To avoid overdosing on Paralympic TV broadcasts I escaped into the countryside this afternoon keeping a promise to myself to visit the hill town of Traiguera, alongside the N232 to Morella, which I've passed on several occasions without stopping. It's an interesting place to visit, yet again with a mediaeval church hemmed in by houses in narrow streets, but also significant because it is mentioned in the first century writing of Ptolemy, associated with the ancient Iberian tribe of llercavonia which inhabited this region for centuries even before his day.
Towns and villages in this region seem far apart by criteria set by experience of the overcrowded British Isles, but in many places, theirh known history goes back more than just one millennium. It reflects the size of the territory and lower population density. It also reflects the value of each settlement to those who farmed the land, traded and made their home there over several millenia. The size of the church is an indication of the status of the community in times of past prosperity.
I couldn't find a notice giving Mass times. Clergy shortages are a fact of life in Spain as elsewhere in Europe I couldn't find a notice giving local Mass times. Clergy shortages are a fact of life in Spain as elsewhere in Europe. If it wasn't for the community good will and appreciation for its heritage, such edifices would be ruinous and a social liability today. I can't help thinking there's a message to the inheritors of the Gospel message which is embedded in the value given to our common past - but we have yet to decode it properly.
From Traiguera, I drove across country to Sant Mateu (or San Mateo, take your pick), a small town rather than a village and named after its patron saint. It's larger than Traiguera and has an an industrial estate attached to its ring road. Signposts for San Mateu are evident on the coastal road from the outskirts of Castellon to Vinaros, but is this just to do with its economy? When I arrived there I discovered that its beautiful 14th century Valencian gothic church was designated a National Monument as far back as 1931, and justifiably so.
The west doorway is of the simplest romanesque character with carved heads on its pillars.
The hundred foot bell tower, stands apart from the church. The plain vaulted sanctuary and nave in pale grey limestone is worthy of a Cistercian foundation. The interior lancet windows are 20th century, as is the liturgical furnishing of the nave - just beautiful to look at. I didn't mind paying to get in and go up the tower. So few churches are open during the afternoon in this part of the world, sad to say.
It's such an inspiration to see a building of this quality so well cared for - and, there's an organ building project, set to install a new-build instrument in a side chapel, interesting in its own right, as it contains 14th century inscriptions to commemorate dialogue between rabbis of Tortosa and clerics of Sant Mateu. The view from the bell tower was spectacular.
On the return journey, anxious to re-fuel with filling stations few and far between out in the countryside, I drove through the Sierra del Maestre, past the hill towns of Cervera del Maestre and Calig, heading for Benicarló where I was finally able to fill up on the last leg of my journey. This is Calig from outside with the Montsia mountains in the background on the other side of the plain.