A Tale of Two Churches

La Seu, the Cathedral of Barcelona, is one of the important examples of the Catalan Gothic style, which is plainer and flatter than regular Gothic churches. It is one of the oldest churches in Spain, having been built on two previous churches and, before than, on a Roman temple. The earliest record dates to 343 AD. Its first stone was laid on May 1st, 1298 during Jaume I’s (James I) reign. It was completed, without a dome, in 1450 when Alfonso V was on the throne.
The church is made of only three naves and an apse, with a choir in its center and an ambulatory behind the main altar. It boasts 25 chapels inside the church itself and 16 around the cloister attached to one side of the church. Legend has it that the geese have been there since Roman times, squawking and honking as intruders would scale the fortified walls of the town.
The cathedral also contains the remains of Barcelona co-patron, St. Eulalia, the teenager who died a martyr after suffering many tortures and never denying her faith. (I find it quite interesting that Barcelona has not one, but two females as patrons) Her remains are lodged in an elaborate crypt.
The facade of the church was only completed in the 19th Century and the cimborio (an octagonal lantern with a dome) dates from the 20th Century. Although both look extremely fine, I find it a bit of a let down that they saw the need to embellish the cathedral because it didn’t look “cathedral-ish” enough.
An interesting titbit: the choir was built when Barcelona hosted the members of the Golden Fleece, whose membership contained kings and princes. We can still see their Coat of Arms painted above their seats.
Another interesting church is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, the sailors’ protector. It is the only church with the real Catalan Gothic style because it was erected in only 55 years, between 1329 and 1383.
The church sustained an earthquake and two fires, the last in 1936 the more devastating. The church burned for 11 days and everything was lost except for the stained glass windows at the highest level, which the fire couldn’t reach. The magnificent baroque, gilded altar, as well as all the archives and paintings perished in the blaze.It was then that they decided to leave her bones showing as the church’s own decorations. And it doesn’t disappoint. The columns soar to the ceiling and join as proof of a masterful construction with stones brought in by ship and on the “bastaixos”‘s backs from a quarry on Montjuic.
It is very strange, and somewhat refreshing, to see such a plain church, after the highly ornamented, gilded, sculpted, flowered, painted, etc. of the Spanish churches.
Two beautiful ladies, similar yet different, that are the representation of life and faith in Barcelona. It will be interesting to see if others give the same impression.

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