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Rosendo Salvado was born 200 years ago, but the Benedictine monastic town he founded in the middle of the West Australian bush stills carries his legacy.
19 Sep 2014 - 1:13 PM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2014 - 5:53 PM

A group of modern-day pilgrims have retraced the footsteps of the Spanish Benedictine monk who created a "slice of Spain" in the Western Australian countryside.

Rosendo Salvado came to Perth in 1846 and just a few months later, with his fellow Spanish monks, set out into the unknown West Australian bush to create a missionary for the Aboriginal people on the Victoria Plains.

The monks would travel about 160 kilometres north of the then fledgling colony to reach their destination through what would have been an alien and harsh landscape.

Decades later New Norcia would become Australia’s only monastic town, founded on the Benedictine tradition, with 70 monks in residence at its peak.

Over the years, large ornate stone buildings would come to dominate the landscape before being enfolded by the Australian bush.

New Norcia had schools for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal boys and girls, an orphanage, a hostel, the monastery and boarding houses.

Today it's a tourist destination, and a place of education about monastic and Aboriginal history, but it is still a monastic town – home to nine monks soon to be ten.

Up to 24 pilgrims walk over seven days from Perth to New Norcia in honour of Rosendo Salvado. The most recent group included three sisters aged 76, 79 and 81.

It is this spirituality, and the respect shown for its founder, that is behind the Camino Salvado walk.

Up to 24 pilgrims walk over seven days from Perth to New Norcia in honour of Rosendo Salvado. The most recent group included three sisters aged 76, 79 and 81.

"Well, I thought I’d left my run a bit late to go to Spain, so I thought we might do this together,” the eldest sister Raelene Casanelia said. "So we have."

The sisters said the experience gave them a renewed sense of respect for the man that had come before them.

"We read his history, so we realise what he did do,” said the youngest sister Trish Stokes.

"And then how he had to keep going back to Perth when he ran out of money, walk all the way back.

"It was so arduous for him, and all the wonderful things that he built, and then going back to Europe, and that he died in Rome.

"But they bought his body back, which I thought was great."

Rosendo Salvado died on a trip to Rome in 1900 and a few years later his body was brought back to New Norcia and lies in the Abbey Church to this day.

The pilgrims leave offerings on his tomb that they have carried on the journey such as gum nuts, feathers, necklaces, shells and even mandarin peel.

"So many people are drawn to places of silence, and peace, and prayer and so on, and so we are here doing our thing and we allow people to come and access that as part of their own spiritual journey," said Abbot John Herbert.

Abbot John, a former chef who came to New Norcia 20 years ago, said one man was even inspired to join the monkhood after taking part in a Camino Salvado walk a few years ago.

The 39-year-old is due to join the order soon.

But Abbot John said it had still been difficult to attract more men to the calling.

"We tend these days to leave that up to God," he said.

"We've had all forms of various vocational promotion and so on, but we feel the best way to help someone discern is just to be authentic and live the life fully as we can and people that come here sometimes tap into that and express a desire to be part of it, so we don't actually go out and looking for people as such.

"We allow God to send them our way if that's what's meant to be."