Europe in January 2017 – The Second Day

The first full day in Madrid started early for this intrepid traveller, so early, in fact, that it started last night! Having adjourned to bed early in an attempt to “catch up” on sleep, I awoke at what I thought was 9.30am – and thereby had a momentary panic – only to discover it was only 9.30am on Tuesday evening. This changing time zones is for the birds!

Anyway, this morning saw me awake before the sun rose, which wasn’t difficult given that sunrise this morning was scheduled for 0836! Getting up, showering, have the heart-starter coffee, etc etc in the dark is usually reserved for very occasions when I have to be somewhere early in the morning, not on an “ordinary” day (though there was nothing ordinary about today even though we are in Ordinary Time).

Venturing forth from our apartment close to 1000, with the sun feeling more like 0700, our first stop was to find a place for coffee. We found a nice little place just around the corner – which isn’t difficult given the sheer volume of similar “nice little places” in Madrid – where we availed ourselves of the chance to use our rudimentary Spanish to consume some very strong coffee and some butter croissants. Thus fortified, it was off to see what could be seen.

We ventured along the Calle de Mayor towards the Palacio Real de Madrid, taking advantage of whatever possibilities we might discover along the way. One of those possibilities was a store that specialised in the sale of ecclesiastical goods of very superior standards.

The ecclesiastical goods store on the Calle de Mayor

Three liturgists walking into an ecclesiastical goods store should set off alarm bells. There was some simply stunning items to be found, and it would have been very easy to have purchased a few if not many of the items that were to be found therein. My Parish Business Manager will be relieved to hear the Parish credit card stayed firmly in the wallet – though there’s a few days left in Madrid, and I know where to find the store!

Leaving the ecclesiastical goods store, we continued our saunter along the Calle de Mayor until we walked up a little street and strode firmly into the Plaza de Mayor, a square featuring one of the most beautifully decorated governmental buildings I have ever had the pleasure to view. Unfortunately, the photo I took of this Plaza is actually a video and I can’t upload it at the moment – but I hope to do so when I return to Australia.

The Plaza de Mayor led us to the Plaza de San Miguel which featured the architecturally intriguing Mercado de San Miguel, the exploration of which revealed some mouth watering possibilities for our eventual lunch. There was seafood, paella, cheese, wine, beer, yogurt, and many other things in little stalls within the building, simply too much to have everything. Having a look around though proved appetising…

Leaving the Mercado de San Miguel saw us delivered within a few minutes to the corner facing the Palacio Real de Madrid and the Cathedral de Neustra Señora de la Almudena, the Cathedral Church of the Archbishop of Madrid. We stood on the plaza that separates the two grand buildings, and I was overcome by the sheer size of the Cathedral.

The Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena

That the main doors of the Catedral should face the courtyard of the Palacio shouldn’t surprise anyone in what was once considered the most Catholic nation in Europe. One can almost imagine the Spanish Royal Family leaving their residence and walking through the courtyard, across the plaza, and up the stairs into the Catedral. Almost. More on the Catedral a little later.

The Palacio continues to be the official residence of Their Majesties The King and Queen of Spain, together with their two daughters. That being said, it is also a place of national significance and is, therefore, open to members of the public, citizen and visitor alike, to wander through (the carefully laid out route). It is, as you might expect for a building dating to the late 1700s, a building of splendour, designed to project the power of the Crown (not the current possessor thereof) in architectural and symbolic ways.

Walking through the public and ceremonial rooms of the Palacio it is possible to see how the designers and builders have sought to fulfil the building’s function. It is truly a magnificent building, beyond price by any standard, and a building that has especial significance for the nation and people of Spain. That it is not a museum but a living and working building is evident as you walk through.

Palacio Real de Madrid

The Royal Chapel of the Palacio was ornate and, liturgically at least, a little overdone. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind being appointed chaplain to a Catholic king or queen and have the celebrate all many of liturgical rites in a chapel like that. Anyone know of any positions of the like currently vacant? No? Oh well, back to parish land for me!

After our tour of the Palacio, we stepped inside the aforementioned and adjacent Catedral de Neustra Senora de la Almudena. This is an interesting building, a mix of the old and the new that appears to jar when they meet. In other words, I don’t think it quite worked for me architecturally. I’m not sure how it would function liturgically, not having experienced the celebration of liturgy in that space, so I am left with the impression of having walked around the place.

The one part of the Cathedral that did work for me and which I found particularly prayerful and moving was the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the walls of which were covered in mosaics of aspects of the Christian story in modern and very warm colours. The modern styled tabernacle at the centre of the rounded sanctuary was impressive both in size and beauty. I think that the reason this particular space worked for me was simply because it wasn’t a mix of old and new. Though old techniques were used to decorate the space, it was entirely modern in style. There was a symmetry to the space that couldn’t help but be conducive to prayer.

There were some interesting aspects of the buildings fabric which have definitely given me some ideas for the renovation of the Cathedral “back home” – I think someone should prepare the Bishop for both the changes and the price tag!

After our visit to the Catedral was over, we adjourned to the previously visited Mercado de San Miguel for some lunch, and the repast was was everything it promised to be. The Mercado is clearly popular with both locals and tourists – there was standing room only for many more people than us, but that too seemed to be the norm of lunching there.

The completion of lunch saw us doing some more wandering that ultimately led us to the successful navigation of the Madrid Metro system (which is very comprehensive and easy to use) to land us at Serrano, the upmarket shopping precinct of Madrid where all the big luxury brands have their outlets. Needless to say not many Euros were spent there, and then only for some light refreshments before the return trip back to our apartment.

Tonight, however, we dined out, walking up the small street outside our building to the nearby Plaza Santa Ana for dinner. Naturally enough, since we are in Spain, we opted for the tapas, enjoying a tasty meal and a bottle of wine in the outdoor setting of the plaza.

But now it’s to bed, because tomorrow sees us venturing forth to Barcelona! But more of that tomorrow…

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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