St Martin de Tours, Madrid (Exterior)

San Martin de Tours, Madrid, Spain


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: San Martin de Tours
Location: Madrid, Spain
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 July 2015, 12:00pm

The building

It dates from the 18th century and is Spanish Renaissance on the outside and Baroque on the inside, but not outlandishly so. The nave is lined with side chapels and confessionals of the open-air kind (necessary, I would imagine, in the torrid summer heat), with places for penitents to kneel either in front of the priest or on the sides. Above the altar is a portrait of St Martin of Tours giving a beggar part of his cloak, which illustrates the most famous legend associated with the saint. The story goes that Martin, approached by a beggar, tore his cloak so that the man might have something to wear. That night he had a dream in which Jesus appeared wearing the cloak, saying: "Martin has given this cloak to me." The next morning he saw that the cloak had been miraculously made whole again. During the Middle Ages, the cloak was preserved as a relic in a small church known as a cappella (the Latin word for cloak) whose priests were called cappellani. From these terms (through French) have come the words chapel and chaplain.

The church

The parish is one of the oldest in Madrid. During those hours when the church is open, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for veneration in a monstrance sitting on a throne above the tabernacle. In the rear of the church rests the casket of Alexia Gonzlez-Barros, a girl who died of cancer at the age of 14 and who offered up her pain and suffering to Jesus with the prayer Que yo haga siempre lo que tĂș quieras (may I always do that which is your will). A movement is underway for her beatification and ultimate canonization.

The neighborhood

The church is located just off the Gran Via, one of Madrid's principal thoroughfares, in the Plaza de la Luna. This area seems to be Madrid's Chinatown of sorts, as there are several Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops located there. A health club sits immediately to the left of the church; it seemed rather incongruous to see people sunning themselves on the roof in rather advanced states of undress.

The cast

No names were given. There was a priest in full eucharistic vestiture, an elderly server in alb, and a lector and cantor in street garb.

What was the name of the service?

Misa (Mass).

How full was the building?

It can hold about 200 and was about half full, with everyone spread out pretty evenly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Plain wooden pew - a little severe but I've sat in worse.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A priest vested in alb and purple stole was hearing confessions and doing a steady business. When the stream of penitents let up, he closed up shop. As people entered they sat in silence - no acknowledgments, no visiting. A curtain was closed on the exposed Blessed Sacrament just before mass began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We sang a hymn whose refrain went: Alrededor de tu mesa, venimos a recordar que tu palabra es camino, tu cuerpo fraternidad (Around your table we have come to remember that your word is the way, your body our brotherhood).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A lady passed out a sheet with the day's readings and the words to the hymns. I was very glad to have it, as other churches I've been to in Spain have had nothing at all to help the struggling Spanish student follow along.

What musical instruments were played?

None. We sang a cappella. A pipe organ in the gallery remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

As I've come to expect in Spanish churches, the heat was oppressive. Everyone fanned themselves with the obligatory hand fans of assorted colors. It looked like a field of butterflies in there.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Standard mass celebrated with dignity. Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were sung. Only the opening line of the Gloria was sung; the rest was said. Congregational participation was full-bodied. Bells but no incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – I thought the priest's message was sound, but his delivery was flat and emotionless, not connecting with the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the day's gospel, John 6:1-15 (Jesus feeds the multitudes). No one sums up the essence of the eucharist better than John. The eucharist is not only a commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection, but also a reminder of glory to come. It is an invitation to brotherhood. When we receive the eucharist, we are not indulging in a private devotion, but rather in a shared meal. As we pray in the Lord's Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, not Give me my daily bread. Sharing the eucharist is the essence of love. Through the eucharist, God never lets us go hungry.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I think the fact that, at last, we were given pew sheets in a Spanish church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The heat, the fans, the private devotion of everyone in their own little world. So much for brotherhood and a shared meal, I thought.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

People left as quietly as they had arrived. No visiting, no talking.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None. I retired to a nearby sidewalk cafe for a delicious lunch of beicon y huevos. Later that day I had dinner at one of the Plaza's Chinese restaurants, La Buenaventura, which was excellent.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – A lovely church, a well celebrated mass, but no sense of community. This was the last church service I attended in Spain before returning home, so I resigned myself to the fact that this is just the way it is in Spain.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The open-air confessionals.

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