The Alchemist

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The Abandoned Church Symbol Analysis

The Abandoned Church Symbol Icon

The abandoned church in Spain forms bookends for the novel—Santiago dreams of his treasure while sleeping in the collapsed church at the beginning of the book, and he returns to the church to find his treasure at the very end. The abandoned church symbolizes the value of the familiar and of home. Santiago ultimately did not have to travel any physical distance to find his treasure, which was in his own homeland, but the journey itself was as much a part of his quest as was the final result. The importance of this journey is symbolized by his initial distant goal of the Egyptian Pyramids.

Santiago’s realization that his treasure is in a place he knew all along marks the final stage of his self-development in the book. Early in the novel he is consumed with wanderlust, but by the book’s end he realizes the value of returning home. Coelho suggests that both the journey and the destination are valuable, and the abandoned church symbolizes this idea.

The Abandoned Church Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Abandoned Church. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper One edition of The Alchemist published in 2014.
Part Two Quotes

“You’re not going to die. You’ll live, and you’ll learn that a man shouldn’t be so stupid. Two years ago, right here on this spot, I had a recurrent dream, too. I dreamed that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream, there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure. But I’m not so stupid as to cross an entire desert just because of a recurrent dream.”

Related Characters: The Leader of the Refugees (speaker), Santiago
Related Symbols: The Abandoned Church
Page Number: 167-168
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago does not find his treasure buried at the pyramids, but as he is digging he is attacked by refugees of the tribal wars who think he is looking for something. When the leader of the refugees finally understands why Santiago was digging in the sand, he openly mocks Santiago and explains in this quote that he had a parallel dream to Santiago's recurring dream of treasure. The leader of the refugee's dream uses specific details from Santiago's past, information he could not otherwise know--such as the tree growing through the abandoned church. Unlike Santiago, he dismisses the importance of this dream and calls Santiago "stupid" for following a dream. The difference between this man and Santiago is that one can see and understand omens and the other cannot acknowledge the possibility that an omen might be presented to him--or, in broader terms, that one man was willing to throw everything away to pursue his Personal Legend, and one was not.

Santiago's faith in God and in the idea of "maktub" is what keeps him following his recurring dream even in the face of great trials. The leader of the refugees is a clear foil character for Santiago--an example of what he would have become had he not pursued his treasure. In the face of this man's derision and doubt, Santiago's persistence and faith are all the more clear. Santiago recognizes the scene from the man's story and understands that his treasure is not at the pyramids--it was back at home all along.


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The Abandoned Church Symbol Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Abandoned Church appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...shepherd boy in the Andalusian region of Spain. At dusk one day, he arrives at an abandoned church . The roof has caved in, and a sycamore tree grows up through the open... (full context)
Part Two
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...he himself had a recurring dream on that very spot. In the dream he saw an abandoned church that sheltered shepherds and sheep. The dream told him that if he dug at the... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Night is falling as Santiago reaches the abandoned church . The tree is still growing up through the broken roof, and he remembers the... (full context)