I find myself drawn to the daily news like a blow fly to a freshly steaming heap of excrement. I’m wearing my seasonal outfit, a thick blanket of fog. It suggested itself to me at the beginning of October as a substitute for any and all of my happier wardrobe options. While my senses are acutely attuned to the plastic geegaws, shiny baubles and jingle bell muzak designed to draw shoppers to the high street, I’m not at all tempted. No. I’m in the mood to pick through reports of atrocities in the Middle East, terrorist plots and attacks, yet another mass shooting in the USA.
Only a week ago we were in Soller, Mallorca — sunshine, trees laden with oranges and lemons, warm weather, walks; fresh vegetables, fruit, and local delicacies to be had cheaply at the market. Sunshine and exercise are antidotes to depression. So is food. I can shop for it, cook it, serve it and eat it.
Mallorca Cathedral’s chapel of the Holy Sacrament celebrates food.
The cathedral as a whole is a splendid French Gothic affair, all but one of its chapels glittering with gilt ormolu tracings, magnificent statuary and paintings — the whole lit from lofty many-coloured rose windows. The subtle play of light is augmented by Gaudi’s electric lanterns.
Miquel Barcelo’s Holy Sacrament chapel is in the apse to the right of the high altar. At first glance it’s a startlingly crude piece of work. A large terracotta cave. But under water. Seaweeds deck the windows and walls. It is a painting where clay sculpture erupts from the canvas. A huge clay diorama baked too fast in an enormous kiln so that the clay has developed a pattern of deep cracks. It’s a model of a brain wherein thoughts, fears and desires, take physical form and burst out from the tissue. It’s an atrium of a beating heart or a womb to experience rebirth. You may read its meanings through your own experience, your own prejudices, longings, fears.
The chapel was created for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In its design Barcelo employed two main motifs, two parables: Jesus feeds the multitude; Jesus turns water to wine at Cana. Loaves and fishes, cabbages, crabs and watermelon, clay vessels for cooking, eating and drinking, are suspended in the walls. Memento mori cry the tumbled skulls. The portrayal of the risen Christ is central – yet it is neither here nor there; it is a human form, but rendered in blurry incorporeal light tones; emerging from the clay rather than superimposed on it. I did not see it for some minutes. Then a sudden shock as I see the five wounds and recognize them for what they are – slits with proud edges of swollen bloody flesh. Time and place disappear. The host lives here.