31 March 2016

13 white geese in cathedral cloister
honour Barcelona’s young martyr

The geese in the cathedral cloisters in Barcelona recall the story of the martyrdom of Saint Eulalia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The square in front of Barcelona Cathedral, the Pla de la Seu, is a popular meeting place, but also acts as a stage for some of the best buskers in the city. On Sunday morning, the square also provides a stage for the Sardana Dances. The Sardana is the unique national folk dance Catalonia but anyone can join in this dance at noon on Sundays.

Barcelona Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulàlia (Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia or Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia) is a fine example of Catalan Gothic architecture, seen in its roof, cimborio or octagonal lantern, the choir area, the side chapels and its gargoyles, featuring a wide range of domestic and mythical animals.

But one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the cathedral is the cloister, with its own series of side altars and side chapels, an enclosed garden, and a fountain a pond.

The secluded Gothic Cloisters were completed in 1448, and at the heart of the cloisters is the Fountain of the Geese (Font de les Oques), the fountain and pond that provide a home to 13 white geese.

The sound of the loud cackling of the geese can be heard throughout the cathedral. In the past, they warned against intruders and thieves, but the number of the geese is explained variously by the story that Saint Eulàlia was 13 when she was martyred or that she suffered 13 tortures while she was being martyred by during a persecution of Christians by Romans in the reign of Emperor Diocletian.

Saint Eulàlia is the co-patron saint of Barcelona, alongside Saint George. She was a young teenager when she died a martyr’s death after refusing to deny that Christ is the Son of God.

The panels on the alabaster sarcophagus of Saint Eulalia recalls her tortures and martyrdom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint Eulalia (Aulaire, Aulazia, Olalla, Eulària) – her name means “well spoken” – was born ca 290. In late third century Barcelona, the Roman Consul Dacian was engaged in the relentless persecution of local Christians. Saint Eulàlia presented herself before Dacian to proclaim her Christian faith and to rebuke him for his harsh treatment of Christians.

Dacian is said to have condemned her to 13 tortures, each one marking a year of her age. At first, she was exposed naked in the public square but a miraculous snowfall in mid-spring covered her nudity. She was then put inside a barrel filled with glass (or knives) and rolled down the street now known as Baixada de Santa Eulàlia or Saint Eulàlia’s Descent, and where there is now a small chapel.

She survived and so her persecutors tried to burn her alive. But she survived this torture too, and emerged unscathed as the flames miraculously drew away from her body and instead headed for the soldiers.

Despite her sufferings, the girl’s faith never faltered, and her ordeals never led her to recant her Christianity. Her other tortures included having her breasts cut off, and being crucified on an X-shaped cross. She is often depicted with this cross as one of the instruments of her martyrdom.

Finally, she was decapitated. A dove is said to have flown out from her neck after her head was severed. The date of her martyrdom is given as 12 February 303.

The body of Saint Eulalia was first kept in the Church of Santa Maria del Mar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Her body was originally kept in the church of Santa Maria de les Arenes (Saint Mary of the Sands), now Santa Maria del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea). It was hidden in 713 during the Moorish invasion, and was only recovered in 878.

The shrine of Saint Eulalia in the crypt in Barcelona Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1339, she was moved to an alabaster sarcophagus in the crypt of the newly-built Cathedral, before the High Altar.

As well as Saints Eulàlia, the cathedral houses the tombs of Saint Olegarius, Saint Raymond of Penyafort, Count Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche, Bishop Berenguer de Palou II, Bishop Salvador Casañas y Pagés, and Bishop Arnau de Gurb, who is buried in the Chapel of Santa Llúcia, which he had built.

Today, the body of Saint Eulàlia remains in the cathedral crypt, the secluded cloister remains home to the 13 white geese who honour her memory, and the sardanistes or Sardana dancers can be expected outside the cathedral again next Sunday morning, dancing in the the Pla de la Seu.

The Sardana dancers in the square in front of Barcelona Cathedral last Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story what a brave girl! I looked up 13 geese because 13 geese just came by my house .