I intended to do far more writing while abroad. Until I got sick. Ibiza offers far too little sleep, and far too many other things. And after I got sick, I got sick with something else. Then sick with something else, and it seemed the illnesses came in waves. I’m a fragile little bird.
However, pharmacies in Barcelona were fantastic and America, you really need to figure out this healthcare system. I’d contemplate the move for the sole fact that I didn’t have to sit two hours for a pill to keep my insides on my insides.
But now that I am home and taking quiet moments (when I’m not hacking up a lung), I must reflect on all the places I have been (quite in depth reflections, I’m afraid). Mostly, all the places I have worshipped in. I don’t touch on religion much in my blog, because I find much of my solace and my prayer comes in the quiet moments spent outdoors. And yet, all that being said, there is nothing like ancient cathedrals to bring the spirit to the surface.
Every church has an energy. Just as all places do. Some are magnificent, and some are poor. Some are joyful and resplendent, while some mean and almost wicked. Dark and light exist in all the places where they should and should not be.
But this feeling was new to me. Normally, and because I am a fragile little bird, I cry beneath the arching of a tabernacle. The prayer candles lit, the stained glass, the gilded wings of angels. It is, quite simply, beautiful. The kind of wholesome beauty that demands emotional response—people coming together in love is like dousing my eyes in fresh sliced onion.
And yet, I have never felt a sadness such as this. The kind that crushes souls. That weighs down like heavy bricks upon my heart. I’ll try to write it out, but, in all of my best efforts, I am not certain I can come close.
In the gray and arching forms of this tabernacle, there is a grief I cannot put to words. Something dark, ancestral, and almost otherworldly. It is like elephants standing on my chest. It is a heavy, weighted grief. It is not dark, nor is it negative. It does not ring with the metallic weight of anger, distaste, cruelty. It has been many years since something like this struck me. It has been years since I have cried the kind of tears that feel like changing lives.
As I continue through the church—this stunning Gothic architecture—I let the sorrow meander through the neuropathways of my body. I think the air is heavy with it, and I think it slides in through the lining of my boots. It feels feminine. I know how that sounds, and I do not know how to make it sound any less odd. But it feels like women crying.
I know this church was built on an old graveyard. It was originally a Roman Necropolis. I also know that Catholics in the oldest days did unspeakable things, as have been done by all religious leaders in the past. I know that there must be people buried here who suffered immeasurable, unquantifiable griefs.
Eventually, I have to leave, because this sadness is too much to bear. It belongs to someone. I am certain of it. I am bearing all the weight of mourning mothers in the night. I can feel it, in the way my chest squeezes out each tear.
I cannot explain what it is like to walk into a place and be succumbed by sadness. I cannot tell you what it is like to have all capacity of self now owned by someone else. Perhaps there is a mourning unrequited. Whatever it may be, I feel it here. I cry the life of someone else, detached, yet strangely close.
Someone I must grieve.
When I step outside, the feelings fade. I breathe. The open air is free, and it offers the relief that comes in something new. The sorrow goes. It is immediate. Like the switching off of lights, of power, of something I cannot otherwise explain. It is there and just as suddenly, not.
Later, I try to read up on the church. The internet is useless here, which is surprising, as I am quite the google sleuth. But I can find nothing substantial. Nothing sticks to all the sadness I am certain is here. But then a name emerges. A body once buried here. One of Barcelona’s patron saints, Saint Eulalia.
Saint Eulalia was buried here after her martyrdom. Because she would not recant her Christianity, she was assigned 13 tortures for her 13 years of life on earth. The exact punishments are varied, but the ones that seem to emerge time and time again are quite traumatic. She was placed into a barrel with glass and rolled down a street. Her body was torn by iron hooks, she was branded, had hot oil and molten lead thrown on her skin. Fire was applied to her wounds and her body submerged in burning lime. Her breasts were cut off, the symbol of her femininity. She was crucified and later beheaded. Legend states that upon her decapitation, a dove flew forth from her neck. What a pretty ending to a moment rife with human depravity.
Her Saint’s Day is February 12th, a day I have marked forever in my calendar. I’m not Catholic. I don’t know why I’ve done it. Perhaps I felt her sadness here. The feminine energy of her grief upon my entrance. The peace in dying for something you love, and the cruelty there wrapped up in such a violent death.
I told you that I felt no anger here. No bitterness, or vengeful feelings. There was nothing here that begged me to turn back. In fact, if anything, it felt like an embrace. However, in the end, it was the terrible sadness that finally drove me back into the cobblestone road. And yet, I never wish to forget the way the spirits echoed through the chambers. The cold air that whisped up against the candles lit in prayer or memory for someone here or now far gone.
If you get the chance, visit the Cathedral of the Sea. Light a candle for Saint Eulalia. Spend a moment in quiet reflection, and let the spirits have your tears. We are fortunate for the lives that we have lived. Walk on in peace, friends. Let wild your lively hearts and get to loving.
Terrible photo quality. But come on, how often do you get to eat a massive Margherita pizza 15 feet away from a medieval church? (with a Heineken, of course)