So what of Barcelona? As we prepare to leave tomorrow morning I’ve been pondering my most and least favorite parts of the visit. It’s a tough selection, since we’ve done quite a lot in the past week.
Montserrat, particularly the art museum at Montserrat, was definitely a highlight, as was the Picasso tour and museum. The greatest of artists infused every brushstroke and chisel with meaning, and whether we understand what that meaning is or not we often feel it when we view the work, and it was definitely a powerful experience for me. But if I had to choose one aspect of the visit over all the others, it would be the great churches, particularly the Cathedral of Barcelona, with its many chapels dating from the early 1200s on. These chapels contain some of the most spectacular art and history of their times. The soaring ceilings of the cathedral are a marvel of early architecture. A slow tour of this awesome structure*, so filled with its religious obsession, is a pathway to inhabiting the minds of the people who lived in those times, and understanding how they viewed their world as a creation, and not an evolution. Standing before the paintings from those hundreds of years ago, it almost becomes possible to imagine yourself in such a life, in which everything began and ended with the will of God. People didn’t have much science then, so the intricacies of belief—the rules, the magic, the myths and miracles, the prejudices, the hundreds of saints and clergy were all they had on which to base their lives. That’s not to say that every person back then lived such a life, or that the people didn’t occasionally deviate into the same behaviors we still indulge in today, but in a place like a cathedral you can feel their core values and how far we’ve come from them—as well as how close as we’ve remained to them. By which I mean the forces that shape most people’s lives, the education and peer pressure that drives us. To a great extent the basis of our belief has shifted from God to man, and as Pessoa said, in neither case do we really know why we believe what we believe, we just do it, probably because it’s what everyone else seems to believe. To so many other people walking through the cathedral, it seemed as though the paintings and sculptures were little more than an entertainment instead of an appreciation of former lives, as entertainment has now become many people’s way of life. I have not been a religious person since childhood, but for me the memories remain, and that leads to an exploration of the mystery of belief—of how and why we believe what we believe. That’s a writer’s perspective, of course. We’re all about motivations.
On to Dublin, and we’ll blog again from there.
– Dona and Joe
*And it is awesomely cold and dark there as well.