Becoming an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral in Madrid
I have stayed in Santiago over a half dozen times and yet never explored the Park Alameda. Spain has some lovely parks, which provide lungs and beauty to the city. The Alameda is something I will enjoy whenever I return to Santiago.
When visiting Europe, we often tour buildings and see monuments. Much of what we explore is made of stone, but the parks are where life can be found. People read newspapers, take strolls and children play. You cannot tick the box that you saw “the David” in Florence, but you can stop and relax for a moment and meld with the people who live where you are visiting.
On my final day in Santiago, I toured the Cathedral Museum and the Museum of Pilgrimage, which were a stone’s through from my hotel. The latter provides a wonderful insight into the history of pilgrimage and the evolution of the Camino de Santiago. I took part in a second Mass at the Cathedral joining with priests from various parts of Europe and was invited to read prayers in English during the service.
That evening, Saturday, August 21, I took a long train ride back to Madrid. I read Spanish newspapers and looked out on the lush countryside until the sun set and nothing could be seen. I arrived at 11 p.m. in Madrid, checked into the Hotel Principe Pio, an inexpensive hotel where I like to stay, which overlooks the Palacio Real. It’s a view that always warms my heart.
The following morning, I took a taxi to the Catedral del Redentor on Calle Beneficencia. This is the cathedral of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain (RECS), which is composed of almost 60 churches scattered across Spain. Franco was an ardent Roman Catholic and nationalist, who like members of the Spanish Inquisition sought to purify Spain. He detested Free Masons, Communists, Anarchists and disliked Protestants and have many of them assassinated.
Franco was emotional man who was easily moved to tears, according to history Paul Preston, but Franco could also be incredibly cold and detached when ordering the liquidation of his enemies. During his dictatorship, only one language could be taught and spoken and only one religion could be practiced in Spain. Catalan, Valenciano, Euskara, Bable, and Gallego could not be spoken in Cataluna, Valencia, the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia respectively.
Non-Roman Catholic churches and schools were persecuted and had their properties confiscated by the state. Several RECS clergy and lay leaders were hunted down and killed, including Coco Atilano, the Rector of the Episcopal church in Salamanca. The Anglican Center in Salamanca is named after him. The RECS was decimated by Franco and his dictatorship.
Bishop Carlos Lopez, the Bishop of the RECS, who is an old and dear friend of mine, met me at the door of the cathedral office. We reviewed the service together with one of his priests, Rev. Aloysi, who is from Santa Clara in Cuba and has a magnificent speaking and singing voice. He speaks and sings in Spanish like an opera star.
Together, we visited the cathedral’s parish hall, where coffee hour is held during certain Sundays of the year. Now, it is full of enormous sacks of clothing, supplies and countless boxes of medicine that have been collected and will soon be shipped to support the people of Cuba. Some of this will make its way to members of the Episcopal Church in Cuba. I am always amazed at the great amount of outreach done by the RESC under Don Carlos’ leadership. He is quiet and unassuming about it, but clearly has a big heart for outreach.
We vested for the service. I was given my “mozzetta,” which is what an honorary canon wears over his or her cassock and surplice when attending a cathedral service along with a biretta – an interesting four-pointed black hat with a pompom in the center. A few cathedrals wear red mozzettas and birettas. The birettas that the cathedral has were too small for my head. So, Don Carlos will ship one to me during the coming weeks. I will wear this once in Greenwich to show the good folks of Christ Church what it looks like.
Early in the service I was installed as an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral. It was a very touching honor, which means a great deal to me. I met Don Carlos on the last day of my sabbatical over seven years ago. We have become close friends, and I greatly admire him. He is incredibly knowledgeable about history, liturgy and theology, culture and flamenco.
Don Carlos is 58, and during his twenty plus years as Bishop, he has planted at least one new church every year somewhere across Spain. The church had shrunk enormously under Franco’s more than 30 year reign as dictator. Don Carlos has brought the RECS back to life. I was honored for some work that I have done for the RECS. I have shared The Bible Challenge with the RECS and have preached at the cathedral. I was also being honored as an Honorary Canon for my deep love and learning about Spain. Understanding Spanish history and culture has become an evolving passion for me. Don Carlos is an inspiration.
Every time I come to Spain, we take a day-long field trip together and see something that I normally not have visited. We have explored Santiago; the small medieval city of Seguenza; Teruel, where one of the great battles of the Spanish Civil War was fought and where the Mudejar architecture is on full display; El Escorial, where Emperor Carlos V ruled Europe and is buried; El Valle de los Caidos, where Franco was buried and recently exhumed; and more recently, El Paular Monastery in Rascafría and the walled-city of Buitrago del Lozoya.
As an Honorary Canon, I will be expected to preach occasionally at the cathedral in Madrid and to live in accordance with the life commended by the RECS and to find ways to support its ministry. One of the RECS’s most important initiatives is to raise over a million dollars to purchase and renovate a building in Santiago to serve as the Anglican Pilgrim Centre in Santiago de Compostela. Bishop Don Carlos has created several Anglican centers along the Camino Frances and Camino Portuguese. He hopes to connect with many of the 320,000 pilgrims who walk part of the Camino de Santiago each year and introduce them to the beauty of the Anglican expression of the Christian faith. He has a beautiful vision.
After worship, Don Carlos and his lovely wife, Ana, and I ate a simple, authentic Spanish lunch at a restaurant near the cathedral. Ana showed me their lovely Yorkies – Honey and Sugar, who I have met several times, and Candy, the newest addition to the family. Don Carlos introduced me to his pet turtles and fed them with lettuce before we left for lunch. He drove me to the train station, where I caught a train to Caceres – my next Iberian adventure.
With love and prayers from Spain,