The whole paying to get into a church thing

I have a few travel rules. Only a few.

  1. Do not eat at a restaurant where the menu is in more than two languages (the local language and English). Preferably, there shouldn’t be an English menu at all.
  2. Never underestimate the power of (a) a thermal and (b) a travel umbrella.
  3. Avoid eating seafood if you’re not close to a significant body of water.
  4. Thongs will always be the most comfortable travel shoe, but not always the most appropriate.
  5. Never pay to enter a church.

I’ve broken all of these rules at different stages of my travels. I’ve eaten at a restaurant that had a menu even in RUSSIAN in Bruges. I’ve nearly frozen to death on the streets of London in a t-shirt. In November. I’ve eaten smoked salmon, tuna steak and prawns in Madrid. I’ve worn thongs on top of the Swiss Alps. And, this summer, I paid to enter a church.

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La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

You see, this no paying to get in church rule really sucks sometimes. But I’m a woman of principles (I have way too many businesses on my hit list) and I had to stick to my guns.

So I’ve admired solely the outside of the Duomo in Siena, hung around the non-paying part of the Cathedral of our Lady in Antwerp and even attended Evensong to get into the York MinsterĀ gratis.

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York Minster from the city walls.

The thing is, I was baptised Catholic. Millions of Catholics all over the globe look up to the Vatican, but when I first went to check out the popey’s digs, I was shocked.

I couldn’t believe the excess, the wealth and the in-your-face feel to it all. It made me feel sick; all the priceless artwork so superfluous that lots weren’t even on show, the souvenir shops in every second room and the gorgeous Sistine Chapel reduced to sharing similar acoustics to a school gym. I hated it and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

So I don’t like the whole idea of paying to enter churches. I’ll give donations to climb their towers, but that’s it. I know many have an entrance fee to pay for maintenance work, but I don’t understand why the Vatican can’t sell some of their Raphaels, Carvaggios or Titans to fund it. Better yet, I’d love them to feed Africa with those paintings, too.

However, there is a church in a certain part of the world that is kind of a big deal. You see, it’s one of the few non-ABCs in Europe (‘Another Bloody Church’ I call many of them when guiding). It’s called La Sagrada Familia and it’s in Barcelona, Spain.

I’d visited La Sagrada Familia twice prior to this summer. The first time, I popped out of the adjoining metro station, walked around its perimeter and decided I’d rather pay for a tour of FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou than see its inside.

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One of my many failed attempts to get the whole thing in one photo.

Ahem. And who calls me a snob?

The second time was four years later, and I was on a bike tour during my tour guide training trip. There had been progress on its construction, though not a lot. I didn’t go in – I didn’t have the chance to – but it didn’t really bother me. The outside was impressive enough.

For those who haven’t had the chance to visit Barcelona yet (you must, by the way) La Sagrada Familia is the most famous work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, who changed the face of Barcelona at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s been under construction since 1882, and isn’t expected to be finished for at least another twenty years. I personally don’t think it will be finished anytime during my lifetime.

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The amazing detail of one of La Sagrada Familia’s two facades.

This summer, La Sagrada Familia started to get to me. I had a few stints of days off in Barcelona (which just so happens to be one of my favourite cities in the world) and had begun to know the city relatively well. Yet I still hadn’t been inside its most famous landmark.

I read up a bit on the church. It’s actually a basilica – not to be confused with the fifteenth century Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter – and only was consecrated as a church two years ago. The Catholic Church wasn’t too impressed with the design at first and refused to have anything to do with the project for years. This has meant everyone who’s had a look at the basilica – read: us tourists – has paid to build it instead. I quite liked that.

So I bit the bullet. I paid my entrance fee – online and with a student discount – and headed inside. And yes, I was pretty impressed. Here’s a bit of what I saw.

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I spent quite a while inside. It felt so happy, so light and not at all like a church. It really felt like the public had built it. Whilst countless churches in the Netherlands are being closed or turned into bookstores and pubs, the line for La Sagrada Familia was around the block. People vote with their feet.

(Oh, and definitely book your visit online. You get to pop a smug look on your face and jump the queue.)

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Inside, I found a new appreciation for stained glass.

Entry to La Sagrada Familia didn’t just include a walk around a church. An exhibit many forgot about was in the basement, which told the history of the basilica’s construction, and I spent just as much time in here as in the church itself. I didn’t get an audio guide because I usually hate them, but there’s plenty of information points all over.

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‘Give us this day our daily bread’ in fifty languages on La Sagrada Familia’s doors.

So I sold out. I paid to enter a church. I haven’t done so since; the next week I visited the Barcelona Cathedral for the third time. With an entrance fee levied between one and five in the afternoon, I timed my visit for five thirty.

4 Responses to The whole paying to get into a church thing

  1. Magpie groupie November 18, 2012 at 8:45 PM #

    Agree totally with all your rules! After visiting Barcelona and exploring La Sagrada Familia myself I concur however with so many queues waiting to get in, I don’t think they have any intention of finishing as it will lose some of its intrigue and maybe their revenue. What do you think?

    • Caitlyn November 20, 2012 at 11:01 AM #

      I reckon I’ll want to go back once it’s done, so then they’ll get two visits from me. But I really don’t think it’s going to be done anytime soon, they’ve got something like another eight towers to build!

  2. Jo (The Blond) November 19, 2012 at 3:05 PM #

    First of all: I was also brought up as a Catholic and tell you what-think the same thing. I also think that the church as an institution should start changing. It’s not only their approach to things like contraception, but other things you described in your post.

    And to more travel related stuff: I’ve seen many pictures of the Sagrada Familia, but always from the outside (maybe more people have the same rules as you do), never from the inside. It looks really interesting and different from the other churches I normally visit. I really need to go to Barcelona!
    Jo (The Blond) recently posted..The Blond memories: Mai pen raiMy Profile

    • Caitlyn November 20, 2012 at 11:02 AM #

      Thanks Jo! Hoo boy, I’ve got plenty more to say about the Catholic Church but I have to keep reminding myself that this is a travel blog, Caitlyn!

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