Are Cathedrals Christian?

The long farewell to my Spanish home is coming rapidly to a close, so I decided to visit Sevilla and Cordoba—the heart and the soul of Spain in Andalucia—and of course in addition to touring the tapas bars, and watching a flamenco puro show complete with virtuoso guitarist, emotional cante jondo singer, and passionate dancer—I visited the cathedrals in both cities.

Seville Cathedral is an architectural mess. The third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, it took 400 years to build and matches the ambitions of the builders (they wanted to be thought of as mad). It is a hotchpotch of styles—only the Giralda, the tower in one corner that resembles an ornate Doges Palace, has any grace. And inside it is like all the cathedrals I have ever visited—an exercise in the overwhelming arrogance of power and wealth.

A high altar of huge proportions, ornate and heavily decorated with gold leaf, and all around the walls various chapels competing with each other in their opulence.  And a Treasury that contains solid gold chalices, headdresses and altar pieces made from solid gold presumably stolen from the Incas. This is not exactly what Christ taught is it? “It is more difficult for a rich man . . . camel through the eye of a needle etc . . .”

And Cordoba was even worse because they have built the cathedral on top of the pre-existing mosque—the world famous Mezquita or Al Jama mosque. At eye level the Mezquita is mesmerizing, hundreds of interlinked arches of alternate pink and cream stripes that are stylized palm trees dimly lit by bronze lanterns that hang on chains. But when you raise your eyes you are into Christian Cathedral Gothic. Soaring columns and vaulted ceilings that make you giddy built on top of the delicate Moorish arches. And at the centre they have added a huge high altar with plaster images of saints and virgins. Sacrilege, or whatever is the Arabic equivalent.

What is worse they have bricked up the Mihrab, the holy place where the Imam led prayers, and you can only look above the wall and see the brilliant Ajulejos (colourful and intricate tilework that is yet another legacy of the Moors) and delicate filigree of carvings in clay that have survived for more than 1,000 years. And even here the Christians have added a plaster saint on one wall of the Mihrab. Is triumphalism a Christian virtue?

In my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” you can read how another Western sin—Greed—has been the cause of so much of the trouble between Arabs, and Jews, and the Western world. It’s all about the search for cheap oil supplies, and the effects that the endless flow of petro-dollars has had on the expatriates who live highly paid, but isolated, dangerous and lonely lives in order to fulfil this greed.

You can preview my book at:

http://amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it if you have a KINDLE. If you do not, or you prefer a real book, you can order from:

http://thebookdepositry.co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide

 

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Duende, Cante Hondo . . . and all the Jazz

                        The highlight so far of what will be my last summer in Spain was when I experienced “Duende” at a flamenco recital.

Deunde (Do-en-day) is literally a goblin in Spanish mythology, and “tener duende” (to have duende) is to experience a heightened sense of awareness, of a diabolical emocion, that gives you the chills, and raises the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck. Duende exists in all arts, but in its purest and most authentic form it exists in the first art forms of primitive man—the telling of folk tales in the forest clearing, and dance around the fire—and the accompanying music of drum and flute, the purest form of emotional expression— and in song, poetry set to music .

In Spanish flamenco Cante (can-tay) Hondo, literally deep song, is just that. According to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca cante jondo is the deepest most meaningful form of flamenco, “a rare example of the primitive songs of oriental people preserved in its purest form . . .  and the oldest song in Europe”. And the people who sing cante jondo struggle with a duende that threatens to overwhelm their technique and strangle their voice. It is an authentic emotion that comes from the internal tribal memories of suffering and hardship, the spilling of blood and imminent death.

I attended a flamenco recital in the function room of a Parador, one of the chain of state owned 5 star hotels, and a rather clinical environment. And the singer was a 30 something pretty Spanish woman—not at all the elderly and severe and serious hawk faced North African gypsy with huge sweat stains under her unshaven armpits that I had heard in the catacombs below the Plaza Mayor in Madrid 40 years earlier that put Spain in my soul forever.

And the virtuoso guitarist who accompanied this modern and younger singer was just 19 years old. They started gently enough with soft flamenco patterns on the guitar and nice controlled modern flamenco, and tango, and sevillanas—she even sang some soulful Portuguese fados and a song that sounded like Jewish Kletzmer to remind us of the strong presence of Jews in Andalucía centuries ago —and finished with a rousing flamenco piece. But the encores were the highlight.

 She came back and set aside the mic, and sang three Garcia Lorca poems in unaccompanied cante jondo that had the crowd growling: this affluent and elderly 60-something 5 star hotel Spanish crowd actually growling, and moaning  like primitives. The applause was thunderous from a crowd on its feet.

And then the guitar player started to finger the delicate filigree of soft flamenco patterns while his thumb plucking the bass strings in an insistent rhythm. And the singer segued into flamenco with a deep and rich and low toned contralto gradually ascending and sliding back down those hair-raising quarter tone oriental Arabic scales. And the rhythm became faster and the volume grew, and the crowd were stamping their feet like flamenco dancers, and clapping their hands in complex cross rhythms, until at the end the singer was shrieking and wailing in an unearthly fashion, the guitarist was threshing the strings, and the crowd were on their feet again—ecstatic: this 60-something 5 star hotel affluent Spanish crowd were ecstatic. Truly climatic. Ole. Viva Espanya.

Freud was wrong. The most compelling human drive is not the primal sex urge and orgasmic gratification. It is the search for the primitive tribal memories that haunted Nietzsche—for community, for humanity—the search for our soul, and an end to Soledad, being alone, metaphysical loneliness. And in jazz, and particularly in The Blues, it is the same.

The Blues, and Jazz, is all about having soul, and improvisation, about creating spontaneously music of that moment. Of being sent: of having duende. Of something welling up from inside and taking control, and your fingers or voice go where they want to and not at your bidding. And in The Blues “the sound of a good man hurting” you have the tribal memories of slavery and oppression, of suffering, of defiant field hollers and work songs, and Christian gospel music—man’s hopeless search for pure true love and the search for God.

And that is Mick McCallister’s hopeless search, the harmonica playing, Blues musician protagonist in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”. It is a classic hero’s journey as Mick, an idealistic young journalist, tries to write as honestly as possible the first rough draft of the history of The Arabian/Persian Gulf through the stories of expatriates washed up there for whatever reason. The world as it is, not as The West wants it to be. He fights the corruption and hypocrisy and the indifference and prejudices of his London editors no matter what the cost.

You can preview my book at:

www.amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it if you have a Kindle. If you do not, or you prefer a real book, you can order it from:

www.thebookdepository,co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide