Monday, 17 March 2014
On my first morning in Barcelona I visited the Basilica of Sagrada Familia, of Gaudi fame. I had been advised that it was better to book a ticket online in advance as it was a very popular tourist destination. However, there was a technical problem with the website (or more likely, of my negotiation of the website) and I was not able to get a ticket online. I went out to visit the basilica on speculation, and the queue was very, very long indeed. I decided not to spend two hours standing in line, so, much like my visit to the cathedral in Milan on the previous day, contented myself with a walk around the building. It is indeed spectacular. Even in its unfinished state, it is an architectural and artistic feast. I wandered around and enjoyed the spectacle.
In the afternoon I visited the Cathedral of Barcelona. I continue to be astonished at these huge, ancient churches, the faith that generated them, the generations of people who worked on them, knowing that they would not see the completed building in their lifetime. They are literally “worship in stone”. They are monuments to transcendence. They tower over the piazzas where they are located. They tower over the pilgrims, penitents, tourists and the merely curious who throng them. The noisome chatter of tourists, the exclamations of awe of those who enter for the first time, the muttered Aves of prayers, all are swallowed up to a mere muffled murmur in the cavernous heights, so that the sacred space become an oasis of peace and calm and quiet. Their shadowy gloom is cool, a solace to those coming in to seek God or to seek shelter from the sun’s heat. The statues, mosaics, paintings, carvings and stained glass windows are catechesis in stone, wood, canvas and glass. The glimmering candles in front of the shrines are testaments to faith and offered prayer of thanks and petition. They burn themselves up, symbol of the pilgrim’s desire to spend him/herself for God.
I remembered that in Rome I had sometimes visited basilicas twice in my criss-crossing pilgrim journeying, yet each time I entered a particular church, I had discovered something else that I had not seen there previously. I had no guidebook, or audio guide, but was content simply to gawk, to guess, to wonder.
The Romans have a saying, “non ci basta una vita”. It means that there is so much to see in Rome that a lifetime would not suffice. I had the same sense in Barcelona, that there was so much to see that I could not see it all in the one day that I had, but I was very glad to have had a glimpse, a taste.
In the evening I met up with the sister of a Columban classmate. She lives here with her family. Since my sabbatical journey includes more than the Camino—if you have been following this blog, you know I have already been in Dubai, Pakistan, Romani and Italy, and am due to go to Israel after Spain—I had brought extra luggage with me. I had arranged to leave these with her while I walked the pilgrim way and to collect them when I had finished. She also helped me to get a SIM card for my phone, so that I can be in communication with family and friends as needs be.
The Camino beckons.