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2211: Parroquia del Santiago el Mayor, Zaragoza, Spain
Parroquia del Santiago el Mayor, Zaragoza
Mystery Worshipper: Aggie.
The church: Parroquia del Santiago el Mayor (Parish Church of St James the Great), Zaragoza, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Zaragoza.
The building: Dedicated to St James the Great, Spainís patron saint. Built in Baroque style in 1625, it was originally called San Ildefonso, and was part of a Dominican monastery of the same name. The monastery was destroyed in 1835, and the church was renamed Santiago el Mayor in 1902. The building is made of local stone, and the faÁade is flanked by two large towers. The interior is Italianate in design, although the elaborate ceiling contains both Baroque elements such as the large sun-lit dome above the nave, as well as Moorish geometric patterns.
The church: It is sometimes hard to find out much about the life of a parish one is visiting in a strange country. All I can say is that there are several masses each day, as well as vespers.
The neighbourhood: Zaragoza is a city of around 700,000 people in the region of Aragon, northeastern Spain. It is a historic city founded by the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus and has had a turbulent history, as many warring peoples have laid claim to it over the ages. It is also a centre of pilgrimage, as it is believed to be one of the first places in Spain to be evangelised by the apostle St James. The church is situated on Avenida Cesar Augusto, one the main avenues in the city, which leads from the centre of the city to the famous central square in the old quarter adjacent to the banks of the River Ebro.
The cast: An unnamed priest.
The date & time: Friday, 25 February 2011, 12.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Misa (Mass).

How full was the building?
Practically empty, but not surprising, it being a weekday low mass. It was a large church that could easily have seated 200 or more, but there were only about 15 to 20 worshippers, mainly elderly ladies who sat in the front two rows of pews. As the mass started, a handful of people drifted in and sat toward the back of the church, near where I was sitting.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There was an elderly man standing inside the main door of the church who smiled as I walked in and nodded at me as he wished me buenos días.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly so. It was a standard movable long wooden pew, although a little hard on the knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I went into the church intending just to have a look around, but I noticed on the board inside the door that I was just in time for mass. From the back of the church I could hear a little hum of conversation from the elderly ladies at the front. Some of them bustled about lighting the candles on the altar, rearranging the floral displays, and lighting votive candles. There was a young lady who was listening to her iPod whilst sweeping and then mopping the floor in the north aisle of the church (more about her later).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espiritu Santo."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. They knew it off by heart.

What musical instruments were played?
None, and I couldn't see an organ anywhere.

Did anything distract you?
Yes, the cleaning lady. Whilst the mass was going on, she continued to listen to her iPod whilst clattering her broom and mop and bucket around near the front pews. If I had been sitting at the front, I would have found that immensely irritating, and I would have probably given her "a look", but no one seemed to take any notice of her.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a formal low mass said in Spanish. The priest faced the congregation and spoke in a clear voice. His celebration of the mass was rather fast, and he seemed to be rushing through it oblivious to whether the congregation could keep up with the responses. He did not give the lady who was doing the collection enough time to get round the church to everybody, so she only collected from a few people in the front pews. By the time she had done this, the priest had already said the offertory and was starting the eucharistic prayer. As there was no assistant, no server or subdeacon to take the collection plate from her, the collection lady placed it on the altar herself.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm sunlight pouring through the stained glass of the dome above the altar, which illuminated it as the priest said mass.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cleaning lady bashing her broom and mop and bucket around whilst listening to her iPod. She seemed totally oblivious to the mass that was being celebrated.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didnít hang around. As I was leaving, I noticed the same elderly man who had greeted me as I came in. As I passed him, he commented that it was a nice sunny day outside, and that the weather was unusually mild for February. I felt a little disorientated as to which direction I needed to go to get back to the cityís main square, so I asked him for directions. He asked me where I was from and how long I was staying in Zaragoza. He said that he hoped I had enjoyed my stay and wished me a good and safe journey back to England.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but I had a menu del día (three course lunch) and a bottle of the local red wine for €12 at a little restaurant near the plaza.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I donít like the informality of masses in Spanish churches, as they always seem to be more rushed than reverential. Also, it always seems to me that Spanish Catholic priests donít greet or interact with their congregation before or after mass. They seem to have a tendency to emerge out of the vestry, say mass, and then disappear back into the vestry again without speaking to anyone.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes sort of, although the worship seemed a little perfunctory. It was as if both the priest and congregation felt obliged to be there, but yet at the same time wanted to get it all over with quickly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That cleaning lady.
 
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