Toledo in Toledo

They are pronounced differently, hence the italics. However, the whole time my diocesan brother, Philip, and I were in the namesake of our local church, I never really got the whole Spanish thing down. Nevertheless, spending the last four days in Madrid and Toledo [above], Spain was an unforgettable experience and well worth the effort. Any number of things are worthy of posting—Spain is a really beautiful place, if even just for the orderly nature of their Metro system (a reoccurring theme in my writing, in contrast to Italy, I’ve noticed...) However, the most amazing thing about Spain, in my opinion, was the deep-seated reality of the faith in the country’s foundation and history.

Certainly, Spain has been recently portrayed as a place where the Catholic faith has been taking a severe beating, especially in terms of political policy, cultural secularization and the ever-vivid odium fidei of the early twentieth century (which, incidentally, has produced a great number of martyrs for the Church). In contrast, though, I found the faith to be surprisingly alive—at least in my own experiences with the people of these two cities in central Spain. Madrid [left], which is now the national capital, is a very modern city with a very royal background; the coexistence of both is still reflected in the culture and architecture of the city. Toledo, on the other hand, was the original capital of Spain under the Visigoths, and provides a real glimpse of the royal power of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who ruled (in the 1400’s) after an eleventh century reconquista of the city from the Moors. In short, Toledo and Madrid are two totally different places separated by a mere 70 kilometers.

In both cities, the presence of stunning, intricate and altogether lavish Spanish-Gothic architecture was probably one of the most memorable features of the trip; it was a real testament both to the credibility of the faith in medieval times and the devotion of an entire nation to the faith of the Church. It only takes seeing one or two of these massive and beautiful churches to become convinced that something real and powerful must have moved whole kingdoms to build such things—it’s just amazing. The cathedral in Toledo [right] was probably the best example of all this rolled into one edifice. The entire building is a flowing mix of soaring vaults, intricate stone carvings, life-like statues, frescoed plaster, medieval woodcuts, baroque extravagance and anything else you can imagine; it really is a glimpse of the beatific vision in earthly terms. [As a side note, our cathedral in Toledo, Ohio is modeled in many ways after this church in Spain, and although it is not nearly as ornate or illustrious, it does truly evoke the same reverence and awe to a great degree.] I would have to say that next to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the cathedral in Toledo, Spain is the nicest church I’ve ever seen in the world; a highly recommended visit!

Ultimately, the nature of the trip was a pilgrimage; I had made that a priority even before we left. In this sense, it was also far from disappointing. Having the chance to pray in such historically significant surroundings—and most of all in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the finest of chapels and tabernacles—cannot be disappointing. If it had just been a sight-seeing tour, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been nearly as moved. However, the Lord did show himself to me in a very real way during our Masses and holy hours in Spain, and that was by far the most beautiful point of the entire weekend. It was enough, I’d say, to at least provide a good start for the next few days here in Rome...where the rigor of class and seminary formation will soon make me realize that it’s not me who chose this vocation, but the Lord who chooses us all!