A few years ago, I did an enormous genealogical study for my family. It was a combination of research, history, and detective work that was irresistible and I spent all of my late nights working on this project. It was, of course, before this Via Lucis blog, which now occupies that space in my life. One of the ancestors that I found was a Visigoth known in Catalan as Guifré el Pilós, a suitably romantic name for the ninth century Count of Barcelona who unified the region of Catalonia against the Muslims. His name, translated, is far less romantic; he is known to history as Wilfrid the Hairy.
Wilfrid fought constant wars against the Muslims who feared his growing power in the north. Legend has it that the Saracens brought a dragon to the Llobregat river, terrifying the local residents. The fierce dragon resisted all attempts on its life until Wildrid killed it with an oak cudgel. On a more peaceful note, one of the major accomplishments of his very active life was the foundation of the Monastir de Santa Maria de Ripoll in 888. The monastery was very powerful in its day and one of its daughter houses was the Abbaye Saint Martin-du-Canigou.
The Monastir de Santa Maria is one of the most photogenic churches that we have ever seen, despite the fact that it is mostly the product of a nineteenth century restoration. The severe purity of simple nave is visible in the arcades with their rounded arches topped square piers. Above the arcades are the clerestory windows alternating between the arches. The ceiling is one continuous, unbanded barrel vault from the west facade to the chancel crossing.
The Romanesque version of the monastery was rebuilt in the 12th century for the Benedictine monks who had taken residence here. A very interesting feature of this version of the church is the presence of twin side aisles on the north and south sides of the nave. These double side aisles have a wonderful feature – the interior line of supports alternates square piers and columns. Each of the columns has superb carved capitals which contrast beautifully with the unadorned piers.
At the far east end of each side aisle is a raised chapel, approached by a series of steps.
These chapels are unusual because they are not completely enclosed – it is possible to see through to the oven-vaulted apse beyond.
The view from the outside side aisles through the inner side aisle to the nave is quite striking. I was very busy photographing when the noise of people gathering filtered into my consciousness. From this very vantage point I could see that the previously empty church was starting to fill up; these people were preparing for a large funeral for a dignitary. I found PJ and we left as quietly as we could.
The funeral was an appropriate end to our visit. Wilfred built many other monasteries and churches during his life, but reverted back to warfare at the end. The founder of Catalunya died in battle against the Saracens at the Battle of Barcelona on 11 August 897. He was buried – fittingly – in the monastery at Ripoll.