Thursday, 18 December 2008

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar (1329 - 1383) has a central nave of four bays marked by octagonal columns, which also define two flanking aisles and quicken their pace to sweep together the semicircular form of the apse. The columns rise to just more than half the height of the nave; from their capitals the ribs of the roof converge on circular keystones. Chandeliers hang as plumb-lines traversing the huge spaces formed by the columns and their branches; the plummetting lines tell of the weight supported by the stub counterfort walls - solid rectangular blocks oppose the outward thrust of the roof in lieu of flying buttresses. See for example Robert Hughes, Barcelona, Chapter 3, V for more details of the building and its history.

I arrived early enough to see the rich blues of the stained glass windows at the east end

but the light fell quickly and the rose window dimmed.

Fragments of Fauré's Requiem were being rehearsed: it transpired that there was a service for All Souls being held that evening. For a while it was not possible to get out for the people coming in, during which time I recovered the normal inclination of the head after its long stretch of strenuous upward-looking.

I returned on a Sunday morning a week or so later, just as a small crowd gathered for mass, and, after consultation with my neck, decided to keep my gaze downwards on this occasion. The floor is paved with tombstones, mostly from the eighteenth century in the area I was looking.

Outside, around the huge oak west portal, with its two load-bearing figures - fifteenth century emblems of guild sponsorship - are tiny tableaux carved on the capitals of the columns assembled about the archway. Many are of scenes I could not decipher, some appearing to be from fabulous sources rather than biblical. The intricacy of carving is exemplified by these leaf forms
, appearing on successive columns.

Keeping eyes at ground level as I was, circumambulating the church I encountered walls, niches, doors.

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