The Swords of Guadalest

Last Sunday I visited Guadalest with my family. We drove along the N-332 to Benidorm, before heading north on the CV-70. We arrived in the small mountain village and parked the car just outside the old town. Guadalest is a fortress village, surrounded by the Aitana, Serella and Xorta Mountains. It is likely that I visited Guadalest when I too young to remember it properly, for the village has always seemed a dream from my childhood. My exposure to a poster depicting La Torre del Peñón de Alcalá on the wall of my father’s study will have blurred the lines between reality and fantasy. The iconic bell tower, perched upon a hill resembling an obelisk, has always fascinated me, drifting, as it has, in and out of my consciousness over the years. The bell still tolls every quarter of an hour.

El Castell de Guadalest can only be accessed by walking through a 15 foot long tunnel carved out of rock. This is known as the Portal de San Jose. I walked ahead of my wife and two sons in order to scout the terrain. Fortunately, with a little effort we were able to push Sebastian’s pram up the steep hill and enter the medieval heart of the town. From there, we walked up the cobbled street until the emerald reservoir came into view, down in the valley below. The sense of medieval magic and mystery had brought lustre to tired eyes and fresh courage to flagging spirits. We decided to extend our stay in the picturesque town by having lunch in Restaurante L’Hort.

When I’m out walking with my oldest son, we pick up sticks and use them as swords and spears. We also throw stones at trees, celebrating when we hit the target, reflecting when we don’t. When Leonardo is older, I’ll explain to him that the English word “sin” comes from the Hebrew word “khata,” which is roughly translated as “to fail” or “to miss the goal.” In life we often miss the mark, from aiming too high, too low, or too chaotically. Leo thinks that we’re just throwing stones at trees, perhaps we are – or perhaps we are teaching each other to be as precise in thought, word and deed as is humanly possible. Whenever I see a rock that looks heavy, I ask Leonardo if he thinks that he might be able to lift it. Sometimes he can, sometimes he can’t. I often worry that he will succeed in dropping the rock on his toes – but he hasn’t done so yet. The reason I ask Leo to lift the heavy rocks is so that he becomes accustomed to doing what is difficult – and voluntarily finding the largest burden that he can bear – and then bearing it.

I’ve waited a long time to buy Leonardo a ‘real’ sword. The toy shops in Oxford don’t seem to stock them and it is difficult to discern the quality of the ones listed on Amazon. In Guadalest there were plenty of shops that sold swords. Should I allow Leonardo to choose his own sword? Or should I, his father and protector, choose it for him? We bought two small wooden swords from a shop on the cobbled street leading to Plaza San Gregorio. We then fought with them, much to the amusement of the other tourists. I then decided that the swords we had bought were a bit too small and Leonardo and I went to another tienda and bought two slightly larger wooden swords. For good measure, I also bought two miniature steel swords that looked like letter openers. My wife looked at me askance and asked if I could please refrain from buying any more swords that day. I was already thinking about an English Heritage wooden broadsword.

The sword symbolizes power, protection, authority, strength, and courage; metaphysically, it represents discrimination and the penetrating power of the intellect. The sword is phallic, with the sheath being yonic. It is a symbol of knighthood and chivalry. The flaming sword of the Christian ethos separates man from Eden. Many swords have magical properties and are given to heroes for the advancement of justice; Excalibur was given to Arthur by the lady of the lake, The Greek gods gave Perseus a sword that could cleave stone to defeat Medusa

Ariadne also provided Theseus with a sword to slay the Minotaur and a ball of thread to escape the labyrinth. “The sword is rooted in ancient archetypal patterns embedded in the cosmos. It has its roots in something deeper than the human invention of violence, something noble, ceremonial and wise.”

After lunch we drove back to Villajoyosa. I was content to have finally made the pilgrimage to Guadalest – and delighted to have bought my son his first sword. Keep it sharp, son. And be wise and brave enough to know when to use it.

My sword, I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battles, who will now be my rewarder.

John Bunyan

Christ Church Memorial Garden, Oxford

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s