Archive | March 2013

Happy Easter!

Interior, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, Madrid, November 2010

Santa María la Real de La Almudena, Madrid, November 2010

Through My Lens: Iglesia de la Vera Cruz

Vera Cruz

For Palm Sunday, I’m posting a photo of Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (Church of the True Cross), which is located in Segovia. This church is one of the most extraordinary churches I’ve ever set foot in.

(But then, I could say that about Córdoba’s Mezquita. Or Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família. Why don’t I just put it out there that Spain does churches in a way all its own?)

Iglesia de la Vera Cruz is a Romanesque church that was built by the Knights Templar and consecrated in 1208. Its name comes from the reason for its existence: to house a fragment of the True Cross ― the cross on which Christ was crucified. The relic has since been moved to another church in another town.

What’s so curious about this church is its twelve-sided (that’s dodecagonal to the geometry nerds among us) shape. In the centre is a two-storey chapel, called an edículo, accessible by twin staircases. The lower level of this chapel has four arches corresponding to the four cardinal directions of north, east, south, west, and the upper level contains an altar. The church is said to be modelled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (which is where, according to legend, the True Cross was found).

It’s not a big church and its unique design allowed the knights to come in on horseback, form a circle around the chapel in the centre, and hold vigil over the relic.

Great Blue Herons

Great Blue Heron 1

The herons are back!

A sure sign of spring for me ― even more than crocuses or cherry blossoms in bloom ― is when the Pacific Great Blue Herons return to Stanley Park. They arrived a few weeks ago. This is the thirteenth consecutive year they’re nesting in what is one of the largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies in North America. Last year, the Stanley Park heronry hosted 86 mating pairs, which produced 169 fledglings.

The heronry is fenced off to keep people from walking beneath the nests, and metal flashing placed around the base of the trees keeps the raccoons from climbing the trees. The eggs are at risk from bald eagles, though, which also live in the park.

The Pacific Great Blue Heron is the largest heron native to North America.

Great Blue Heron 2

Great Blue Heron 2

Great Blue Heron 4

Heron and Duck


Through My Lens: Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

Cathedral of Córdoba

Last Sunday, I promised you a photo of the nave of Córdoba’s Mezquita. Here it is, for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

A Papal Conclave

All eyes will be on Rome tomorrow as the 75th papal conclave begins. Papal conclaves have been conducted to elect popes after it took two years, nine months, and two days to elect a successor to Pope Clement IV in the thirteenth century. To avoid a repeat of that nonsense, Pope Clement IV’s successor, Pope Gregory X, decreed that all future papal elections would take place with the voting cardinals locked in a room until they came to a decision. Cum clave (conclave) is Latin for “with a key.” And so began the papal conclaves that, for the most part, have been used to elect new popes ever since.

I think posting a photo of St. Peter’s Basilica (aka Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano) is appropriate, given the occasion. By the time I wake up tomorrow, the 115 cardinals will be getting ready to process into the Sistine Chapel. The first puffs of smoke should follow a few hours later. The conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 took less than 24 hours.

St. Peter's Basilica

Through My Lens: Mezquita de Córdoba


For the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the interior of the Mezquita de Córdoba. The Mezquita is a cathedral built inside a mosque built on top of a church. Given that back-and-forth heritage, it’s often called the Mezquitacatedral de Córdoba (the MosqueCathedral of Córdoba).

The original church, the Basilica of Saint Vincent, was built by the Visigoths in the sixth century. When the Moors arrived in Córdoba in the late eighth century, they built a mosque on top of that basilica. The main prayer hall of the Mezquita (shown in this photo) is filled with an impressive forest of columns supporting 400 red-and-white double arches. Even today, it is one of the largest mosques in the world.

After the Reconquista (reconquest) of Córdoba in 1236 by the northern Christian kingdoms, the mosque was reconsecrated as a Christian church. Eventually, the minaret was turned into a bell tower and a Renaissance cathedral nave was built in the middle of the mosque. Stay tuned ― next Sunday I’ll post a photo of that nave.

Joe Fortes

I wanted to publish this post last month, but I had to wait for a break in the rain so I could take the photo. And … well … I had to wait quite awhile. I finally got my chance last weekend.

This photo is of a fountain in Alexandra Park that stands facing English Bay Beach. The fountain was erected in honour of Joe Fortes. There’s also a popular downtown restaurant named after Joe Fortes, and the local branch of the Vancouver Public Library is named after him. If you live in Vancouver’s West End, eventually you’re going to ask (as I did), “Who’s this Joe Fortes guy they keep naming things after?”

Joe Fortes

Joe Fortes was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1863, and he arrived in Vancouver, via England, in 1885. He first started up a shoeshine business, then worked as a bartender and a porter.

When he wasn’t working, he hung out at English Bay, acting as a volunteer lifeguard. In 1897, the city of Vancouver made his volunteer position official when he was put on the payroll as the city’s first lifeguard. He lived in a little cottage just above the beach on Bidwell Street, and is credited with saving more than a hundred people from drowning, and with teaching thousands of children how to swim.

When Joe Fortes died in 1922, his funeral was attended by the mayor, the chief of police, and thousands of Vancouver citizens ― the largest public funeral Vancouver had ever seen. There was also a moment of silence held in the city’s schools.

On February 1, 2013 (which is why I wanted to publish this post a month ago), Canada Post issued a stamp featuring Joe Fortes to commemorate Black History Month. Joe Fortes is an appropriate choice for this year’s stamp as 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the year of his birth.

Through My Lens: La Sagrada Família

Sagrada Família

For the Third Sunday of Lent, we’re moving on to Barcelona.

Most European cathedrals were built centuries ago. The cornerstone of this one, Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, was laid a mere 131 years ago in 1882. Except for a stoppage during the Spanish Civil War, construction has continued ever since. The basilica is the final work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, the face of Modernisme, who spent the last decades of his life working on the structure.

When finished (estimated to be in about 15 years), La Sagrada Família will have 18 spires and will be the tallest cathedral in the world. There will be three facades, two of which have already been completed: the Nativity façade and the Passion façade. The Passion façade, which faces west, was sculpted by Josep Maria Subirachs and is particularly moving.

I visited La Sagrada Família with a friend in October 2001. After we left what is essentially the largest construction site either of us had ever seen, we took the metro back to our hotel. Sitting across from us was one of the cathedral’s stone workers, covered in white dust, heading home after his work day. I marvelled at the thought of spending your entire career working on one project. And I felt honoured to be riding the metro with an old-school master craftsman.