This is the time of year when my mother would take me to Barcelona\’s Gothic Quarter, where the Christmas Fair was held held right up against the walls and buttresses of the big cathedral. We went to get supplies for our Nativity scene: fresh moss to simulate meadows, tree bark to make into mountains (with a sprinkling of flour for snow), and one or two clay figures to add to the wisemen, angels, shepherds, peasants and assorted hangers-on that populated our Nativity.
But before we hit the Fair, we would go into the Cathedral, to see the geese.
I don\’t know how many cathedrals have geese in their midst, but Barcelona\’s Cathedral of Saint Eulalia has a whole gaggle of them, thirteen in fact, and has had since time immemorial.
It would have been bad spiritual manners to go straight to the geese, so first we used to stop before the main altar to pray. Already as I knelt there, with the grit from the kneeler digging into my bare knees, I could hear them, their cries echoing against the stones. I would look up at my mother, “Can we go now?” My mother would answer by closing her eyes and praying some more. She knew the art of sharpening anticipation.
Eventually we would rise, make the sign of the cross, brush the grit from our knees, genuflect as we passed the altar, proceed in a dignified manner to the holy water basin, make another sign of the cross…and walk into the cloister.
Before I even saw the geese, I would be overcome by the feel of the cloister—a space that was neither indoors nor outdoors, where light and sound bounced oddly among the stones and the palms and the orange trees, a space that spoke to me of beauty for its own sake in the midst of the serious business of religion. A space that had geese.
In the middle of the large courtyard was a raised stone platform, surrounded by an iron grille. In the center of the platform a moss-covered fountain trickled water into a basin. And that\’s where the geese were, white and majestic, honking and waddling around on the flagstones, making the most amazing green droppings, then casually gliding into the basin and floating, looking pleased with themselves.
Those geese, in the center of the cloister, in the heart of the cathedral, in the middle of the city, were a miracle to me. With their serene disregard for the holiness of the place, they reassured me that at the center of buildings and beliefs, pavements and progress there is always something warm, alive and untamed, something that is perfect just the way it is.