The wonderful interior of La Sagrada Familia

As someone reminded me, this would be the 21st anniversary of our first pilgrimage as a choir, which had taken place in 1996, on the 25th anniversary of our founding, when we had visited Rome. For a while I did doubt that the pilgrimage would happen, as one problem followed another in organising the trip: bankruptcy of an accommodation provider, problems with transport, a last minute difficulty with meal arrangements and, of course, the terrible tragedy in Barcelona itself when a terrorist struck at the heart of the city. To their credit the 40 plus members of the choir and families took all this in their stride, pragmatically commenting that Barcelona would probably now be one of the safest places to go.

On the positive side, a contact in the Spanish Justice & Peace Commission went out of his way to identify the nearest parish church (Santa Maria Mitjancera) to our hotel and contact the Parish Priest on our behalf, to ask if we could have Mass during the week in the church. The response was immediately welcoming and we were asked if we would like to sing at their Sunday Mass.

We also took a chance and emailed the famous Sagrada Familia church and asked if we could have Mass in the crypt, and to our great joy, they put us in contact with the Parish Priest who was also very positive and gave us permission for Mass on the Friday of our visit.

And so, early on the morning of 5 September, our group headed off from Glasgow airport and arrived in beautiful warm weather in Barcelona. That evening and the following day, our pilgrims had the chance to get their bearings while our Director, Mgr. Gerry and others of the organising team checked out the arrangements with the local parish and the Sagrada Familia.

The parish church was within easy walking distance and turned out to be a lovely older church within a modern façade, with a beautiful side chapel which they made available to the choir for weekday services. We were a little taken aback to discover that our visit was being advertised on posters in the parish! On Thursday, we had a lovely visit to the monastery of Montserrat perched high in the mountains, with its shrine of the Black Madonna. The views were breathtaking and we had the opportunity to hear the famous boys’ choir, as well as visit the well-stocked monastery shop to buy mementos.

Montserrat Monastery

Then on Friday, we were off to the Sagrada by metro (and we did not lose anyone on the way) for our Mass. There was a little hitch on our arrival when the security guards would not let us take in our gift of malt whisky for the Parish Priest, but this was resolved later when Fr. Lluis spoke to them and we were able to make the formal presentation. The lady sacristan at the crypt chapel was so welcoming and helpful when we arrived, telling us about the building and ensuring we had everything we needed. By a wonderful coincidence, that day was the Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady and our Mass had a Marian theme at an altar with a representation of the Holy Family and beneath a carving of the Annunciation, and we finished with the singing of the Salve Regina in which the sacristan joined. The acoustics in the chapel were lovely, and there was the rather strange experience of being watched from above by visitors to the main church who could look down into the crypt.

Mgr. Gerry and Fr. Brendan Murtagh in the Sagrada crypt

Visiting the main (upper) church is normally by ticket only and we had already found out that access was booked out until 6pm that evening, but to our amazement, Fr. Lluis took us on a personally conducted tour of the building – no tickets required – and invited us to sing the Our Father at the wall within the church which has the words of the prayer engraved on it. Outside at the Nativity façade, we rather stopped many tourists in their tracks as we sang Silent Night. Seeing the upper church was a stunning experience, one of those where the reality outstrips the expectations and Fr. Lluis left us to enjoy it at our leisure. Of course it would not have been the St Mungo Singers if the gift shop was missed out of the visit before we headed out to enjoy more of Barcelona.

Saturday saw us in Sitges, a lovely coastal town. There was some hesitation by a few of the choir as the forecast was for thunderstorms, but as it happened, only those who backed out and stayed in Barcelona got the rain. Sitges was beautifully sunny and we enjoyed a guided tour round the old town and its narrow streets before dispersing to one of its many restaurants to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.

Sunday mass with the community of Santa Maria Mitjancera was another wonderful experience. Again the community were so welcoming and joined in the singing of the Mass wherever possible. We used the plainsong Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei but also sang liturgical music and hymns by contemporary composers including Scottish writers, to give our hosts a taste of our homeland. They responded with wonderful hospitality after Mass when we were treated to refreshments, including Cava wine, and the opportunity to meet members of the community.

Some of the particpants in the National Day celebrations

Monday, our final day coincided with Catalunya’s national day and it was an experience to see the wide age range of people in the streets in the Catalonian colours to mark this. The atmosphere was festive and peaceful, and we enjoyed watching people singing and playing music and taking “selfies”. (It is sad to reflect on the more recent political developments).

We were sad to leave the following morning and the weather seemed to sympathise, as it poured as we headed for the airport for our flight home. For many the trip was a great taster and we promised ourselves we would return to see more of Barcelona.

The big question now is “Where next?”