Great Pumpkins! I nearly missed out on doing a Halloween inspired post this year. Nearly……but not quite. I have been absent from the blogosphere because
I was on a righteous quest to destroy the undead creatures of the nightmare dimension ……. ummmm….because I was traveling. Ah, but now I am back and you cannot escape my Halloween expose!
Here it is…….the secret lives of Ghosts!
But on a more serious and creepy note, let me tell you now, the story of the ‘Creaking Horror’!
A long, long time ago ……well, not that long ago……..actually last week, I found myself in what is rumoured to be the oldest hotel in the world in continuous use. I refer to the Parador de Santiago de Compostela or, as it is also known, Hostal dos Reis Católicos.
Santiago de Compostela is at the end of the long distance trails that has been traversed by pilgrims since as early as the 9th century. The object is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which is said to hold the remains of St. James the Apostle of Christ. Coming from Portugal, Spain and as far as France to this town in Galicia in the north-west of Spain, pilgrims could be walking in excess of 800 km. The difficult journey was part of the spiritual experience.
Needless to say, things were a whole lot more difficult and dangerous during the ancient times and many pilgrims would arrive in Santiago de Compostela in a bad state. So, in 1486, the Hostal was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to give shelter and aid to these road weary pilgrims.
My own journey there was by car and I arrived there on a dark, wet and foggy night. The place was huge, ancient and quite imposing in the dark. After checking in, we went through dark corridors with long shadows and creaking wooden floors. Sometimes, the ancient timbers felt soft underfoot as if it might fall away due to rot but we couldn’t tell as it was covered by heavy carpets. Well, this is creepy, I thought to myself.
After dropping off our luggage in our room, which also felt every bit as ancient except for a very modern bathroom, my wife and I went snooping around. By now, the lights had come on and most of the corridors were dimly lit. We could also look out over the balconies onto grand courtyards. But the place was confusing.
There were a number of courtyards and after a while you could get quite turned around, not sure how to get back to where you started. All the time, as we walked, the sound of the creaking floor would resound along the dark, empty corridors. Here and there, some brightly lit areas appeared. Some were outside other guest rooms and some were outside larger rooms that had been re-purposed into small meeting rooms. And there was sometimes a plaque on the wall to tell a story or two about the rooms.
We found these plaques quite interesting. There was a room where one of the Pope’s stayed on his first visit to Santiago de Compostela and other rooms to tell of famous digntaries, clergy and even musicians that laid their heads to rest there.
As we were moving along, we found a particular meeting room and the plaque duly informed us that many pilgrims used to arrive in critical condition and many were not even able to attend mass at the cathedral at the end of their pilgrimage. For them, their journey would end in this room, where they could hear the priests carrying out mass in the courtyard below one last time before they expired.
Hmmmm. This place has served as a hostal for over 500 years. But a hostal was not just a place to find shelter, it had also served as a hospital, a hospice and invariably as a morgue at the same time. And, over 500 years, many, many, many died there.
We don’t believe in ghosts and we reminded ourselves that as we hurried along the maze of darkened corridors (the creaking horror) trying to find our way back to the light……….
Editor’s Note: Despite the squirrel’s mad Halloween tale, this is actually a very beautiful and historic 5 star hotel. If you have the opportunity, stay here.