Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Spain. More specifically, he visited two of the most popular churches in the whole country. First, he visited the magnificent Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a church which I have visited as well. This is perhaps the patronal church of the entire nation. Given that St. James is the patron saint of the country and Santiago de Compostela is where his remains are said to be interred, it is not suprising, then that this should be such an important place in Spanish Catholicism. During the Middle Ages and after, it was and still is a major place of pilgrimage. Some people, Catholic and non-Catholic, still walk the long journey to Santiago de Compostela.
The square in front of the Cathedral is one of the most beautiful, most glorious places on this earth. It is very much old world, with beautiful old buildings and cobble-stone streets. I believe that whole area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The church itself dates back back to the twelfth century, but has had major Baroque towers and other decorations added at different times.
Santiago de Compostela is famous for another reason. And that is the giant botafumeiro, the massive censer which hangs from the ceiling and is swung by a team of strong men. In this video, the Pope seems a bit concerned, given that a massive metallic object spewing forth smoke is swinging not too far away from him. As it was explained to me on my visit, the pilgrims back in the middle ages tended not to smell very good when they arrived. As a means of combatting the stench, a massive censer was made as nothing covers up foul odors better than incense. At least that is one explanation. I’m sure that there are others.
The other church which the Pope visited was the famous Expiatory Temple of the Holy Father (Temple expiatori de la Sagrada Família) in Barcelona. This church is the major life’s work of the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. Gaudí was one of Spain’s early practitioners of modern architecture. His works are rather quite unique and fantastic in their conception. He died long before this church could be completed. During the last period of his life, he devoted himself entirely to its construction forsaking all other projects. In fact, he came to live at the church and is buried there. Unfortunately, many of Gaudí’s original models and designs were destroyed during the Spanish civil war. However some were recovered and new plans for its completion were made in the 1950s and beyond. Work on it is ongoing and will likely continue for many years to come.
In his visit to Barcelona, the Pope dedicated this church and named it a minor basilica. It is now a papal church as well.