Homage to (part of) Catalonia

The blog has been silent for a month or so while I travelled with Mrs TD to Catalunya to visit our son and his family, who live near Sant Cugat del Vallès, a few kilometres behind the mountain that looms over the city of Barcelona. I posted last about this area back in 2018 (link HERE). It was lovely to see them after an imposed separation of nearly two years (because of…well, you know.) Our two little grandsons, now six and seven, had changed so much since 2019.

S Cugat monastery tower

S Cugat monastery tower

It was interesting to see how compliant everyone in this part of Spain was with hygiene measures: everyone wore masks in indoor settings and on public transport, and in busy streets outdoors, and scrupulously observed social distancing. It remains a mystery to me why our British government remains implacably opposed to such simple and effective means of mitigating transmission of this deadly virus in the community.

Sant Cugat monastery and church.

We visited the handsome honey-coloured monastery at the centre of the town several times. Legend has it that the saint after whom the town is named was executed on the site of what became the Benedictine monastery.

Ayne Bru, Martyrdom of Sant Cugat

Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21929804

Born in 269 to a noble Christian family in Scillium on the N. African coast (modern-day Tunisia), Cucuphas (Cugat is the Catalan version) travelled to Barcelona to evangelise the area. During the Diocletian persecution he was imprisoned and tortured by the Roman governor of the area, and was martyred around 304. As my image shows – apologies for the gruesomeness – when all other efforts to dispatch him failed his throat was cut.

German-born artist Ayne Bru was commissioned in 1502-07 to paint the retablo (altarpiece) of the church of the monastery of Sant Cugat with scenes from the saint’s life. The monastery building can be seen in the background of the picture. The original is in a museum in Barcelona. I rather liked the insouciant sleeping dog in the foreground. This dog was reproduced in the 1954 painting by Salvador Dalí, ‘Dalí nude contemplating before the five regular bodies’ (I can’t include it here for copyright reasons, but it’s worth Googling). Dalí of course was born and brought up in Figueres nearby on the Catalunyan coast, and later returned to neighbouring Cadaqués, so would no doubt have been familiar with this image. Interesting that it was the dog that stuck in his memory, and not the graphic depiction of the demise of the martyr saint.

S Cugat monastery cloister

The monastery cloister. The lower level is romanesque, the upper floor is renaissance

The saint’s legend shares many of the topoi of other hagiographical accounts of early martyrdoms: multiple cruel types of torture fail to harm the victim, bad things befall the tormentors (or they’re converted to Christianity as a result of the miraculous preservation from physical injury of the prisoner at their torturers’ hands), etc.

From the eighth century the monastery of Sant Cugat claimed to preserve his relics and dedicated itself to his veneration.

Cal Gerrer

Cal Gerrer

Across the central town square from the monastery and church is the ornate modernist building now the museum Funcació Cabanas, popularly known as Cal Gerrer, formerly the Arpi family’s old ceramic factory. Built in 1853, it is famous for its incorporation into its design of some of its own pottery and gorgeous ceramic tiles (see the frieze under the roof eaves). There are many more modernist houses across the central town area, many featuring ceramics by the Arpis and others, along with decorative details that I’ll write about another time.

Cal Gerrer roof

Cal Gerrer roof: tiles and decoration made in the Arpi factory

From the early 1920s the house was occupied by members of the creative Cabanas-Alibau family. Three of the brothers became noted for their work in the fields of photography, painting and literature. Many of their artworks and family relics are exhibited in the museum. One floor, weirdly, is full of exhibits representing the life and career of

Arpi bat

I like the bat in this image of a detail of the front of Cal Gerrer

Marilyn Monroe.

More on Sant Cugat, Girona and Barcelona to come in future posts.