Getting the goose
ONE of my oldest friends - my head chorister when I was a boy
treble, in fact - now lives in the centre of Barcelona with his
Catalan wife; and I spent a recent short break with them. I had
been to Sagrada Família on a previous visit, and so decided that
this time I had better visit the cathedral.
Barcelona Cathedral, in all manner of ways, is an exceedingly
beautiful building. If you ignore the electric votive-stands, where
you put in a coin to light up a plastic candle, and the gilt
wood-and-plaster Baroque reredoses, there is some lovely stuff:
medieval altarpieces; caskets high up the walls containing the
bodies of local worthies, Winchester Cathedral-style; stone animals
all over the exterior, including an enormous carved snail
slithering his way up the central spire; and the magnificent quire,
which once doubled up as the chapel of the local chapter of the
knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece. But best of all are the
The 13 geese of St Eulalia - one for each of the tortures
inflicted on the child martyr - live in the 15th-century cloister,
where they have their own well, and a modest goose-house. There
they eat, drink, and sleep, and, when not doing that, waddle around
their enclosure, honking obligingly at visitors. Why don't our
cathedrals keep animals in their cloisters?
Slain with sword
ST EULALIA, it turns out, was martyred horribly by the Romans
during the Diocletian persecution. Her 13 tortures included being
crucified, having her breasts cut off, and being rolled down a hill
in a barrel stuck with knives. When none of these succeeded in
dispatching her, her tormentors finally cut off her head.
Another local Diocletian-era martyr, St Severus, met his end
when his captors hammered large nails into his skull. In fact, the
diocesan museum next to the cathedral is full of scenes of local
saints being beaten, flayed alive, crucified upside-down, sawn into
pieces, and generally going to their glory in the goriest ways
In addition to St Eulalia's holy geese, the cathedral has, in a
shrine set under the high altar, the bodyof the saint herself. It
also has the body of St Raymond of Penyafort, the patron saint of
canon lawyers; and that of St Olegarius, the12th-century reforming
Bishop of Barcelona, who is described in the guidebook as having
been "the best bishop in the history of the diocese". This seems a
little harsh on all the others; but his body remains incorrupt; so
who am I to argue?
In hoc signo vincit. . .
BACK in London, I have discovered that a vicar friend is
involved in a battle of wills. The sign in his parish which reads
"C of E Church" and should, by right, point to his church is
frequently to be found pointing somewhere else.
The "somewhere else" is the parish church of the neighbouring
parish. Now, the neighbouring parish church is, in fact, nearer the
sign; but, as the sign is not in its parish, that is, surely,
beside the point.
It seems to me a matter of justice that the parish boundary
should be respected, and that the sign should point to the church
of the parish in which it is located. My friend, then, has taken to
keeping an eye on the sign as he pads his parish each day. When he
finds it pointing away from his church, being just able to reach
it, he moves it back. And then, under the cover of darkness,
someone comes and moves it back again.
The problem is that it is not at all clear who is doing the
moving back. It may be a diminutive churchwarden, using a set of
library steps; it may be a tall parish handyman, under instructions
from his clerical overlord; or it may be two altar boys, one on the
other's shoulders. Personally, I suspect the neighbouring vicar
himself, but it's just a hunch. The battle continues.
Cream of the crop
ONE of the things that I miss most from student days is being
able to sing good-quality choral music frequently and regularly; so
I was only too glad to accept an invitation to join a friend's
choir for the day, and sing evensong on the eve of the feast of St
Mary Magdalen at one of our great cathedrals.
I have long accepted that most cathedrals' "house style" is
eclectic, and this one proved to be no different. It seemed odd -
if not a little impolite - not to be reminded to pray for the
bishop of the diocese in his own cathedral church,before being
launched into intercession for a bevy of other clergyin the various
cycles of prayer which were used; but, presumably, his Lordship is
upheld in other ways and at other times in the community's daily
We were welcomed warmly by the Canon-in-Residence, and people
were very appreciative of our efforts as we sang the praises of God
for the great "apostle to the apostles".
Nothing, however, had prepared me for the vestry prayer
afterwards, which turned the quire aisle into Heresy Corner. The
Canon who dismissed us seemed to think that the Magdalen was not,
in fact, already enjoying the beatific vision of her risen Lord in
the courts of heaven, and so prayed that she, with all the faithful
departed, might "rest in peace and rise in glory".
I must confess that, as I continue to labour under the
impression that those whom the Church believes to be already in
heaven have no need of our prayers, this was something of a
surprise. Perhaps the cathedral's various celebrations of the
eucharist the next day were of Requiem. I hope not.
Dr Serenhedd James is Visiting Tutor in Ecclesiastical
History at St Stephen's House, Oxford.