“This is Placa del Blat”, Bernard had told him. “It’s the centre of Barcelona. Do you see the stone in the middle?” Arnau looked in the direction his father was pointing. “That stone divides the city into quarters: La Mar, Framenors, El Pi and La Salada or Sant Pere.”
Ildefonso Falcones, Cathedral of the Sea, pag. 96.
It’s 1334. Bernat and Arnau Estanyol, main characters in the historical novel The cathedral of the Sea are standing on the Plaça del Blat in Barcelona, the centre square of Barcelona at that time.
The Plaça del Blat was also the culinary heart of Barcelona. Here the Barcelonese bought the grain (blat) they needed for their daily main food, bread. !n 1334 the square stayed empty. For years the Catalan farmers had hardly cultivated wheat. Barcelona got it’s grain from Sicily and Sardinia. But because of the war with Genoa, the supply was now blocked. Only the rich could afford the little wheat that reached Barcelona, the rest of the population suffered from a lack of food.
On April 15th the hungry mob demanded the little grain that was in the city. The city council refused. Two days of riots followed. Hundred rioters were arrested. Ten unfortunate people ( among them, in Falcones’ book, also Bernat Estanyol, father of Arnau), ended at the gallows. Thousands of Barcelonese died that year of starvation or because of a mysterious epidemic that struck the city.
Pedro III, the Ceremonious, wanted to impress the people of Barcelona whom he had neglected for more than three years. He succeeded. The two Kings, the cardinal and the archbishop were carried on litters by bishops and nobles. At the provisional hight altar, they received the chest with the martyr’ s remains. The entire congregation looked on closely and Arnau could scarcely contain his nervousness. The King himself carried the coffers with the holy relics from Santa Maria to the cathedral. He went inside, and handed over the remains for burial in the specially constructed chapel beneath the high altar.
Ildefonso Falcones, Cathedral of the Sea, pag. 297.
Nowadays the square is called Plaça d’Àngel, Square of the Angel. This name owes it to a miracle that would have taken place in July 1339. On the first Sunday of that month, the remnants of Barcelona’s patron saint Eulàlia were transferred from the Santa Maria del Mar, still under construction then, to the cathedral of the city. When the procession of monks, led by King Pere III, arrived at the Plaça del Blat, something strange happened: from one moment to another the coffer with Eulàlia’s remains was literally unbearable heavy.
Thunder and lightning
What to do? Fortunately, a few moments later an angel appeared, accompanied by a lot of thunder and lightning. The angel itself though was death silent and only pointed a accusing finger to one of the monks who had been carrying the chest, and then disappeared as quickly as he or she had come.
If you are accused by an angel, there’s only one thing left to do: confess. Ashamed, the monk told the crowd that he had stolen one of Eulàlia toes.
Ashamed, the monk told the crowd that he had stolen one of Eulàlia’s toes.
Whether or not the thief ended up in the city prison, is unknown. We only know that from that moment on the coffer was light as a feather and the procession reached the cathedral without further problems.
First see, then believe
The same year it was decided to enrich the square with an image of Eulàlia. A plan that strangely enough was not executed until the mid-15th century. Then the arch that served as the entrance to the Baixada de la Presó (now the Baixada de la Llibreteria) was given a msall statue of the saint.
Much later again, in 1618, the angel got a statue on the square. From that moment on, the inhabitants of the city called the square Plaça de l’Àngel – a name that became ‘official’ in 1865. Obviously, for the people of Barcelona the adage is: first we need to see, only then we believe.
In Cathedral of the Sea Ildefonso Falcones devotes several pages to the transfer of Eulàlia’s remains. To the miracle of the angel? Not a word.
CATHEDRAL OF THE SEA WALKING TOUR
Do you want to visit the Plaça del Blat and other places that play an important role in the compelling book of Ildefons Falcones? Join our Cathedral of the Sea Walking Tour! More info here and here.