Friday, May 31, 2013

A Throne Fit for the King of Kings

As a postgame note on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I thought of a monstrance, but not just any monstrance.  In 2009, I had the good fortune to go to the south of France for the wedding of my friends Rachel and Sebastian.  Ticket prices worked out so that the best route that summer was to fly into Barcelona a couple of days early, giving me a chance to look around that amazing city.  As you might imagine, this involved crawling through many medieval churches.

I I had already been thoroughly impressed with Barcelona's cathedral when I made my way into the treasury off the cloister, but I was entirely unprepared for the Great Custodia, with its three sections standing more than five feet tall. Spanish cities are known for their large processional monstrances or custodia and Barcelona was particularly known for its fine work in gold and silver. The Custodia of Barcelona is the intersection of the two.

The monstrance proper is a triumph of 14th Century goldsmith's work. It sits on a silver gilt chair known as the throne chair of King Martin the Humane, though the chair, at least in its present form, is probably of a later date than the reign of King Martin, likely dating from the second half of the 15th Century. Above, there are two royal crowns. Over the centuries, contributions of jewels by the faithful, some of them of incredible quality, have come to cover a large portion of its surfaces. More than 2000 pearls and 1200 diamonds adorn the Custodia in addition to numerous other jewels.

Several pieces are displayed in the same case, including some particularly fine pectoral crosses and several larger jewels that can be affixed to the Custodia.

A jeweled sash in a nearby case, another royal gift, was fitted to be fastened around the throne-chair.

This sort of beauty and extravagance can still re-ignite the battle of the alabaster box--"Surely this could be sold and the money used to fund a five-year pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of ...." Thankfully, this does not seem to be an issue in Barcelona, which even as it continues to experiment with various architectural and artistic styles, seems to have never lost its love of beauty. Unlike many pieces of this caliber that spend their days in museum cases, the Custodia of Barcelona is still used each year in the city's main Corpus Christi procession. The Custodia invites us to consider the power of a faith that is not too intellectually proud to encompass a fairly literal interpretation of "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."