Touristy me #3 - a spiritual experience in Barcelona

© Jenn Shallvey

© Jenn Shallvey

Tourist update 3. Travelling and writing. Today I woke up and felt these words so sharing before I head off to my next destination.

Just a few days after the terrorist attack in Barcelona, I visited La Sagrada Familia. For me it was genuinely a spiritual experience. Not because this cathedral was a religious place, but because of the feeling that came over me during my visit. 

Two key questions came up in my reflection. What if Gaudi stopped building his cathedral because there was terrorism? What if people stopped coming to see his cathedral because of terrorism?

First we would lose the opportunity to see the expression of pure love and joy in art. Then we would lose our ability to find ourselves through this particular architectural-spiritual experience. 

Ok, so maybe it is just me. I visited this landmark and had tears in my eyes as the bus turned the corner and the magnificence of Gaudi’s inspired work first appeared in view.  Nothing I have seen in the world compares to such an experience except for nature. Many times I have felt wordless, breathtaking inspiration in nature. 

As I learned the story of the design it seemed fitting that there was in fact a nature twist. All the design elements borrowed from or referred to nature in some way - whether form, function or appearance.  

Going past the immediate breathtaking impact I noticed how welcoming and helpful the staff were. Given this tourist destination is their workplace, and they do this everyday compared to my one visit, I was impressed.  

I also felt this place was not about whether you were religious, if this was your religion or if you were even Christian.  Though the literal intention of the work is steeped in religious symbolism, the feeling of the place was more about honouring the spiritual, that which we can not see, that which we must have faith in, that which we all find in our own way. 

I  entered this place feeling the openess, the universal welcoming. While waiting for our self guided audio machines, I noticed a person standing next to me announce she was from Russia, another was from Turkey.  Then a Hijab clothed woman walked by to collect her machine.  I was immersed in a true multicultural sharing. It did not seem out of place.  The people working in the audio did not care about your nationality, they just wanted to know your preferred language.  

My mouth agape, I was speechless as I entered. I felt a deep reminder that there is so much more in this world, that if we stop, enjoy and appreciate, this pause and intention will lift the energy up. This feeling washed away whatever remnants of fear I had left before travelling to this city.

Yes I was afraid. I let the recent attack on La Rambla affect me. My husband was close by. He was travelling days ahead of me so he could cycle on his own around northern Spain.  Touring the city on a bus, he was 600 metres from the location before being diverted when the attack happened. He heard first hand the sounds of the sirens of the first responders. My initial news of the attack was from him texting me a simple message saying ‘I am ok’.  

I was shaken of course by not only his close call but also the reality of the event for so many others. One part of me simply wanted to help, send love, care, say prayers, do anything I could to be positive and supportive.  The other part of me was scared.  

I did both.  

The fear clung to me longer than I liked.  As I entered this place of love, I thought about how this fear almost got ahold of me. 

In the wake of the attack I listened to the news stories.  I listened to well meaning people in my world share their views. Whether on the radio, in the newsfeed on my phone or through conversations, all I heard was ‘be scared, be safe, stay away’.  I was scared coming to Barcelona. I admit it. I really was. Why? Because I listened too much to others. Yes the incident was beyond tragic so naturally I asked myself if I was going to  go. For a second I thought since everyone else is worried maybe I should not go. But then I decided no of course I am going. I would not let fear run my life. I also wanted to embrace and celebrate life and freedom.

Since then I have been on airplanes, in airports, and places where everyone would say you are vulnerable. I think to myself I am vulnerable just walking on the street. I have had no fear walking around this city the past three days. Only wonder, curiosity and awe.

Yesterday I did two tours around the city on a bus. Both tours had La Rambla on it. It was really interesting. The tour audio was prerecorded. If you did not read the news you would see this place called La Rambla and observe people walking up and down it like any other place. 

I had a birds eye view from the top deck of the bus. There on the corner was a statue surrounded by flowers and candles. It was a memorial for the lost lives, injured and people affected. It is so right to do something to honour and acknowledge that. And I know that the people affected really need to do this as does the community.

© Jenn Shallvey

© Jenn Shallvey


I learned as well that the day before I arrived there was a march of 400,000 people.  I wondered why they were marching and found out it was for people to be able to live without terrorism. They were marching against terrorism. That struck me that people would be mobilised in a place that was hurting, in a place of pain, and say no we do not want this way and ask ‘what can we do?’. 

I don’t know whether this response will make a difference. Here I was in that moment, on a bus, simply being present, acknowledging and learning that this is a place that every other day is normal like your place and my place. The people of Barcelona go about their day and lives just like you and me.  

That is what struck me. There is absolute and total commitment and respect to living a normal life whilst also remembering. I did not see massive restriction. I did not feel like this was a place that has been shut or locked down. I see police presence where I expect police present. It is not intrusive. 

It is in this context that I experienced the cathedral with immense joy and happiness. Yes the contrast of the two experiences is palpable.

Inspired to be present in this beautiful spiritual place I also prayed. I did not just walk around and take photos, though of course I did lots of that. I also said prayers of thankfulness, gratitude, love, forgiveness, acceptance. In my own personal spiritual way I sat in the church pew in the middle of this amazing cathedral and prayed. It was a prayer like no other prayer. I felt like I was praying with the world. Not in a denomination or particular religion. No. In a way as a part of humanity. In that place, moment, time and experience I felt connected to all, not alone. I also felt love for all. This love I held in my heart and this love I sent out to all the people affected, to the world. This is my action. I am only one person. Yet as I could see by the others taking in this amazing experience we are more in numbers sharing humanity than not.

So my visit to Barcelona was one of joy, happiness and love that I share, leave behind and take with me.