Friday, October 19, 2007

More on Altar Crucifixes

My last post has generated quite a bit of discussion (for this blog anyway) on Altar crucifixes. I was intending to make this post in quite a different context, but given the discussion, have decided to put it down anyway.

Whilst in Madrid I took a trip out to the Valle de los Cai'dos (the Valley of the Fallen). This is the basilica which was commissioned by General Francisco Franco to commemorate the fallen of the Spanish Civil War. The basilica is carved out totally underground. I am not sure what the depth from the top of the mountain to the roof of the nave of the basilica, but it would be at least 100 metres. The mountain is surmounted by a cross of over 100 metres high. The arms of the cross are about 40 metres across. The pic here is of the front door, which is surmounted by a giant bronze pieta. You can see the base of the cross

As you can see the day that I was there it was raining, which greatly added to the mystique of the place. I found that the fascist architecture quite confronting as well.

The basilica is inside the mountain and consists of three naves. The central nave is the only one that you see, and go into. The other two naves are mausolea for the fallen, and contain 50,000 corpses, 25,000 in each nave. The nave was deliberately designed to be slightly shorter than the nave of St Peters Basilica.

The High Altar is freestanding and located at the intersection of the nave, transepts and the choir., underneath a dome showing the fallen heroes of the Civil War being raised up and returned to Christ (mmmm shades of the Act II of De Walkÿre for those Wagnerites out there).

The High Altar looks to be a modern post Vatican II freestanding Altar except that there is a giant cross carved from juniper wood in the middle of the Altar. Although we were not allowed to photograph inside the Basilica, I took a sneek picture from one of the transepts, shown here.

The location of the giant Altar Cross located in the middle of the Altar precludes Mass "facing the people". I could see from the arrangement of the microphones on the Altar (and the conventual mass of the nearby Benedictine monastery is celebrated here every day), that when the Mass is celebrated for the monks, (seated in the choir) the Mass appears to be celebrated facing out into the nave. This was confirmed by the presence of two microphones to facilitate a concelebrated Mass. At Masses for when there is a congregation the only way is for the Mass to be celebrated facing the choir. The location of the celebrant's chair on the same side as celebration seems to confirm this.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is a separate chapel at the end of one of the transepts. Mass is also celebrated here and I was pleased to see that it is celebrated ad orientem. All Masses appear to be celebrated in the ordinary form, as there was nothing on any noticeboard to suggest otherwise.
The basilica is cared for by the Benedictine Monastery located on the other side of the mountain. To access the choir at the apex of the church for the office, the monks go though a tunnel into the mountain and go down in a lift and enter behind the High Altar (very "Get Smart" lol).
In front the the High Altar is buried Josè Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish Falange party (the Spanish Fascist Party) , and behind it is the resting place of General Francisco Franco, dictator over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Apparently it is a good idea to stay away from this place on 20th November, the anniversary of his death, as Falange supporters take over the place and goose-step around and make the fascist salute over his grave (I noticed that there were fresh flowers on Franco's grave). The basilica is also controversial because there is strong evidence to suggest that prisoners of war and political prisoners were used to build it.


Fr Reginald Wilson said...

Maybe we should be very wary of allowing powerful secular interests to have too much influence over church architecture and decoration.

Stephen said...

This certinaly is an example of government patronising the church too much so that it is used as a tool of propaganda.

I must say that, although it reminded me of the Australian War memorial in Canberra, the Australian War memorial is a more human place.

Again, I thought it was interesting but I cannot say that I liked it.