In Marca Hispanica XXXII: coastal Gothic

In between second-marking palæography assignments I think I have time for a quick photo post. Now: we left this story of my April 2015 trip to Catalonia, now sadly more than a year ago again, with me in Barcelona but my companion for the journey not, because they were in fact back in London preparing for a job interview the next day. So I actually had most of the day in Barcelona to myself, or such was the theory, but actually it did not turn out so, because frightening news reached me that evening, that my half-brother had been taken into hospital after a heart attack. The fates are peculiar sometimes, though; my half-brother lives on a farm in Palautordera, between Barcelona and Girona, with the emigré branch of my family I’ve mentioned here once or twice. Thus, the hospital he was in, a couple of Skype conversations with the farm the next morning established, was in Barcelona, and hey, so was I. By the time I’d found out where it was, my half-sister was already on her way in to see him. She, however, doesn’t use a mobile phone, so there was no way of telling them I was visiting too. The look of utter surprise on both their faces when I wandered in was a splendid thing to behold.

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona (from Spanish Wikipedia)

Anyway, I had had plans for this day other than nearly giving my half-brother his second heart attack in as many days, and they had, I confess, mostly been to be in the above building reading, which is something I some day hope to have time to do seriously. I’d already arranged, however, to have lunch with this blog’s long-term friend, Joan Vilaseca, and I was late for this, largely because of coming from the Hospital del Mar and not the Biblioteca de Catalunya. Once I found him, though, to my surprise and delight we also went and found Stefano Maria Cingolani, with whom I’d corresponded but whom I’d not expected to meet, and whom it was really good to. We turn out all to be long-haired freaks who like a curry, and so we plotted and gossiped over the closest that Barcelona could cheaply come up with nearby, and it was good; I hope to do that more some time. Eventually I did get to the Biblioteca, and read about a hundred pages of Albert Benet and ten of Antoni Pladevall, but then it was time to recover my companion from the airport and show her the dreadful place we were staying, compensating for it with some quite good Basque tapas we found nearby while hunting for a different restaurant which was, of course, closed because it wasn’t midnight yet. I’ll get used to that in Barcelona some day, but this was not that day.

Carrer de l'Hopital, Barcelona

View of the outside of the library complex, down Carrer de l’Hopital

So we woke up next day with a very limited timeframe.* We started the day with a second visit to the hospital, but it turned out that my half-brother had already managed to discharge himself and set out homewards, so instead we were down close to the sea with no immediate plan. Other than icecream and at least standing in the Mediterranean, what do two medievalists do at the seaside end of the Barri Gòtic with a couple of hours unexpectedly free? What else but the church of Santa Maria del Mar, which I knew was amazing from photos but had never quite been inside? And I can only say, the photos do not do it justice. The rest of this post is offered more or less without commentary, because I’m not sure any is needed…

Exterior of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

The street face of Santa Maria, or as much of it as I could get in…

Portal of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

Portal in close-up, or again, as close as you can get and fit it all in the viewfinder. This is as far as I’d ever got before…

Statue of Christ in the tympanum of the portal of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

Close-up on Christ, in the portal typanum

Dome and supporting columns of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

I’m not sure anything prepares you for this interior. This is the dome and its supporting columns, and you just have to go and see for yourself

The more I contemplate this building, the more I am amazed by how modern it now seems. It must have seemed pretty modern in the fourteenth century when it was built, though then it would also have been very much more painted, colourful and generally garish; all that, plus everything that could be piled into it during the baroque period, was burnt out during an eleven-day fire during the Civil War in 1936, alas. But now, just look at these columns, and imagine that you could holographically project onto them a shifting overlay of angular circuit patterns; then tell me it wouldn’t be a perfectly plausible setting for some ethereal generator complex in a far-future space opera, or something like that. It’s only the building materials and techniques that pin it to an age at all, for me; when Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig did this dome they hit something unique enough to stand outside stylistic progression.

Vaulting between dome and apse in the roof of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

Roof vaulting at the junction of dome and apse, which is admittedly a touch more medieval-looking just because rib vaulting kind of is medieval

It does have a nave and stuff too, of course, and is a perfectly functional and rather splendid church, and if it does in fact condense invisible forces from the ether that’s not in ways unavailable to other churches. But I can’t get over this towering complex of perfectly straight columns. Everything I see in this church is seen through those, sometimes literally.

Northern aisle of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona, seen from the crossing

The north aisle seen from behind the ring of columns below the dome

We also got onto the roof as part of a tour, and if you have the chance that’s thoroughly worthwhile; the guide was extremely informative, you can see many parts of the city and some signs of how they’ve changed, the building itself is an interesting machine some parts of whose workings you can only see up there, and it’s basically fun to climb into high places not everybody can go, right? But they ask you not to photograph, and so we didn’t. I feel like the above is enough, though!

* In fact, we were more or less woken by a phonecall from London, because my companion is sufficiently brilliant that they got the job. But because this was a journey already full of implausible coincidences, I can’t not mention that this was my old doctoral supervisor ringing up, a voice I’d not heard for four years by this point, and as far as I know he still doesn’t know I was there. It really is a funny world sometimes.
And of course if things can stand outside a stylistic progression what does that do for stylistic dating, eh, eh? but you’ve seen me do this rant before

5 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XXXII: coastal Gothic

  1. Good to know you companion got the job. Congrats! I hope to get another historiographic three of a perfect pair meeting someday soon. :)

  2. “My companion” makes you sound like a restaurant reviewer. Perhaps you’re angling for a second career?

  3. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XXXII: my questions answered | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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