The Pope's recent visit to Spain to Santiago de Compostella and to Barcelona has highlighted several themes clearly of importance in his papacy and also in the history of Spain and the Spanish church.
The Santiago Holy Year - the Jacobeo - is an opportunity to recall the key role played by the belief in the intercession of St James the Great and the centuries old pilgrimage to Compostella in the formation of Christian Castile and Spain, and its sense of isdentity and mission as aCatholic country. The pilgrimage route, especially under the influence of the Cluniacs, became a major conduit of ideas, of arts and architecture, and of devotion linking much of medieval Europe. I believe that by the mid-nineteenth century it had declined to a small number of pilgrims. Today it is firmly re-established, with many walking the ancient routes across norther Castile and Galicia. Some may go more as holidaymakers than pilgrims, but go they do. Now they have been joined by the Pope, greeted at the cathedral as a pilgrim. This is a reminder of those ancient and traditional bonds of Christian Europe that the Holy Father so often speaks about and seeks to reinvigorate and re-establish. That happened at Santiago - it can happen elsewhere.
Santiago was a very suitable place for the Pope to remind Europe of its Christian roots, culture and heritage. The Holy father did not shirk addressing in his comments onthe journey to santiago the issue of ther emergence of anticlericalism in Spain, and reminding us of what that led to in the terrible enents of the years 1931-1939 in that country. The Church believes that 4,184 clergy were murdered, particularly in 1936. In recent years a considerable number of these, along with lay victims, have been beatified or canonized, or their caiuses are being considered - a reminder for the future of what happened, but which too many peopel prefer to forget.
The Pope greets the crowds in Santiago
The Pope inside the cathedral at Santiago
To understand something about the camino I would recommend Edwin Mullins The Pilgrimage to Santiago - it is a travel book as much as a history and the work of an agnostic - but you feel the attraction, the power of the shrine drawing you across the hills and valleys to the remote, windy, wet province of Galicia and the great church of Compostella. If you cannot go there, call in to the cast gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum to be awed by the cast of the great twelfth century west portal. This is serious religion.
The Pope celebrates Mass at the church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The Pope pours holy oil on the main altar of Sagrada Familia during the consecration ceremony.
The Pope by consecrating so famous a building, whose architect's cause for beatification is being considered, again signifies one of the great themes of his papacy - the application of the arts to worship and devotion, and indeed to a true humanism - the historic Christian Humanism of our civilisation.
That it was in Barcelona, at the heart of a region which witnessed much of the worst attacks on the Church and its faithful in the 1930s, made it more significant and poignant, and also hopeful. Gaudi, who had died in 1926, left his church incomplete; during the Civil War the model and plans of the church were lost or dispersed. Yet now it is approaching completion - scheduled for 2026 - and has been consecrated by the Pope in the presence of the King and Queen of Spain. Those facts are redolent with hope.
Barcelona in particular, and much of modern Spain may indeed be socially liberal, but the heritage of the Most Catholic Kingdom is by no means exhausted. Like that of the rest of Europe it need to be sustained and reasserted. In Pope Benedict it has a sure and confident champion. We must support him in that, as it is vital to our future.
The Pope is greeted by the King of Spain
Photos from Associated Press