31 May 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
2, Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

Madrid’s Catedral de Almudena was not completed until 1993 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

To mark Trinity Sunday yesterday (30 May 2021), my photographs were from the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar. For the rest of this week my photographs are from six cathedrals in Spain.

Earlier in this series, I returned to the Cathedral of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela (31 March 2021, HERE), and the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (10 April 2021, HERE). This morning (31 May 2021), my photographs are from Almudena Cathedral in Marid.

The interior of the Catedral de Almudena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Almudena Cathedral or Santa María la Real de La Almudena is the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Madrid. This is a modern cathedral, facing the Royal Palace or Palacio Real, and it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II as recently as 1993.

Madrid’s history really only begins in the year 852, when the Moors built a fortress near the banks of the Manzanares River. Those Moors had crossed from North Africa in the early eighth century, conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula within a few years, and established an independent emirate based in Córdoba.

In the year 852, as part of his plans to protect the northern approaches to Toledo, Emir Muhammad I built a fortress (alcázar) on the site of the present Royal Palace in Madrid. A small community grew up around this fortress or alcázar with the name Mayrit, which gives us the present name of Madrid.

In time, the resistance to the Muslim Moors grew, and Ramiro II briefly occupied Mayrit in the 932. Eventually, in their drive to capture Toledo, the sleepy outpost of Mayrit was taken by the army of Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085. Despite these upheavals and a failed attempt by the Moors to retake the fortress in 1109, Mayrit remained a sleepy village outpost. Its remote location attracted many monks and new monastic settlements, and Madrid soon had 13 churches – more than enough for its tiny population.

It was not until 1202 that Madrid acquired the status of a town. But it was still dominated by Church interests, and when a dispute arose over hunting rights in the area, a compromise was worked out recognising that the Church owned the soil but the local people, the Madrileños, had the rights to hunt everything above the soil.

The ruling Castilian royal families made the area their own hunting ground. The first royal cortes or parliament was called in Madrid in 1309, and in 1339 Alfonso XI held court in Madrid. However, Madrid remained a provincial town, long after Columbus reached America and the Inquisition expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.

It was another seven decades before Felipe II moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid in 1561. However, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo and the new capital had no cathedral.

Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena were discussed as early as the 16th century. But the cost of expanding and keeping the Spanish Empire came first and the construction of Madrid’s cathedral was postponed. Instead, for centuries, the Colegiata de San Isidro or Collegiate Church of Saint Isidore served as the cathedral of Madrid.

Saint Isidore’s was designed by the architect Pedro Sánchez in 1620. The church was consecrated on 23 September 1651, 13 years before its completion.

When the Archdiocese of Madrid was formed in 1885, Saint Isidore’s became the pro-cathedral of the city, and so it continued until the current Almudena Cathedral was completed in 1993.

The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a mediaeval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid.

Francisco de Cubas, the Marquis of Cubas, designed and directed the construction in a Gothic revival style. The project ceased during the Spanish Civil War and was abandoned until 1950. Fernando Chueca Goitia then adapted the plans of de Cubas to a baroque exterior to match the grey and white façade of the Palacio Real, which faces the cathedral.

The cathedral was not completed until 1993, when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. Saint Isidore’s then returned to the status of a collegiate church.

The Neo-Gothic interior of the new cathedral is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in a variety of styles, from historical revivals to ‘pop-art’ decor.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel features mosaics by the artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik. The paintings in the apse are the work of Kiko Arguello, founder of the Neocatechumenal Way.

The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th-century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. Nearby along the Calle Mayor excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and mediaeval city walls.

Colegiata de San Isidro seen through an arch in Plaza Mayor … it served as the Pro-Cathedral of Madrid from 1885 to 1993 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 39-49 (50-56) (NRSVA):

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

A street sign in old Madrid (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (31 May 2021, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) invites us to pray:

O Lord, let us remember that through you anything is possible. Bless our sisters and brothers in their Kingdom work.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Royal Palace faces the cathedral … its grey and white façade is matched in the baroque exterior of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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