Sunday, November 25, 2007

Santa Barbara

This is the church of Santa Barbara, and I love it.

It's on Calle de Barbara de Braganza, just off Recoletos, but these are two different Barbaras.

One was a Portuguese princess, married to Fernando VI of Spain (His street continues from hers, cos he loved her!), and the other was her patron saint.

I'd only ever heard of Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort to Charles II of England (I just looked that up: I knew the name but had no idea who she was. It turns out that as a Catholic in post-Civil War Protestant England, she could not be named Queen. And Barbara was her great-great-niece.)
After reading her Wikipedia entry, I have to feel for poor Catherine, despatched to England at the age of 24 (Today is her birthday.) to be married off to the new king, and having to cope with the language barrier, deep hostility to her religion, suspicions and accusations about her loyalty, a philandering husband, and several miscarriages. The marriage sealed a political alliance between Portugal and England, and Catherine's 'large dowry brought the port cities of Tangier and Bombay to British control.'

How remarkable that 'her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public's perception of her'.

How touching (!) that Charles, though he 'continued to have children by his many mistresses, ....... insisted that she be treated with respect, and sided with her over his mistresses in those cases where he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due.' OK........... One can hardly paint Charles as a bad husband, though. These were the ways of the times, and it was, after all, a marriage of political convenience.

Notably, though, 'Throughout his reign, [Charles] firmly dismissed the idea of divorcing Catherine, even when Parliament exerted pressure on him to beget or declare a Protestant successor'.

Did she ever have any peace? No doubt, Catherine led a privileged and physically comfortable existence, but I'd say she earned it. Imagine.

S0 - Barbara - a much happier life, I would say. Asthmatic. No oil painting. (See oil painting.) But educated, gifted and loved, and free of the political and religious conflicts that dominated her great-great-aunt's existence.

As for Santa Barbara, officially & divinely sanctioned protector against lightning; and patron saint of 'artillery gunners, masons, mathematicians (I am not making this up!), miners, military engineers, stonecutters [and] anyone who works at risk of sudden and violent death: apparently, there are doubts as to whether she actually existed. No..... really? Certainly, her life story reads like the product of a drunken pub conversation between Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam and Lord Longford after a seminar on The Folk Tale Heritage of Europe and Asia Minor. It must be true.

There are two images of Saint Barbara in the Wikipedia entry. The first is a typical medieval Christian image of a saint (and it's in thePrado!). The second is a Russian icon: and this is no meditation on Christian suffering and patience; check out the determined, rosy cheeked, Christian warrior maiden. She rather resembles her namesake.

OK. Pictures of handsome church against the blue, blue sky. Yes, folks, it's 3°C here in Madrid. The sun is shining, and the air as clear, cold and sparkling as polished crystal.

Miss Havisham awaits.....

I love this angel!

No comments: