Wednesday, October 16, 2013

W41: Cathedral Cities of Spain

This week’s blog post comes a couple days late on account of me taking a trip and not packing a laptop due to the Biblio-Mat spitting this out:

Yep, that's a quarter.
Published in 1909, Cathedral Cities of Spain was 347 deckle edge pages long and weighed a good four pounds. With gilded lettering on a dark red embossed cloth cover, it had a regal beauty to it that continued into the interior with red and black all caps typeface on the title page that set the tone for the rest of the book. 

Interestingly enough, the author, W. W. Collins, R.I, also illustrated all the remarkably beautiful plates inside. Upon researching him further, it turns out that William Wiehe Collins was actually a landscape painter, which makes it all the more impressive that he somehow managed to fill three hundred odd pages with words.

Worth at least a couple thousand.
My first thought when I picked up this book fell somewhere along the lines of ‘Cathedral Cities of Spain? Isn’t that pretty much all of them?’. My second thought was on how much it looked like a gothic phone directory. Luckily, my week consisted of going to Chicago to run the marathon, which meant two days of sitting on a balcony doing absolutely zero physical activity to rest up for the race, so there was actually ample time to delve through the tome on this trip.

Really, how many non-Cathedral cities are there?
For a 104-year-old book, this copy of Cathedral Cities of Spain held up remarkably well. Binding was tight and pages were still white and flexible. Most surprising, though, was that it included sixty plates reproducing Collins’ watercolour paintings of the cathedrals in full colour. Considering most of the newer books I’ve received from the Biblio-Mat only contained black and white images, this was impressively decadent. There were also a number of unopened pages that made reading difficult but I did not have the heart to slice them apart seeing how they survived a century in this state.

The deckle edges were legit.
The book itself was a very straightforward guide to all the big cathedrals in Spain, broken down into twenty-four cities. Speaking of each city as if it was a past lover and an old friend, Collins evoked a romantic feel into every location in the journey, whether it was a grand hub of commerce or a fishing town. However, he never shied away from discussing the negative aspects of each city either, pointing out bleakness and boredom in some areas and rampant poverty and begging in the streets of others. It was a refreshingly honest perspective that is seldom seen in travel books, oh like, say The English Lake District.

If you squint it looks like a Monet. Then again, so does everything else.
 Devoting an average of twelve pages per city, Cathedral Cities of Spain felt like a whirlwind tour of the country that was efficient yet satisfying. Each chapter contained a quick anecdote about Collins’ journey and a brief history of some notable events that happened there before launching full force into describing the cathedral scene. For the first few chapters this description was limited to how the buildings looked but as he travelled deeper and deeper into cathedral country he became more and more immersed in what the cathedrals contained.

More often than not: dead bodies.
In some instances, such as the Alhambra in Granada, not only was he was able to journey down into the crypts to see the tombs of kings and queens from another era, but also allowed to go through relics that the average visitor would probably never hear about, let alone see. It was truly an exploration into the history and culture of these cathedrals that felt like I was there uncovering the past with him.  

Who needs photos when you have immaculate watercolours?
Inspired by this, I decided to explore the cathedrals of Chicago, a city known for its architecture, and document my own historical findings. Unfortunately, it turns out that running 42 kilometers straight does terrible things to one’s ability to ascend and descend stairs so I gave up after reaching St. James Cathedral. However, I did make a visit to the very close by and very street level Chicago Tribune Tower, which contains numerous fragments of temples and cathedrals from across the world. Rubbing them is almost the same as visiting them right?

Not so forbidden now, eh?

Book rating: 7/10 (Bonus point for being ancient)

Random quote: “Next to it hangs Ferdinand’s sword, with a remarkably small handle. I had thought from the kneeling effigy in the Capilla Real, that both he and Isabella must have been “small made” and this verified my guess.” (Turn of the century PC?)

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps, encouraging you to make a vacation trip to Spain to see these locations 100+ years later?