experience visiting one of this time-transporting locations.
A year ago, I went on a family trip to the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. There, we went to a place called Cuilapan de Guerrero. In this area, we visited an old building that used to be a monastery and “open church”.
By open church, I mean that it has an area that was originally designed to not have a ceiling. The concept behind this, was to evangelise the locals in an friendlier manner.
You see, indians did not like the stuffy insides of colonials churches to worship God (not good for claustrophobics). They did not trust this environment; since they were used to worshipping their deities in an open field.
Therefore, the amazing syncretism of the Spanish and Mesoamerican cultures led to the construction of such buildings as the abbey on Cuilapan de Guerrero. A beautiful antique construction, that included closed quarters for the monks; and an open worship area for the indigenous people of Oaxaca.
The geniality behind this, was that by respecting the traditions of the locals it was easier for Christian priests to evangelise the region. They created an amalgamation within the beliefs leading to the creation of latin-american culture. (And this building is just the tip of the iceberg of it.)
Last week I visited the town of Whitby in Yorkshire, England. The main touristic focus of this town is its abbey. This amazing place sits atop a hill overlooking the whole sea side town. I the name sounds familiar, it is probably because it is featured in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula“.
The town in itself is an image out of a movie set. It feels as if someone decided to hit the “pause” button on the movie and it stayed as an image of what outsiders might believe England looks like.
The shoppes still have iconic signs of their outside, the streets have pebble stones on them, you can get traditional fish n’chips at any corner, you can find artist’s workshops and buy their original products. It is an incredible place to visit.
But, going back to the Abbey. It was built in the Middle Ages, centuries before the monastery in Oaxaca. And was abandoned for quite some time. This, allowed some parts of the structure to fall. Including the ceiling. Leaving the open sky to be reached through the abbey while overlooking the sea.
This abbey has an aura of age, of wisdom. I believe that the phrase “If walls could talk” applies to a place like this. Its crumbling walls are filled with stories, one might say that even with magic. There is something quite poetic about it. There is no wonder why Stoker got inspired by it.
Walking around it, seeing the open blue sky above me, feeling the peace that engulfs the area I realised that it felt just as familiar as the monastery in Oaxaca. Both places of worship in older times, both with stories hidden in their stones; and both of them places of inspiration.
They might be miles, centuries, and cultures away from one another. But that does not mean that their resemblance and magic might make them similar in some ways.