– The San Antón hospital is well known on the Camino, to begin with: Could you briefly introduce the Foundation and Association that take care of the San Antón hospital?
The Foundation, a non-profit organization, was created with the aim of recovering the ruins of the convent of San Antón de Castrojeriz, giving it cultural content and taking care of the hostel. The Association arose from the need to manage this hostel, we could say that the Foundation is the owner and the Association has managed the hostel for 22 years, with the Antonian spirit of donation, offering bed, dinner and breakfast! We have been there for 22 years! ! The Foundation is the umbrella under which the Association and the different cultural activities that we organize: courses with the university, Antonian meetings, conferences…
– The San Antón hospital has become one of the most loved and valued hostels for pilgrims, you have plenty of work… And then you think of an astronomical observatory! How did the idea come about?
22 years ago, when we opened the hostel. I was there, I spent my summers working in San Antón -when I was still single- and I bought myself a personal telescope, because what could be observed in that sky seemed wonderful to me. And, of course, I put my telescope at the disposal of the pilgrims who spent the night there, because it was a real spectacle, especially in July and August, when we slept outdoors. It was a very basic telescope, it broke down after two or three years and I was left with that little regret of not having better quality equipment.
– I would like you to tell us a little about the process of creating the observatory, how long it took, with what help…
Last year I took up the idea again, I spoke with the owners of Quinta San Francisco, a luxurious hotel but one that starts, like us, from recovering and restoring heritage, in this case the ruins of the San Francisco convent. You already know that my idea is that there is a place for everyone on the Camino, there is space for everyone, donative hostels and luxury hotels. I explained the project to them, we went to San Antón together and they decided to help us. And that’s how it all started…
– Is the public to which the observatory is directed are pilgrims or is the intention different? I say this because it seems like a project that could work the difficult miracle of facilitating the meeting and exchange between pilgrims and the local population…
At night we close and the only pilgrims who sleep there stay in San Antón, so that during the months in which the hostel is open it is for pilgrims. They can enjoy the show, a show shines by itself, without having to be an expert you can enjoy it a lot.
But it is true that we are also interested in summoning specialists in astronomy, organizing some activities with them and aimed at a broader audience. For example, we believe that we can do it in winter, when according to specialists the sky is even more spectacular. If these projects were possible, they would also allow us not to close San Antón continuously in winter. We could open, for example, one weekend a month, or every fortnight, thus being able to continue the activities in the ruins also in winter.
The truth is that the observatory fits wonderfully as a project with that idea of a meeting point, it is certainly a project that allows both pilgrims and the local population to get involved together.
– How are you organizing the experience? What times and forms of use do you anticipate?
It will be freely available, we trust in the goodwill and good use of the pilgrims, but certainly there are hospitaleros. The hospitaleros of San Antón will also have a bit of that aspect or chapter of astronomy. In fact, we have even thought of giving them an introductory talk about the observatory.
I’ll tell you, two Mexican hospitaleros arrived yesterday and they loved the idea, and they have already asked us for an introduction or explanation about astronomy.
-Do you think the observatory will change something in the San Antón hospital? The access conditions, the number of beds?
We plan to continue maintaining the current beds, the 12 beds that we normally had, but we are going to add to them with six more to sleep outside, providing stretchers to sleep outside without being directly on the ground. Actually, we have been asked for it in recent years, and there is a growing demand for this experience of sleeping in the open air.
But, of course, we are not going to accept more than 18 pilgrims, because it is not feasible for hospitaleros, for dinner work, breakfasts… We cannot expand to more than 18.
We also want it to serve as one more push so that pilgrims do not skip Castilla. It’s crazy! But you already know that there are guides that are recommending skipping the Plateau because of its difficulty,and by doing this they are taking away part of the beauty and grandeur of the Camino. We want to give one more incentive, remind pilgrims that we have the best skies on the French Way, in Castilla you can walk at night because you don’t need a flashlight. The night of Castilla can be enjoyed in another way.
-Any comment to conclude the interview?
Yes, we wish to announce that this summer it will already be available, pilgrims will already be able to enjoy the “Antoniano Planetarium”. And remember that the Camino has always been linked to the stars. Hopefully more hostels, companies or businesses will be encouraged to adopt this type of incentive.