Goya – Holy Week

” BUT what are you doing, pray, idling over your pétit déjeuner on the pavement outside the Café Condal in the Rambla del Centro of Barcelona ? I understood that this was to be a Goya pilgrimage. Is it not a fact that Goya never set foot in Barcelona and that Barcelona contains only one of his works, ” Bulls,” No. 320 in the Museo Municipal ? Come, let us go and look at it and then we can move on to some more agreeable city.”

Ah, I see you have been studying your Baedeker, prudent and impatient reader. But let me tell you something you weren’t aware of—to-day is Good Friday, a public holiday and a day on which even a republican city council will not permit us to inspect works of art. If we were to go to the Museo Municipal we should find it closed.

” Then why, since you profess to know some-thing about Spanish habits, did you arrange to stay at Barcelona in Holy Week ? ”

Pardon, dear reader, I did not arrange it. The clerk who registered my luggage in Paris arranged it for me. My personal intention was not to stay at Barcelona at all, but to arrive at Zaragoza in time to view the Jueves Santo procession on Thursday evening.

” Then why did you so mismanage your affairs as to allow your plans to be interfered with by the registration clerk at Paris ?

Your pardon once again, but I hold that the traveller’s affairs are never mismanaged when he allows Fate to manage them for him. Fate has many deputies and, as it turned out, the clerk who concerned himself with my luggage in Paris was of the number. But I am glad you asked the question, for it affords me the opportunity of introducing to you my circulating library.

” Another digression ?

I fear so. This is likely to be but a desultory pilgrimage at best. Madrid is its very secular goal and I confess I am not feverish to reach it. More-over, since you have consented to accompany me as my fellow-pilgrim, I shall insist on gossiping to you by the way. Need I remind you that there is yet time to turn back ?

I think I told you that I never travelled without a selection of select authors. By this admission I did not mean to imply that I merely slipped a favourite volume or two into the unoccupied corners of a portmanteau. The selection swells out almost into the dimensions of a library. I had a box made specially to hold it. This box is really’ a triumph of the box-maker’s art, strong as a safe, neat as a coffin. It is made of good old English heart-of-oak, the right stuff of which the ” wooden walls ” were built. All that they fought to preserve —the life and spirit of this sceptred isle, this other Eden, this demi-paradise, this England !—is packed within its narrow compass. Twenty-eight inches by twelve, it isn’t much if you carry the scale of the Bodleian in your eye. But you can’t measure a literature in terms of cubic content.

Light literature it is in no sense of the word—as perspiring porters have affirmed on oath in half the languages of Europe. The sorry hacks of Paris have doubtless cursed it in their equine argot the diligences of Southern Spain have rocked beneath it ; the panting upstream steamers of the Rhine have snorted out their protest ; the long-suffering mules of Italy have reproached it with sad and tearful eyes ; it has been the last straw upon the camel’s back. Neither can it be called cheap literature. Nobody will touch it under a couple of francs. It is voracious of the paper currency of Southern Europe and I have known occasions when its appetite was unappeasable except with gold. Indeed, the continental railway companies may be said to batten upon it. To the utilitarian souls of registration clerks it is merely excess luggage—as if there could be any excess of the weighty stuff that it contans !

Of all the traveller’s impedimenta it is the most vexatious. It begins to involve its owner in difficulties at the douane (aduana, dogana or Zollhaus as the case may be). Perhaps its passage through the aduana is the most difficult of all, for the Spanish custom-house officer is the most inquisitive of the nature of the privacies of the traveller’s goods and chattels. As soon as it touches foreign soil its plain, honest, British, workmanlike character appears to desert it. You might almost swear it began to have a suspicious, double-dealing, touch-me-not look about it. Perhaps in contrivances such as this alien immigrants conceal their bombs or pirates their pieces-of-eight. Tobacco or cigars ? No, señor, though its contents are more soothing. Spirit ?—not of the kind you mean, my friend, though it can set both brain and heart on fire. Wine ?—the only vintage we can boast about in England. Lace, scent, a patent medicine ? —fragrant are the wares it holds, and healing too, yet are they none of these vanities ! Caramba ! what then does it contain ? Words, señor, words, golden and jewelled words. The sword-begirt Cerberus smiles with polite incredulity. Not so easily is the official intelligence to be duped. Vamos â ver-let’s sec ! The box is unstrapped and unlocked, the lid uplifted and to the mistrustful, unillumined eye of the Spanish functionary is displayed the imperial treasury of England. Thick, tobacco-stained fingers fumble upon Herrick’s ” Hesperides ” and open at the pages at ” The Tempestuous Petticoat.” The light of understanding dawns upon his brow. Vaya ! usted es viajante—a commercial traveller. Ejemplos, eso es. Samples ? Yes, my friend, samples of the paradisal ware we once manufactured in that demi-paradise, that England !

