My trip to Barcelona was one of my lovely surprises in 2014. I had a big year of travelling for work – Bali, Taiwan, Silicon Valley – and didn’t really expect more. But in December, DAPHNE Diaries in Barcelona happened. This was the initiative of Lifestyle Network, supported by Samsung Digital Home Appliances, which I had been a long-time brand ambassador for. It is my first collaboration with a TV network as a blogger (I have been a presenter and producer before).
The days leading up to our trip, Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) was brewing near the Philippines. Reports said it would be another deadly storm. I was scared. I didn’t want to leave my family knowing that the storm could potentially directly hit Metro Manila. But I couldn’t bail out of the trip. A lot of prayers were said before, during and after. I believe a miracle happened. Typhoon Hagupit got weaker as it hit land.
I share this little anecdote because I really believe in the power of prayers. Ok the typhoon weakening may not have been due to divine intervention, but I have been blessed with a few real miracles already. I also think that everything happens for a reason. While I was full of anxiety as our plane took off before the storm hit, I was a picture of calmness on our first full day in Barcelona. The travel agent “coincidentally” planned our Montserrat visit on December 8th, the Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, not knowing that I have a special devotion to the Virgin Mary.
My DAPHNE Diaries will give small portraits of the city of Barcelona – food, museums, urban life. I didn’t actually mean to do a whole story on churches in my blog. But as I was reviewing my photos, I found I had more than enough to piece this blog entry together. Don’t worry, I don’t get preachy. This is an architecture and design story… with a little history.
Montserrat actually means “saw (serrated, like the common handsaw) mountain” in Catalan. Source.
The monastery began in 1025 as the Hermitage of Santa Maria, the Mother of Christ. It became a very well known shrine in the Christian world. In the early 1800’s, most of the monastery was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. The church and monastery we see now is a result of rebuilding.
The medallion in the centre of the atrium has an inscription around that reads, “Only those baptized and born in the water like fish can understand the meaning of the fish of the Eucharist.” I had to wait 10 minutes for a group of tourists to get off the circle before I could get my chance. This exact spot is believed to be very powerful.
The La Moreneta or the Black Madonna is a 12th or 13th century Romanesque statue housed in this alcove behind the main altar. It usually is filled with pilgrims and tourists. The normal wait is over one hour. Our guide, Fabio Bugna, anticipated the crowd, that being December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a national holiday in Spain. We arrived at the abbey around 9am. As you can see, we had the alcove all to ourselves.
And there she is. The Black Madonna. The statue is made of carved wood from the 12th century Romanesque period. It appears black because the varnish on the statue has oxidized from the effect of candle and lamp smoke. The Virgin has a ball in her hand, which sticks out of the glass compartment. I held it as long as I could until I shed a tear. I had enough time to say the Hail Mary.
That morning in Montserrat was really magical. After my prayers at the altar, we even heard the Montserrat Boys Choir sing. They usually sing in the afternoons. But that morning of December 8th, they had a special performance. Nothing in life is a coincidence. I was meant to be there.
Of course, no visit to Barcelona is complete without seeing La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s 133 year-old work-in-progress masterpiece. It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since its beginning in 1882, the church has been built purely from donations. I will save an entire post and video blog on La Sagrada Familia.
Not many people highlight the chapel at the crypt of La Sagrada Familia. It was built by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882. By the end of 1883, Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to take over the project, where he worked on his modernist masterpiece for over forty years.
The church of San Felip Neri is in a quaint square with a fountain and some buildings dating back to the Renaissance time. Its facade shows shrapnel from a bomb thrown by Franco’s forces during the Civil War, killing 42 people, mostly kids.
A definite must-see is the Barcelona Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia, established in the 15th century. Couldn’t help but pose for a touristy shot in front of the Gothic facade.
We were lucky that during the time of our visit, there was a 2-week Christmas market outside the Barcelona Cathedral and La Sagrada Famlia. I had lost sleep over these miniature hand sculpted terracotta Nativity figurines I saw at the market, so we went back another night.
I bought a miniature stable and nativity scene. The clay pottery was made by this woman. I asked her to give me her name and she wrote it on the brown bag packaging. But sadly, we were careless when we unpacked and I lost her name.
For my blog on Barcelona food and restaurants, click here.