Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 30, 2006
Teenage martyr suffered for her profound faith
Barcelonians regularly stop, pray at a street shrine for St. Eulalia
Saint – St. Eulalia – February 12
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Dominating the central square in Spain's Catalonian heartland is Barcelona's famous cathedral, dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, La Catedral de La Santa Creu i de Santa Eulalia.
It honours the city's patron, a martyr during the fourth century persecutions of Roman Emperor Diocletian, a saint whose memorials are not hard to find in this vibrant state capital and Mediterranean port city.
Santa Eulalia de Barcelona has lent her name to a short street to the side of the cathedral. It's near the central city square, Placa de la Seu, identified in huge letters in the pavement by Barcelona's first century Roman name of Barcino.
Eulalia was a 13-year-old Christian resident of the city who was tried, tortured 13 times and killed on an oblique cross for her faith here in 303 after refusing to pay homage to pagan gods. Her punishment included being rolled the length of narrow Baixada de Santa Eulalia in a glass-filled barrel.
Pause for prayer
In this laneway, Barcelonans traditionally pause for a prayer at a flower-decked open air shrine that honours the saint with a small statue and explanatory plaque.
Following her martyrdom, the teenager was buried in the graveyard of the early church of Our Lady of the Sea Sands, at the waters' edge one-half kilometre from the present cathedral. In 693, the church was renamed Santa Maria del Mar and, 20 years later during an Arab invasion, the saint's relics were hidden somewhere in the church walls.
It was not until 898 that the precious remains were rediscovered and veneration of Eulalia began in earnest there, continuing for the next several hundred years.
Then, in 1339, the relics were transferred with great ceremony to a special crypt in the cathedral prepared by architect Jaime Fabre especially to house the precious objects. There, the original ninth century tomb of the saint can still be seen set into the wall behind the present sarcophagus.
Construction of Barcelona Cathedral was begun in 1298 in a rise called Mount Tabor by the Romans, site of an early imperial fort. Remnants of third century walls that enclosed the site can still be seen, as well as parts of an ancient temple. It took 600 years to complete the Catalan Gothic style building, a massive church with many ornate chapels surrounding the nave.
Symbols of Eulalia's death, St. Andrew's crosses, are found throughout the church and adjacent cloisters are still home to 13 white geese, traditional guardians of the sacred repository.
The crypt, situated in the centre of the church, is spacious, airy and brightly illuminated and is the most intimate place in Barcelona Cathedral. It's approached by a broad, semi-circular gallery that can seat several hundred people for Masses celebrated at the saint's tomb.
The altar is surmounted by a graceful alabaster sarcophagus, designed by sculptor Lupo di Francesco in 1327 and decorated with scenes depicting the martyrdom of the saint and recovery of her relics. Eulalia is also figured with Our Lady in a huge keystone where 12 arches converge above the altar.
Although daily Eucharist is celebrated in the Blessed Sacrament chapel to the right of the main church entrance, and major feasts make use of the cathedral's main altar, visiting groups are often allowed to hear Mass in the crypt, a special honour and a most moving experience in this focal point of profound devotion to the saint.
Some three million people are thought to visit her shrine each year and Santa Eulalia is naturally honoured in many churches in Catalonia. Several of Barcelona's houses of worship contain shrines devoted to this teenage virgin martyr.