But that encounter was on a former pilgrimage. This time, in order to punish me for the omission of one of those infinitesimal formalities, which loom so infinitely large in the mind of the petty official, it seemed good to the clerk who registered my luggage that my circulating library should cease to circulate at the Gare de Lyon. The prospect of so many solitary pétits déjeuners appalled me—that was before I had made the acquaintance of El Diluvio, remember. I decided therefore to wire to Paris and wait in Barcelona until such time as my breakfast companions should be released from their strict durance in the dim bureau des bagages of the Gare de Lyon.

I was not sorry to have to wait, because I like Barcelona. It is, as everybody knows, the Manchester of Spain, but a Manchester with a mediæval core. I confess I have seldom any wish to wander beyond the limits of this central heart, with its great artery, the Rambla, and the little side streets where the confidential cafés are. I know that just at the head of the Rambla lies an aggressively modern suburb, with desolate boulevards and Post-Impressionist houses, and beyond that an outer ring of throbbing factories, but the knowledge does not disturb me. I rather rejoice to feel the pulses of modern life beating here healthily, feverishly at times, for a town that has factories can never petrify into a museum, and for my part I prefer a thousand times the atmosphere of factories to that of museums.

On this afternoon of Jueves Santo, or Maundy Thursday, therefore, I plunged into the tortuous, chasm-like streets south of the cathedral and soon found myself in the little square in front of Santa Maria del Mar. The sea which once washed its steps has long ago receded, leaving the beautiful Gothic church stranded in a slum, but it still remains what it always has been, the church of the people of the port. I entered and found myself in that thick darkness which is the characteristic of almost all Spanish churches and of Catalonian churches in particular. At first I saw nothing but the shine of a thousand candles ranged row upon row on, a kind of scaffolding erected staircase-wise —the Monumento, symbolic of the Tomb once sealed in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. Then I perceived that the church held a close-packed mob of people. That fact was not surprising, since it was the afternoon of Jueves Santo. But surprising certainly were the shrill and unceasing noises that echoed through the building. All the ragged children of the quarter were squatting upon the floor and on the steps of the side chapels. The little infants shrieked their inarticulate grief at top most pitch ; those that had learnt the art of quarrelling quarrelled with that infantile ferocity which has the will but happily not the wit to wound ; the elder urchins were armed with wooden hammers, like the heads of croquet mallets, with which they beat a monotonous tattoo upon the flagstones that covered the graves of the dead, sleeping their unwakeable sleep below. This universal provision of hammers puzzled me for some time, as I never remembered having seen Spanish children play such a game before, until, chancing to look at a cross decorated with the emblems of the Passion, I read in the hammer and nails the easy answer to the riddle. A practice which has questionless descended from the Middle Ages, for it was surely only that age of grown-up children, with their happy gift of innocent irreverence, that could have devised out of a weapon of such sad, sinister significance a toy for children’s chubby fists. The few who were hammerless whirled rasping wooden rattles round their heads with all the child’s rapture in pure unmeaning noise. The body of the church was black with masses of kneeling and crouching figures, trampled upon by other masses which thronged in continually through the open doors. And from some-where within an enclosed choir came the drone of priests imperturbably chanting the Tenebræ. Such a promiscuous din, such heat of human bodies, such nerve-shattering distraction, —it seemed a ghastly kind of wake to keep for the Crucified.

