Spain through the looking glass

The miracle of Rute

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Spain’s Catholics are a notoriously devout bunch who spend a great deal of time worshipping not only Mary and Jesus, but also a whole host of saints and – just occasionally – God. Without question, though, their religion numero uno is food.

I was reminded of this eternal truth again yesterday when, quite by chance, I ended up participating in one of Spain’s great pre-Christmas pilgrimages. Call it divine intervention if you will: if it hadn’t been for my own earthly hunger, I might never have visited Rute or known of its many marvels. As it was, I’d been hiking all afternoon and was ravenous. All I knew was that if I didn’t eat within the next few minutes things would get nasty. So I unfolded my map and chose the closest town worthy of the name – an inky splodge the size of my fingernail called Rute. And there I went in search of sustenance.

Rute isn’t much of a place. It may be in Andalusia; it may be nestled in a landscape of rolling olive groves and stunning limestone peaks; and it may even happen to be painted white but no one would mistake it for one of Andalusia’s classic white villages.  Instead, it’s a gritty place with cracked pavements and old town which is just that: old. And charmless. When I arrived, all that was needed to fill out the scene was a group of sooty children tormenting a dog on a street corner.


Indeed, I was all set to turn around and head straight out of town when I had one of those rare moments or animal cunning. I didn’t know what was happening, or where exactly, but I just knew something was afoot in Rute.

A millisecond later – faster, anyway, than my rational mind could comprehend, I spotted a mass of people processing down an alleyway which led away from the far corner of the main square. Then, a second or two later again, I came out of a long curve and saw the buses: not just one or two, but an entire fleet of gleaming machines with more arriving all the time. As I watched, hundreds of wild-eyed people spilled out of these coaches and made their way towards the distant crowd.

Without thinking, I pulled into the municipal car park and before I knew what I was doing, I had reverse parked the hired hatchback into the tightest of all spots (I would find it hours later wedged between two palm trees and wonder at my skill).

From this point on, my narrative becomes more impressionistic than factual. This is because I still can’t quite explain what happened to me in Rute. What I do know is that, at the moment, I absolutely had to join that throng and follow them wherever they were going. I was just aware enough of my surroundings to note a pastis distillery, then a forlorn ham museum and finally a stall where two elderly ladies were hawking impossibly fat blood sausages. A few stray souls were lingering about these places, stuffing their mouths with almond cakes or slimy sausage, but I knew they were lost. And I knew better than to look them in the eye.

Quickening my step now, I broke into a semi-run. The crowd was growing even as I approached: its ranks swelling with stout grandmothers and sniffling nephews, with dark-braided princesses and children unsteady on their feet as new-born lambs. Then I was among them, this happy throng, for I knew they would lead me where I needed to go.

Down a long hill we processed, past almost empty bars and past the famous La Flor de Rute with its excellent array of chocolate and whose owners – in an act of great piety, the likes of which have we have rarely seen since the Middle Ages – recently presented Pope Benedict with a model of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia made entirely out of sugar. Here, we lost a few more sinners who couldn’t resist the temptation of the 800 gram mixed chocolate selection for only €9.77.


Again there was mayhem and doubt as we passed the Mantecado Museum, that infamous den of pleasure dedicated to crumbly cakes made out of a base of delicious pig fat. Here, I saw grown men almost weep as they were dragged past the tinselled doors. Weak-willed matrons paused, pirouetted and entered. More souls were lost. And still the crowd grew.

Eventually – it may have been a matter of mere minutes or perhaps it was hours for I had lost all track of time by then – a strange hush fell over the pilgrims. That’s how I knew we were approaching the final station of the cross. Then, being taller than my companions of the road, I was the first to see it. ‘It’s there!’  I couldn’t help but cry out, and the people stared at me like I was some crazed prophet.

‘Really!’ I cried again. ‘We have arrived!’

‘He’s right Maria,’ said a teenage girl to her friend, for that was her friend’s name. I see it too.’ ‘And me!’ said another young man, and I smiled at the two of them, grateful for their faith. Before long, everyone else could see it too; a gleaming white temple embossed with a single word: Galleros.

‘Are we really here?’ a little boy asked his mother. ‘Can we see it now?’

‘Yes,’ said mum. ‘Any minute now Jesus.’ For that was his name.

And so in we went, quiet as only Spanish children can be, into this temple with its eerie spaceship hum. Up a long staircase we filed and along a narrow landing. The tension was intolerable. My hands were sweating. I felt a deep pain in my kidneys which I took for nerves until I realised an elderly lady behind me was prodding me with her sharp left elbow. By then, however, I’d entered a deep spiritual state and felt only love for this woman and her orange hair and squeaky trousers.


It’s impossible to explain my first sight of Rute’s wonder of wonders. It’s like the Sistine Chapel or the cathedral of Santiago: if you haven’t seen it for yourself you will never truly understand. I myself have seen many treasures both great and magnificent all over the world and many of them have left me speechless but what I saw yesterday in that little Andalusian town surpassed all earthly emotion.

There, in a darkened room, being admired by a hundreds of noisy locals was none other than the world’s largest Christmas crib made entirely out of chocolate.


I was rooted to the spot as I admired this brilliant spectacle – a mighty ode to the fable city of Granada and containing as its centrepiece a magnificent reproduction of the Alhambra palace. And there, almost invisible, in a quiet corner was our little baby friend in a manger surrounded by a herd of chocolate livestock. Did I weep? No, I didn’t. But I wanted too. And if you’d been there, you might have felt like a good old cry as well.



Written by georgemills25

November 26, 2012 at 10:55

One Response

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  1. Lovely story George, really enjoyed it, thanks.

    Brendan Harding

    December 2, 2012 at 16:26

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