The day was long and my feet throbbed with every step forward. Putting one foot in the front of the other was a struggle on my last day in Mallorca’s capital city of Palma de Mallorca. I saw its major architectural landmark only in passing and under the cover of night. It glowed in a way churches in Europe always seem to at night with an inextricable gleam of magic. Anyone gazing upon them must believe in something.
By the daylight, I was less than enthused to enter yet another church in Europe, but this was Palma’s big cheese, the Catedral de Mallorca. Perched in the old town of the city, capturing this massive house of worship proved to be the biggest challenge. Wedged like a puzzle piece in Palma, I tussled with my camera and my subject, but I could never get the enormous structure in one photograph. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be like every church in Europe. Catedral de Mallorca proved to be special beginning with its exterior for it was far too grand for the frame of one photograph.
Catedral de Mallorca was originally a mosque of Medina Mayurka, the capital of Muslim Mallorca for three centuries. King Jaume I would roll up onto the island and change the faiths of locals. For their new beliefs, they would need a cathedral, one that would become one of the largest in Europe. And so stone by stone, they built the cathedral from 1300 to 1601. While three centuries seems like a long time for construction, this is the sort of cathedral that required such time. Any day less and it won’t be grippingly Gothic and overpoweringly enormous. I gaze up at its walls towering before me, more reminiscent of a fortress than a place to pray. Gargoyles stare me down in only the way that a gargoyle can.
My feet continue to ache as my eyelids start to droop. I fight every ounce of my fatigue to see something in this church that makes it unique, elements that are only in this sacred space. The churches of Europe tend to grow predictable and redundant, but not in Palma de Mallorca. This structure enjoying a holiday by the Mediterranean has the best seat in the house for changing the attitudes of the jaded traveler.
I am met by soaring high cross vaults, massive pillars and the bright colors of stained glass. The Mediterranean sun doesn’t stay outside the cathedral. The light carries through 61 stained glass windows including five rose windows. Splashes of blues, pinks, purples and oranges decorate the cathedral.
However something isn’t quite right about this picture. A massive piece juts out of the pulpit. It doesn’t make sense to me, nor does it fit into the otherwise Gothic interior. I suspect Antoni Gaudi might be behind this one.
My guide quickly confirms my suspicions. Antoni Gaudi worked on the Cathedral from 1904 to 1914 as part of a restoration program. He would add his flair for the unusual and dreamlike by opening up covered windows, adding new stained glass and adorning a pulpit with something I can’t quite define. This isn’t even his strangest piece. To the right, I find what looks like a baby’s mobile gone horrible dark and religious. The Canopy hovers above the church’s main altar like a dancing mobile. It crowns with a sculpture of Christ crucified with 35 lamps hanging from it. Suddenly I realize this is not your average church in Europe. Gaudi was here and the strange is ever present.
And just like a marriage, it doesn’t end at the altar. I continue to the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló has added his touch for the unconventional within the cathedral. In 2007, he unveiled this ceramic mural comprised of 15 tons. It tells of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
The parish wanted a contemporary creation and they received one. Fish and marine creatures seemingly pop out from the walls. The windows above are colored to look like water. And just for a long minute, I’m not sure if I’m under the sea or in Palma’s Gothic masterpiece.
Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges said of the Catedral de Mallorca, “The Cathedral is an airplane made of stone that fights to break the thousand moorings that imprison it. The Cathedral sounds like applauses or like a kiss.” In many respects, Palma’s cathedral is a means of transport, one you commend but also embrace. It takes you somewhere you thought you had been before and quickly jerks the rider in a different direction to somewhere that you didn’t know existed. It’s not just another church in Europe. It is the Catedral of Mallorca where worlds collide somewhere over a hanging mobile.
Have you been to the Catedral de Mallorca or a church in Europe that surprised you with its contents?