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1885: Catedral de San Pedro, Jaca, Aragón, Spain
Catedral de San Pedro, Jaca, Aragon, Spain
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Catedral de San Pedro (Cathedral Church of St Peter), Jaca, Aragon, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Jaca.
The building: Serious building began with King Sancho Ramirez from 1076, and the chapel of the Holy Trinity likely from the 1600s, but much of the cathedral was redone between 1790 and 1792. The diocesan museum, where much of the region's Romanesque and medieval artwork reposes, is well worth a visit.
The church: Fans of the French film actress Isabelle Adjani might recall the scene from La Reine Margot where Henri IV recants his forced conversion to Catholicism, speaking by the pulpit in the nave of the cathedral.
The neighbourhood: Jaca is a city of northeastern Spain near the border with France. The cathedral is in the heart of the old city, surrounded by shops, cafés and interesting housing, much in buildings from the 16th century on. This is an ancient capital, see, and university town.
The cast: No idea – he was a cleric about 70, in an alb the design of which attempted to incorporate a chasuble, over which was an astonishing Central American stole, very broad, with technicolour appliqué. He was assisted by a lector of about the same age, tieless and in a blue suit with a woollen cardigan underneath. Two young men dressed in civvies, one possibly North African in origin, served, sitting at the gospel side.
The date & time: Friday, 18 September 2009, 8.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Mass.

How full was the building?
You could have fit about 100 in the chapel and, with around 80 congregants, it was fairly full. Along with the usual 60+ crowd, there was a group of young soldiers, two women and four men, one with NATO Afghanistan ribbons on his tunic. I was seated about five rows from the front, having wandered in late, only noticing the mass beginning as I was looking around the cathedral.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
This is not the local practice, but I got a few friendly glances and nods from regulars who recognised my bronzed and haggard look, characteristic of the pilgrim. Jaca is where the Camino Aragonese takes a right turn after the walk from the Somport Pass from France, and where it joins on to the rarely-taken (except by me and an occasional other nutbar) Cami de San Jaume from Barcelona, and so pilgrims are a familiar sight around town.

Was your pew comfortable?
While there was plenty of legroom, the bench was shallower than I was accustomed to. It seemed a bit more crowded than the regular Spanish pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Parishioners were bustling into their pews, with much recognising of each other, kissing of cheeks and manly claps on shoulders.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Nothing at all, which is the Spanish norm.

What musical instruments were played?
None. Someone behind me was humming a tune, but I don't think that counts.

Catedral de San Pedro, Jaca, Aragon, Spain

Did anything distract you?
My feet hurt, as it was the end of a long day, involving a traverse of the Sierra de Loarre, but I was grateful that I did not have a repeat of the dire gut-wrenching attack of agoraphobia I suffered in 2007. Also, there was a painting on the wall of the chancel, at the side of the altar, representing an acolyte peering out of a door opening into a sacristy (pictured above). Most interesting, but also distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a rough and ready rendition of the novus ordo. This is a frontier town (well, since the 9th century) and a garrison town, and it was Friday, and the end of a work week.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Such intimate chapels do not need amplifiers, but why should that stop the Spanish from using a very poor system, which made the preacher almost incomprehensible?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In the bit I could understand (the throaty Aragonese accent actually seems to help), the priest told us that we must care for each other. Look at those who work with the poor and the disabled. It is among the most wretched, and the most annoying, that we can see our Lord. Then there was something about St John, and going from village to village (possibly looking for a new microphone).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendly feeling of the parishioners. I think that most Anglican cathedral deans would give their teeth to have this crowd.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The priest's stole, I suppose.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I held on for a few minutes, hoping to take a photograph of the trompe de l'œil acolyte, but everyone had scampered out, and I was only able to take a poor shot before they turned out the lights. There was no handshaking on the way out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee hour doesn't happen here, so I walked out into the square. I chatted briefly with a local schoolteacher, who told me in French that I should visit the monastery of San Juan de la Peņa the next day – a remarkable ruin. After bidding the schoolteacher au revoir, I retired to a splendid restaurant in the plaza of Ramiro Sanchez, where I enjoyed some rabbit and greens with the local red – do not criticise, as pilgrims are exempted from days of abstinence from meat.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – As cathedrals go, it was fairly relaxed and everybody seemed friendly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't make me not glad.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I mentioned that there was a group of young soldiers in the congregation. Three days later I met two of the soldiers, with their rosaries, at the Roman hot springs at Tiermas.

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