The title quote for today’s post was inspired by a tactile model placed outside the Valencia Cathedral for blind people to get a sense of the scale and design of the church. It was accompanied by a tactile street map in Braille to give perspective and direction to blind people as well. I noticed this especially after having just finished the excellent book, All the Light We Cannot See, about a young girl who happens to be blind. Her father builds a model of their neighborhood for her to encourage her independence. Though the book is set in France and not Spain, this model was a powerful reminder of how such a simple thing can make a big difference toward inclusion for blind people. Many of the major landmarks in Seville have models like this, and this was not the only time I noticed accommodations particularly in Spain. It’s encouraging to see.
The Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia or more simply, the Valencia Cathedral, has something else in common with All the Light We Cannot See: possession of a legendary item. In the book it was the Sea of Flames, a diamond with a long, complicated history. The Valencia Cathedral has what many believe to be the legendary item itself, the Holy Grail – just when you thought I’d tired of talking about the MacGuffin of the Middle Ages, it pops up again. Whether it is the legendary cup, the Holy Chalice has definitely served as official papal chalice for many popes, including most recently Benedict XVI in 2006.
The cathedral itself covers a variety of architectural styles since it took so long to construct. Interestingly, it was built not by a king or prince of the church but by the rich folks in Valencia. The cathedral was first consecrated in 1262 on the grounds of an older Visigoth church that was used by the Muslims as a mosque during the Muslim period in Spain (sound familiar?). It was mainly constructed in the 13th-15th centuries, so the majority is Gothic, though Mediterranean in flavour – flat roofs, golden stone. But it also has Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-Classic elements that were added over the intervening centuries.
Next to the cathedral is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken, the patroness of Valencia. This basilica was built on the site of a Roman temple. Valencia was founded by the Romans in 138 BC after all. The pink exterior of the building is deceptively simple – inside are intricate Renaissance and Baroque paintings in rich colours and detail.
The plaza that fronts the basilica contains a statue honouring the importance of water to the city of Valencia. The statue represents the river and its principle tributaries. A group of city officials have met in this square every Thursday for centuries to discuss water usage issues and continue to do so today. Or at least they will this Thursday.
Our final stop in Valencia was to one of the original 12 gates to the city. This massive structure stands silent sentry on a city poised between a rich history and bright modernity. I think Valencia is striking the right kind of balance so far.
Title quote: Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See