As the rain blustered and the wind blew outside during our breakfast in the Gasthof, we were found by our companion for the day, David currently of Dallas and formerly of Indiana. He read about our pilgrimage in the Wall Street Journal and decided to join us during his trip to Germany—so far the only person not already a friend or relative of ours who’s joined us. But it’s not too late! Think about it!
Poor David could hardly have picked a less auspicious day to schlep along. The morning’s weather was horizontally blowing rain, it was as cold as ever, and we had our first day of serious elevation gain—we figure somewhere around 1000 m altogether. But he was a great sport and great company. We had a good time getting to know each other, talking about vocation and Alexander Men and church life and Luther and other interesting things.
After looking with no success for a hiker’s hut or even a bus shelter to hide in for lunch, we finally gave up and settled for a parking lot across from the tiny church of St. Stephan in the village of Genhofen; happily the rain had stopped and stayed stopped for the rest of the day. (Lunch was yesterday’s mushrooms, incidentally, cooked into what would have been soup if the noodles hadn’t sucked up all the water—but very good all the same.) Andrew went into the church for a peek and pilgrim passport stamp #3. He started to talk to a woman who was there praying. Her first comment to him was, “This has been a holy place for a long time.” The church itself is only 500 or so years old, but the spot itself has been a holy place time out of mind. It’s on a little rise that forms a perfect triangle with two other rises in two neighboring villages. This area of Allgäu was evangelized by the monks of St. Gall—the eponymous Swiss town named for the Irish monk whose charges worked their way up into this part of southern Germany late in the first millennium after Christ. Hagiography is a good way to uncover the long-forgotten mission history of Europe. The very old fresco decorations in black and red inside the church were lively and undoubtedly highly symbolic though we couldn’t decipher most of the symbols (nor could most church people, according to our ad-hoc guide). The art was refreshingly medieval, not a touch of the Baroque about it. Even the spindly wooden pews looked as if they were new when Luther passed by.
Then it was just a whole lot more up and down for awhile, accompanied by more clouds and pastoral countryside, until we came to a house with walls covered in tiny round wooden overlapping shingles (a lot of houses around here are like that—as distinctive as the slate shingles of Thuringia) that had a line of verdant cacti growing alongside it. A woman came out right as Andrew was stopping for a photo so I asked if she could refill our water bottles. She not only did that but insisted that the three of us come inside for a cup of tea—and so we did. We met Rena’s husband Oskar briefly, on his way out the door, and then enjoyed the much-needed tea in her darling kitchen. It turns out that she used to be an English teacher, which was great, since we were fairly tired and our German skills were beginning to falter. She told us that the tiny round shingles we’ve been seeing are in fact applied by hand, one by one, which does take a long time—but they will last forever; the ones on her house have been there since 1907 and are still in good shape! We were greatly refreshed by the visit and grateful once again for the angels that have ministered to us on our way.
The last bit of the 32 km today passed by in a haze of determination just to get there already (or at least that’s how it was for me). When we finally got into Scheidegg we said goodbye to David and then plowed on the last little bit to the Evangelische Pilgerzentrum on the edge of town. Here we were welcomed in by a couple of Dutch volunteers—the place is staffed by rotating volunteers who stay at the place a couple weeks at a time and look after and feed the pilgrims. They bustled us in, showed us around, and sat us down to a wonderful dinner. It was particularly nice to be hosted personally after so many pleasant but still basically impersonal hotels. We are pilgrims #770 and #771 to pass through—this pilgrim center has only been open since July 2007—and that put us up to stamp #4 on our pilgrim passports.
Pilgrimage could be a lonely business but we were triply blessed today—with David, with Rena, and with our hosts at the Pilgerzentrum.
Just a note: we will be in erratic contact until we leave the Alps in about 10 days. Thank you for your patience.