First Stop – Post 2: Córdoba Cathedral

After descending from the minaret, and walking across the courtyard under the orange trees in the early evening light I finally presented my timed ticket to the gatekeeper of the Mezquita.
“It is five-thirty” she said after flashing her red laser wand over my barcode.
“Yes!” I agreed, and made to walk forward.
“There are two minutes to go.” She explained barring my way.
“Oh I’m sorry,” I answered, and turning away said “I thought it was half past”.
“Fatal?” she demanded, this would have been a derogatory remark in Spanish meaning ‘awful’ or something like that, I looked over my shoulder to see she was glaring at me… “Half past!” I repeated as clarification to the words I had spoken.
“No, I told you there are two minutes to go!”
I frowned, it would have been farcical if she had not looked so upset, as I walked away just as another visitor arrived, “Our tickets are for half past.” she proffered her phone, the gatekeeper flashed her red laser over it and it beeped permission to pass.
Seeing this I returned with my phone, “I told you there are two minutes to go.” The gatekeeper raised her voice, a uniformed shadow straightened a few meters away, a sharp glance was sent in my direction. Perplexed, I closed the app showing my ticket and the barcode for entry, and opened my clock, it read seventeen-twenty-nine. Why could the other visitors with five-thirty tickets enter, if I could not? I wondered if I was in some sort of strange time warp, some glitch in the matrix, had I slipped back into the thirteenth century while I was climbing up the inside of the minaret? Had my phone lost two minutes during the descent?
Well I would not be turned away a third time, and walked slowly round the entire courtyard pausing at one venerable olive tree that at first looked like as if it were dead, a hollow trunk, yet the sun’s rays were dappling the cobbles around my feet as they found their way through the dense foliage above, walking around where the tree emerged from the paving I found a new green trunk had sprouted from within the shell of the old. The tree may have been growing there since the times of the Moorish occupation… or before. It was right next to the fountain, where I had shot a video of the bell tower, I remembered how happy I had been in that moment, just over half an hour earlier, but now I had been rebuffed by the girl with the red laser wand.
I let a full five minutes pass before I approached the entrance of the Mezquita with more confidence and was beeped in without further comment. My heart was beating… at last I gained the prize.
I had not expected a dark gloomy place, nor so many side chapels dedicated to the saints who have accompanied me for 30 years, and some I did not know but all enshrined in their own space following centuries old tradition. I could be in any Catholic church in the world. This was not the goal I’d had in my mind’s eye when driving over the mountains Sierra Nevada from the Costa del Sol. I scanned the dark corners, looking for a seat, and found a highly polished pew standing against the iron railings protecting Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes.

I needed to rest and come to terms with this disillusion. I was taken back to that moment in the film Chariots of Fire, when Abrahams has won the race he has been training hard for, and is in the dressing room, squaring away his kit. His friends burst in and are surprised to see him sitting so solemn after the great victory, screen writer Collin Welland throws in the line “Sometimes it is harder to win than to lose!” When I watched the film in the early 80’s I didn’t understand, but now almost forty years later, I’ve tasted victory just often enough to know how hollow achievement can feel. What one has worked towards for so long and hard, a distant dream, has become reality. And after one has reached up higher than ever before, flown like an eagle on more powerful wings, reached out with stronger talons, and grasped the shiny illusion of success – it bursts like a bubble.

Two strangely clad gentlemen walked into my resting space, they were dressed in Medieval clothing, at first I thought perhaps they were a members of a special order guarding the building, but someone asked them a question, and I heard them answering that they were just visiting. I followed them at a little distance, sure enough one of them produced a mobile phone from beneath his ornately embroidered tabard, and they proceeded to take a photos of each other before something on a wall that was still out of sight for me, around the other side of an enormous pillar. After they had moved on I found there was a huge gloomy painting. It was several meters high, but the light was so poor I could not make out who it depicted, at first I thought it may be Atlas, but there was a boy on his shoulder where the World would be… and Atlas was the wrong spirituality.

Much later, when I could examine the photo on a larger screen – the identity of the tall figure came to me. Legend has it that he was a monster of mixed race with a Nephilim father, a supernatural being of giant proportions. In the eyes of the villagers where he lived he was a monster, even though he had tried to be a good Christian he had been rejected by the churchgoers there… he took to ferrying people across the nearby river, performing this service he gained the confidence of the locals. The giant was following in Atlas’ footsteps too one day, when he offered to take a small child across the river even though it was late, raining and the river was cold, he looked into the child’s pleading eyes, and lifted him to his shoulder, stepping lightly into the river. Soon he found he was struggling even though he was well used to the task, for the small boy on his shoulder seemed to weigh so much, he was almost giving up, and cried out
“I cant make it!” The far bank seemed a like an unattainable distant country.
“Yes you can!” Whispered the boy into his ear. With renewed strength the ferryman took a final step up out of the river and placed his charge on dry land.
“How can a little boy be so heavy, me being a monster and all that.”
The little boy smiled sweetly, “You had a little boy on your back and I had the whole world on mine, you didn’t do so badly.”

The little boy then revealed himself to be Christ, and he instructed the monster (or giant) to go and tell the bishop. “Tell him to baptise you with a new name. From now on, you shall be called, “Christopher” “Christ-bearer.” Then the child vanished.
For the full text, see

A large painting of St. Christopher ferrying the child Jesus across a river hanging in the Mosque – Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain.

Elements of the story resonated within me, I read all this much later, after leaving Córdoba, but in that moment, after following the two oddly dressed gentlemen, surely knights of the Cross… or perhaps they were angels… and, after curiously checking out the painting they were photographing, I turned around and only then found the famous arches, you can even see them reflected in the protective covering across the lower part of the artwork in the photo above, beneath the feet of the giant St. Christopher… over my shoulder as I took that photo, was the space of beauty and light I had so longed to see. St. Christopher the patron saint of travellers had perhaps had a hand in guiding me out of the my sadness in a dark corner of the Cathedral onwards to a better place.

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