I believe that it is not uncommon for a priest to ask the would-be convert to Catholicism if he has ever travelled in Southern Europe. The implication would seem to be, ” Do you really know the worst ? ” I understand now the relevance of the inquiry. I can conceive that the northern Christian, bred in traditions of decorous and perhaps somewhat frigid devotion, entering Santa Maria del Mar on this afternoon of Jueves Santo, might experience a certain difficulty in accommodating his own slightly tentative and rarefied belief to this gross, unthinking, violent acceptance of the supernatural. So far from feeling himself to be a co-religionist, he would unconsciously assume the attitude of a detached and possibly contemptuous spectator. ” This is not my religion,” he would comment, ” this is paganism.” Probably it is, and I, for my part, bear it no ill will on that account. ” Pagan and ” human ” have always seemed to me all but synonymous terms, and of equally endearing import. There is a sense in which the Catholic Church may be said to be the only pagan institution which has come down into our times alive. Catholicism, it has been said, “transubstantiates ” paganism, keeping the accidents, changing the substance. It takes on itself the clothes, the regalia, of the old gods into whose temples it enters. In particular it has preserved that peculiarly pagan sense of the crowd. A crowd there may be in a Protestant temple, but it is a crowd in a different sense, a congeries of individuals, each drawn by his separate conscience or intelligence, for purposes of his own, lacking something of solidarity. The Catholic crowd, at all events so far as countries still predominantly Catholic are concerned, yet owns kinship with the pagan populace of the cities of the ancient world when they gathered round the local altars, en masse and as of course, on the high days of festival. Even here, in anti-clerical Barcelona, the Church had flung a wide net and gathered in not the members of a sect but the whole populace of the port. The festival bore legibly the stamp of a popular act. It was a family gathering on a grand scale, informal, tolerant, even hilarious, as such gatherings are apt to be, and the children hammering on the gravestones with their wooden mallets went unreproved, for were they not doing their part in their childish unconsidering way ? Here was all the crowd’s violence, the crowd’s lack of restraint—but is it not the warmth of these rude embraces of humanity that keeps a Church alive ?

Half suffocated, yet somehow strangely refreshed, I emerged from this saturating bath of humanity, and was caught up in the current of people who were going from church to church, visiting the Monumentos. As it flowed westwards the crowd grew denser, and just where the Calle de Fernando VII. debouches into the Rambla it ceased to flow at all and became impenetrable. A funereal music came sobbing down the street, and then defiled before my eyes the most lamentable procession I have ever seen. Lamentable were the waxwork groups representing the protagonists of the Drama which the day commemorated. Lost utterly was that tradition of startling and intransigent realism which was the glory of the old Spanish statuary. In its place languished a sentimentalism, that was quite foreign to the Spanish character ; but since the Spaniard rarely does any-thing by halves, it was a sentimentalism carried to a reductio ad absurdum, staggering even to a northerner, who is of necessity innoculated to the sentimental. Most lamentable of all was the regiment of mock Roman soldiers, flesh and blood performers these, with their glued-on whiskers and moustaches and pink fleshings hired from the theatre for the evening. The captain of this ,grotesque band was of a mongrel breed, between a Norse Viking and a Red Indian chief, his head swallowed up in an inverted soup-tureen of a helmet, with a tail of cock’s feathers streaming down his back. I was scarcely surprised to hear a sneering Cockney exclamation behind me. ” Do they call this a religious procession ? ” The cynical Barcelona crowd, however, took it all in good part, and even complied so far as to uncover when the lamentable Christ passed by.

