Since Friday I have been staying in Madrid, a city of 3.3 million people, the third largest in the European Union and Spain’s capitol. Madrid strikes me as largely a city of monuments, restaurants, museums and lots and lots of people. I learned right away that Columbus Day is a national holiday here in Spain because the royal palace and the museums were all closed. I did, however, get to watch a Columbus Day Parade featuring several units of the country’s armed forces. Architecturally, the cathedral is awesome. Built in the latter years of the last century, it looks like a brand, new church of the thirteenth century. I have also learned that here in Madrid the dried blood of St. Pantaleon liquefies every year on his feast day, July 26, at the Augustinian Recollects Sisters’ Monastery of the Incarnation. I am becoming more and more curious about these liquifactions of the blood of ancient martyrs. What’s going on here?
By design I have spent today, the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, in Avila, the city from which she and St. John of the Cross reformed the Carmelite order in the sixteenth century and wrote profound books on prayer and the spiritual life. With hindsight I now know that this is both a good and a bad day to visit this city. Apart from the hotels and a few restaurants and shops, Avila shuts down on October 15. Many people go to mass – the churches seemed packed – and then watch the St. Teresa’s Day Parade, replete with military representatives, bands, floats and banners, most of which are about Teresa. On the negative side many of the places that people like me come to visit are closed or open for only short periods of time on this local holiday.
The high point of Avila for me was the Convent of the Incarnation where Teresa lived, worked and wrote for thirty years and had visions of Jesus and where both she and John of the Cross had ecstatic experiences in prayer. Surprisingly, quite of bit of the monastery of Teresa’s time is open to the public. I was able to visit her room and places where she had the visions and ecstatic experiences. The visit to Teresa’s convent would by itself have made the trip a success.
I was also able to visit the Convent of St. Joseph, the first convent Teresa founded as part of her project to reform her order. The one thing that sticks with me about this convent is a statue of the Blessed Virgin dressed in a brown Carmelite habit. (I’ve noticed that here in Spain Mary has an extensive wardrobe which doesn’t go overboard on blue and white.)
I spent Saturday in western Spain at Salamanca, a city of magnificent medieval and Romanesque architecture and the home of Spain’s major university, the University of Salamanca, the third largest university in the western world. To visit Salamanca is to go back in time. If there was one thing about Salamanca that I liked above all else, it was the almost perfectly preserved university buildings of the fifteenth century. For five euros you can go into classrooms where major theologians of the Council of Trent studied theology, Dominican lawyers invented international law in the sixteenth century and poets, philosophers and theologians have argued over the meaning of Don Quixote. My only regret about Salamanca is that I may have tried to do too much in too little time.
Tuesday we all concelebrated mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the only church in the world where it is inappropriate to have a manger scene at Christmas, because since the fourth century what purports to be the original manger of Bethlehem has been housed there. The logic, of course, is that if you have the real thing, you don’t want imitations. It is also, I learned, always appropriate to sing a Christmas carol before the manger at St. Mary Major. After mass we were given a complete and thorough tour of the basilica by Fr. Paul McInerny, a close friend of Bishop Coyne, who lives and works there. Fr. McInerny remarked to me that Bishop Coyne really, really likes Indianapolis.
I am here in Madrid until Thursday when I fly to Prague. I will fly back to Rome on Monday and stay there for ten days until I take off again.