There are on average a thousand weddings a year at Chapel Dulcinea. Wedding parties come and go like tides. Cars flood into the parking lot, their occupants filling the Welcome Center and the Fang & Feather before making the two hundred yard pilgrimage up the Camino de Dulcinea to visit our Sacred Lady.
But while many thousands have been wed beneath Her watchful presence, few ever truly see Dulcinea. Many aren’t looking, which is understandable. They come, they get married, they celebrate, and they leave. That is the business of weddings. And even if you are trying to see Her, vantage points are limited, I think by design.
Our Lady is modest.
There is a nice view from Crystal Hills Drive, but from that distance you cannot feel Her presence. You catch glimpses of Her as you approach, but the camino winds in such a manner that foliage obscures the view. She cannot be seen from behind because She is set on the slope of a hill. And because She is perched on an escarpment with a twenty foot drop over her railing, no face-to-face view is possible either.
My favorite views of Dulcinea are from the valley. From below She appears like the bow of an ancient ship crashing through a wave. She commands attention and all look upward and marvel at Her beauty. Near the Lost Boys cabins you’ll find a statue of Don Quixote himself, arms outstretched, gazing up at his beloved Lady fair. If the Don were here, I’m certain this would be his preferred view.
In the valley and in Engelbrecht Village, Dulcinea is the patron saint of both the newly wedded and the newly broken hearted. She bears witness to the joy of love and the sorrow of loneliness.
Two things I have seen from below. A bridesmaid lingering at the railing, gazing silently into the valley long after the bride and groom left for the celebration. And two men, one sobbing and the other standing beside him with a hand on his shoulder.
There is so much more than matrimony happening at Dulcinea, for those with eyes to see.
Here is a pilgrimage for you:
Get permission at the Welcome Center to enter Engelbrecht Village at the Bells of La Mancha. Take Gallagher Lane down the hill toward Engelbrecht Inn & Tavern. Look for the Shrine to Garden Gnomes. If you reach the International Bocce Court you’ve gone too far. Take the trail on your right a few steps into the wilderness and you’ll find the Sacred Circle. From there you can see Our Lady above, standing watch over Her valley.
I have observed Dulcinea from this spot many times. I have watched her as the evening deepened and darkness fell over the land. I have watched her when the depths of my own loneliness seemed to fill the valley, and the amber lights in her upper windows drew my eye and calmed my soul.
Our Lady does not take away the ache of a lonely heart, but her quiet beauty and steadfast presence somehow make it bearable.