It was with some curiosity that I opened the copy of El Diluvio which the waiter handed to me outside the Café Condal to see what bright shafts of satire my republican correspondent had unloosed overnight. Certainly the target was broad enough. Here we are ! ” The day of Jueves Santo,” his letter begins, ” has demonstrated this year more eloquently than ever before that Barcelona is a city on the march, for which traditionalism is definitely a dead letter. . . . The procession was witnessed by a large number of curious people, and we say curious ‘ because they were nothing more than that. As an example of this, when the Canopy passed the corner of the Rambla and the Calle de Fernando (where naturally the press of people was the thickest), not a single citizen uncovered.” Decidedly El Diluvio is an incorrigible liar ! For it was precisely at that corner that I was standing, and although I do not pretend that I observed the motions of everybody in the crowd, I was somewhat surprised to find every head around me uncovered, with the exception of that of one citizen immediately in front, whose un-submissive billycock hat partially obscured my view. Which suggests the thought, how shall historians decide when eye-witnesses disagree ? The writer continues his account of the day as he chose to view it. ” Instead of quiet recollection, tumult ; instead of silence, the noise of carriages and tramways ; instead of faith in drab clothes, the bright incredulity of a people animated by the joy of life ; instead of companies of the faithful breathing the vitiated air of churches, hundreds of families going into the country to enjoy the wholesome breezes ; instead of the hieratic cult of images, the rational cult of Nature : such was the picture yesterday to be seen in our progressive city. In effect, the gods are going. Faith dies in the disillusion of the citizens and the city turns her back on traditionalism and her face towards progress. What more ? In the crowded Calle de Fernando, almost in front of the Church of San Jaime, an ambulatory pianist played airs out of La Bohème, and at the same time walked past Don Roman Fabra, wearing light-coloured trousers, a democratic short jacket and without a top hat (vestido de pantalon clara, democratica americana y sin chistera).”

Decidedly a city on the march, and who could better lead the vanguard than the innovating Don Roman, who wears his democratic heart upon his sleeve and announces his bright incredulity in the hue of his trousers ?

Perhaps after all it was a rather shrewd idea of the registration clerk at the Gare de Lyon to compel me to begin my Goya pilgrimage at Barcelona, for here we are at the very outset in the Goya atmosphere, the atmosphere of anti-clericalism. In Goya’s time, some hundred years ago, the fashion was but newly come into Spain, and was recognisable by its Voltairean cut. Today it is the common wear in the towns, and by no means uncommon in the country. A present-day phenomenon not altogether confined to Spain, did you remark ? True, but in other countries the garb of compromise is more the thing, a blend of liberal thought with ancient precedent ; or if the bitter antagonism is present none the less, it is at any rate localised, kept within the ring, exercising itself on fixed occasions and in rounds of limited duration. In Spain there is neither truce nor neutral territory. The cleavage of religion cuts right across the field of politics. There is no such thing, so far as I know, as a Conservative who is a professed unbeliever, or a Republican who is a professing Catholic. Hume, the Tory sceptic, and Acton, Catholic and apostle of liberty, would both alike be barely conceivable by the Spanish mind. If you wish to wear the jacket of democracy, you must also don the loud trousers of incredulity. The party system, with its arbitrary dual division, is senseless enough, when you consider that there are not merely two but more likely two hundred debatable questions to be solved, and that each of these questions has not simply two sides but a variety of separate facets ; but when, having manfully pronounced the party shibboleth, you are subjected to the further test of a religious creed, affirmative or negative as the case may be, the system becomes one such as must make wise men laugh and angels weep. Why, because I hold certain views as to the nature of hereditary monarchy, must I also hold certain other views as to the nature of the Deity ? And not only is the whole field of politics made the arena of religious feud, but there is scarcely an incident of ordinary life too insignificant to be wrangled over by the rival factions. We have seen how the modest garments of Don Roman Fabra can become a kind of gonfalon for the forces of “progress.” So too I remember, on the occasion of the anniversary of Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, when the Clericals adorned their balconies with paper roses, the Radical Press published diatribes against the execrable and degraded taste discovered in the use of artificial flowers, to which the Conservative organs must needs reply by extolling their decorative possibilities. It is this interpenetration of politics with religious rancour which makes one despair of the social progress of Spain. She has yet to learn, if the outsider may be allowed expression of his opinion, that the conscience of the citizen should be no less private than his ballot-paper. The only result can be confusion when the ancient landmarks between the things that are God’s and the things that are Caesar’s are obliterated.

