Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean
Church: Church of the Tabernacle
Location: Granada, Spain
Date of visit: Wednesday, 25 August 2010, 11:00am
The Iglesia del Sagrario, together with the royal chapel that houses the tombs of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, is part of the great Renaissance cathedral complex; each has a separate entrance. The cathedral, Santa Maria de la Encarnacion, rises above the maze of houses in the city centre. The exterior of the Iglesia del Sagrario is rather austere, typical of church buildings in this area that were built like fortresses to withstand attacks from Moorish forces. Statues of St Peter, flanked by St John Nepomuceno and St Ivo, are mounted above the entrance. The interior is dazzling in its beauty. Built in the Baroque style, it is modelled on the Basilica of St Peter. The ornate altar of marble and polished wood, festooned with flowers, features various religious figures. A pair of what looks like giant thuribles hangs on either side of the chancel. On closer inspection, one sees that they are actually very grand looking candle holders suspended on long chains! A hemispherical dome covers the chancel and immense columns decorated with large statues of angels support a larger dome above the nave. Small chapels, monuments and some confessional boxes line the sides and the back of the church.
A sole notice in the porch listed masses on Sundays and saints days. A daily mass was scheduled at 9.30am so it appeared the one and only service of the day had already taken place.
Granada is an ancient and fascinating city in southern Spain. Once part of a Moorish kingdom, it was conquered by Christian forces in the 15th century, resulting in the unification of Spain under its monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It lies under the lofty Sierra Nevada mountains, which are snow-capped throughout the year, and it is dominated by the Alhambra, a fabulous Moorish palace. Narrow streets and alleyways containing shops, cafes and restaurants of all description surround the cathedral; indeed, the neighbouring Alcaiceria area has the atmosphere of an Arabian souk. At the rear of the cathedral is the Plaza Isabel la Catolica, where there is a monument commemorating the moment Christopher Columbus presented his exploration plans to the queen before he subsequently set sail on the voyage that was to land him in the New World.
An elderly priest was the sole celebrant, but I was unable to discover his name.
What was the name of the service?Misa (Mass)
How full was the building?
When I entered, there were around 20 people sitting in pews and about the same number milling around and taking photographs at the back of the church. The congregation swelled to about 30 and diminished to about one-fifth of that during the service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew that was comfortable enough, but the wooden kneeler looked decidedly uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
By pure chance, unexpectedly, and literally within seconds of my walking through the doors, a priest entered and the service began! The only atmosphere I encountered before the service was dodging the beggars sitting on the steps outside in the roasting heat.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. They knew all the responses off by heart.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I was absolutely amazed at the comings and goings of the congregation. I think you would be able to count on one hand the ones who stayed for the whole service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely not happy clappy! The celebrant was vested in a cream chasuble and he presided at a perfunctory and efficient mass. Using a microphone, he projected his voice clearly, speaking mostly in Spanish with some parts in Latin. Although he crossed himself and genuflected at appropriate times, there was no other ceremony. I couldnt hear any bells being rung at the elevation of the host. I got the impression the priest was saying his mass, come what may, irrespective of whoever was there. At the peace he stayed at the altar whilst the congregation greeted each other.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The truly stupendous beauty of the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The awful comings and goings of the tourists, accentuated by the painful squeaking of the doors. You could also hear the strumming of guitars emanating from the surrounding streets.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Seven people (including myself) remained at the end. The priest disappeared through a side door and the congregation exited quickly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I decided to purchase a bottle of water before returning to take some photos. When I returned, only a few minutes later, the doors were closed and the wrought iron gates were locked with a chain and padlock! Even the beggars had departed. I just couldnt believe my eyes!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I do not think that would be practical!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The beauty of the church certainly made you feel the presence of God. However, the speed of closing the church and locking it up left me feeling very disappointed.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Standing outside the locked church, wishing I could have been able to take in more detail.