Back when I was in seminary…
…I found a book at our “free store” that really struck me. It was the autobiography of St. Anthony Claret (get it, especially if you are a “professional” evangelizer!), whose feast day is today. He was something of a mix between Fulton Sheen, John Vianney, and Oscar Romero – he conquered the art of mass media evangelization, worked non-stop to the point where he was manifestly aided by extraordinary graces, and in the meantime managed to build up industry wherever he went to support the impoverished and uneducated.
Well, this past weekend I hopped on a plane to Barcelona to pay the saint a visit.
Barcelona is great. It is fun, not too expensive, and super Gothic. There is actually even a neighborhood called the “Gothic Quarter.” But we’ll come back to that.
After finally figuring out how the train station worked (which took over an hour), I headed out into the foothills of Catalonia toward Vic, the apex of my pilgrimage.
The architecture, as I described to a friend in the USA through some very expensive text messages, was “low medieval, quaint, and Catalonian,” but most of the structures in the old city are probably only early 18th century. It felt like I had gone through a time machine nonetheless. I mean, where else do you find a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ Child over a dentist’s office (left photo)?
The place was pretty packed with churches, but none were open Saturday except the cathedral. But not even a vigil there! I guess everyone gets up early on Sunday.
Alas! I had arrived. And sadly, this church too, would remain closed the whole of the day. Evening prayer outside would have to suffice. Horseshoes, hand grenades, and pilgrimages, right? And I have an excuse to return now, too!
I spent a good deal of time at the cathedral instead.
The Diocese of Vic has a pretty proud ecclesiastical history. They are actually even operating a whole episcopal museum near the cathedral.
The nave is large and dark, nothing too extraordinary, though the pillars are rather thick. What I found so distinctive about the interior was the mural of the stages of the crucifixion (as distinct from the Stations) which covers the entire upper wall, on all sides. Behold, a few samples.
It calls to mind El Greco, doesn’t it? But there is a touch of something else.
I discovered a new saint, buried in an exquisite side chapel: St. Bernat Calbó, 13th Century Bishop of Vic.
It turns out St. Michael of the Saints (17th Century Trinitarian priest) is also buried in Vic, which is his hometown. Double reason to go back… I only found out as I was writing this post!
Back to Barcelona. Sunday morning I went to the cathedral for the 10:30 Mass, in Catalan (the main language of the region). But first I stopped in this church, which I think is the “Basilica de Mercé” though I could be mistaken. (Use your best Catalan skills to translate.)
Finally I got to the cathedral, which is actually NOT Sagrada Familia, despite what you may have thought. More on that place in a bit. First, feast your eyes on this…
They were being persnickety about pictures in the main nave – which I approve of – but I snagged a real keeper of what are undoubtedly the coolest choir stalls I have ever seen.
There were several side chapels, a few of which looked like this (pardon the tilt, I shot through a grille):
The cathedral is also home to St. Eulalia, a 3rd century martyr, aged about 13!
I went to the harbor for a bite to eat, then I was off to Sagrada Familia for a Holy Hour… On my way I bumped into a guy who saw me at Mass way back at the cathedral – I was wearing a shirt with my Alma Mater on it, and he recognized it. (A small, American, Catholic, liberal arts college is not usually an international attention-grabber, but this was not the first time this had happened to me, believe it or not.) Had a nice chat, in English!
Antoni Gaudi was a genius. We will have to do a whole article on him, or even just on Sagrada Familia. Take a look at just a little of what is going on in this place’s exterior:
Unfortunately, all visits to the main nave are ticketed, including for Mass, which is not on a schedule anyway. AND THEY WERE SOLD OUT OF TICKETS. I did go down for free to the lower church/crypt, but it was packed and Mass was going on (and without a chasuble… grrrrrrrr…). So it was not very conducive to mental prayer, unless I was going to Mass for the second time. I went back upstairs for a walk around, then figured I’d go back to the cathedral for an hour – but THAT WAS NOW BEING TICKETED TOO. I’ve heard of “pay to play,” but “pay to pray” was a new one. Where is Pope Francis when you need him?
And with that, I returned to Rome, mostly a happy camper.
St. Anthony Claret, pray for us!
Post by: Eamonn Clark