But this mood of remonstrance scarcely befits the day. After all it was El Diluvio that began it —but how should my correspondent have known that I was standing there at the corner of the Rambla ready to trip him up on that little matter of the uncovered heads ? No doubt he wrote with the sole desire to please. But let us stroll along to the Cathedral—perhaps we shall be just in time to witness the sad spectacle of the faith expiring in the disillusion of the citizens.

Barcelona Cathedral is an unsatisfactory place for witnessing spectacles of any kind. Its gloom I have no quarrel with, but I can never forgive the Spanish chapters for the erecting in the middle of the nave of those solid, selfish coros, which destroy the Gothic perspective and diminish the effect of the ritual pageantry. Traditionalism, it seems, is not yet so dead that it cannot fill this great building with worshippers, even on a morning when the wholesome breezes blow invitingly from the Tibidabo—the hill that commands so fair and far a prospect that it suggests itself as the scene of the Tempter’s unavailing bribe, Haec omnia tibi dabo. It is just possible, however, to squeeze into that central space between the coro and the high altar. Here we must stand an hour or two, for the Spaniard is not yet accustomed to the luxury of pews. We must stand throughout the long recital of that great last chapter of the Christian story, or rather the penultimate chapter, for not until Easter morning shall we hear the climax. And yet, although it is an oft-told tale, told now in a foreign tongue, with what tremendous interest we listen. The recital is impressive and dramatic. Three priests mount into three separate pulpits. One is the story-teller, who recites in a clear key, with somewhat elaborate conventional modulations, the merely narrative passages. Another represents the minor dramatis personæ, Pontius Pilate, Simon Peter, the kinsman of him whose ear Peter gashed, and the rest. The third speaks for the Son of Man. This last has the most marvellous voice I have ever heard, sonorous as a deep-toned bell, yet capable of the subtlest inflections, now stern with a kind of defiance, now tremulous beneath the weight of the heart’s bitterness. The speaker who impersonated Pilate speaks, quite naturally I am sure, with a shrill, slightly cynical intonation, which seems not unfitting to the part. ” Quid est veritas ? ‘”—some might have smiled to hear the shrewd interrogation echoing down the aisles of this Catholic cathedral—unanswered. Deliberately, unrelentingly, the drama is unrolled. The articulation is so distinct that not a syllable is lost, and at times the Latin phrasing, pronounced by a Spanish tongue, approaches so closely to the native idiom that I cannot but think that to the most unlettered of the hearers the drift of the momentous dialogue must be explicit. Then from time to time the choir, high up in a loft in the transept, bursts in startlingly with the exclamations of the crowd, impatiently expostulating, ” Not this man, but Barabbas,” clamouring with sullen reiteration, ” Away with Him, away with Him.” At last, in a palpable silence, the sighing “Sitio” (I thirst) is breathed, and then the irrevocable ” Consummatum est,” quite terrible in its intensity, so that, even had the rubric not pre-scribed the action, I think that at these words the whole congregation would inevitably have fallen to their knees.

Could anything be simpler ? Yet could you imagine any form of presenting the drama that would be more moving ? I have never seen Oberammergau’s treatment of the Passion, but I do not think that its realism can so purge the spirit with terror and pity as do the conventions of the Mass of the Presanctified. I could not help wondering whether this were not perhaps the closest approximation to the mode of the Greek drama that is to be seen in our time. The actors, if one may call them so, strictly suppressed any attempt at personal expression. No Greek actor with his mask could have been more impassive than they. They spoke, chanted rather, according to the prescriptions of a fast convention. They impressed upon the characters the quality not so much of individuals as of universal types. The choir might suggest the Greek chorus, but in this case, so far from contemplating the action with the responsive emotions of the ideal spectator, it was a vehement participator in it. The true chorus was to be found in the auditors, who responded, dumbly indeed but with a collective gesture more speaking than words, to the significance of the drama.

” In effect, the gods are going,” wrote the journalist. And elsewhere it is written, ” Behold, the world is gone after Him.” Two voices—and Spain listens with divided interest, hesitant.