Esglesia de la Sang, Sller, Mallorca, Spain

Esglesia de la Sang, Sóller, Mallorca, Spain


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Mystery Worshipper: Strange Pilgrim
Church: Esglesia de la Sang
Location: Sóller, Mallorca, Spain
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 April 2007, 8:00pm

The building

It is the chapel of a former hospital, dating from 1564 according to one inscription (though over the door it says 1851). A very simple facade, almost indistinguishable from the rest of the street except for a small rose window and an elegant doorway. The interior is a well-proportioned space dominated by a large reredos, more renaissance than baroque in style. A large wooden crucifix behind the free-standing altar is flanked by statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady.

The church

The town's parish church of S. Bartomeu is in the throes of restoration, and its leaky roof meant that mass was being celebrated in this chapel instead. The congregation at this evening's Catalan-language mass were predominantly middle-aged or elderly, with few children present and more women than men.

The neighborhood

Sóller is a small town in the northwest of Mallorca, famous for its orange groves and the vintage railway that links it to the capital, Palma. Although it has clearly shared in the tourist-fuelled prosperity of the island in recent years, the town is very different from the sex-and-sangria resorts of the south. The church is in a tiny, and thankfully pedestrian, street a short walk from the main square, where stands the parish church.

The cast

An unnamed elderly priest.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Comfortably full but not overcrowded. I would guess about 70 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not on arrival, but unfortunately I was slightly late because I underestimated the time it would take me to walk from the hotel. The non-verbal greetings at the peace were warm and welcoming.

Was your pew comfortable?

A slightly insubstantial wooden bench which might have felt hard had the service lasted longer, but it was fine for its purpose.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Impossible for me to say, I'm afraid (see above). Judging from the appearance of the congregation, I think it likely that there was some discreet chat in a generally prayerful pre-service quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

I arrived a couple of seconds after 8 o'clock and the priest had already begun. I suppose he must have opened with the sign of the cross in Catalan.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The priest appeared to be reading from a printed leaflet as well as the altar missal, but no other copies of the leaflet were in evidence. A few people had equipped themselves with copies of a diocesan-produced hymn book (used for one song), which I eventually saw in a bookcase halfway down the church. There were none at the door.

What musical instruments were played?

None. A woman with a strong and tuneful voice served as cantor.

Did anything distract you?

The couple immediately in front of me were either amorously entwined, or one was giving simultaneous translation to the other. Either sweet nothings or theological profundities were being whispered, at any rate. During the sermon my mind and attention inevitably wandered to the statues, which were more acceptable to Anglo-Saxon tastes than many in Spain. And the collection was taken up not at the customary time, but during the eucharistic prayer (see below).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Simple and straightforward novus ordo mass, with no ceremonial to speak of. The priest wore a simple white chasuble and there was no server, although two women (including the cantor) did the readings and a man led the prayers of the people. Most of the mass (including the Gloria) was said, but the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were sung with enthusiasm, as well as a responsorial psalm and pre-gospel alleluia verse. Communion was given in one kind only, with most people receiving in their hands.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – This score is a "guesstimate" based entirely on the priest's body language and facial expressions. It appeared to be a very simple and sincere exposition of the gospel of the day (John 20:19-31, Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection and then again a week later when the doubting Thomas was present).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Though I understood next to nothing, I guessed he was talking about Thomas in the upper room, and referring to a journey in which we all share, meeting with the risen Christ in the eucharist.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Singing the alleluia to a chant I recognised. The joy of sharing in worship with other Christians from a different culture and language, knowing that we were at one in obeying the Lord's command and reading the same scriptures.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The insensitive blunderings of the man taking the collection, and the sudden realisation, while this was going on, that the priest had already said the offertory prayers and launched into the sursum corda.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The congregation made a hasty exit and I was completely ignored (together, probably, with any other visitors). But that's the continental Catholic way and it didn't upset me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

4 – Not my denomination, country or language. But if I did live locally I would be happy to worship there.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, undoubtedly. I was heartened by the very matter-of-factness to the liturgy – no fuss, no pious faces, just people worshipping God because it is a normal thing to do.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The triumph of mammon as the collection was taken while the eucharistic prayer was said in the background.

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