Every year after its huge annual bazaar the British Ladies Association teams up with the St. George´s Guild at the hall of the St. George’s Church for caroling at dawn. This year yours truly had the honor to be invited to this festive hymnal event along with 50 parishioners (mostly ladies).
The solemn atmosphere took on a joyful note when Mr. David Butler began to play the piano with the finesse of a virtouso.
And thus the scene was set for a unforgettable morning that unerringly got us into the spirit of Christmas .
All-time favorites such as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” filled the hall.
And just like most carol singing sessions the caroling did not end there. We were served mulled wine and mince pies. It was time not only to quench our thirst with an extraordinary warm drink for the occasion but to sample a delightful culinary concoction as well.
“You should make a secret wish whilst eating a mince pie,” charming Callie Stewart exhibiting a contagious smile explained to me as I sampled the savory pie.
I do not recall the wish I made because I gulped down the mulled wine all too soon and felt a bit tipsy as I tried to capture those unforgettable moments with my new camera.
Off to a good start — not without a little hangover — so that Scrooge might turn into a new leaf and help us tide over this crisis!
MULLING OVER THE ORIGINS OF THE WINE
Mulled wine can be traced back to the first century when the Roman emperors heated up some wine, threw in some spices and passed the exotic mixture to the soldiers so that they would get warmed up and muster up courage before going into battle especially in the cruel winter months.
Incidentally “mull” meant a mess, a muddle in old English. Some connoisseurs suggest that the whole process of mulled wine came about in order to save the good wine from getting spoilt!
Mulled wine featured prominently in Charles Dickens works. But it took A Christmas Carol (1843) to get it really immortalized when a reformed Scrooge remarks to Bob Cratchit : “ We will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop.” Smoking Bishop happens to be a type of mulled wine.
Task masters take note of this noble gesture at Yuletide.
WHAT ABOUT THE PIES?
Rome once again comes into the picture; English antiquary John Timbs ( 1801-1875) traces the origins of the sweet mince pie to the Roman festival of Saturnalia where it played an important role and was given to the Roman fathers at the Vatican.
Some historians say, however, that the mince pie originated in the Holy Land where it was commonplace to blend meat, fruits and spices. It eventually reached Europe through the Crusaders.
AND HOW ABOUT THE CHURCH ITSELF?
Located right in the heart of Madrid’s posh district of Salamanca St. George´s Church, silently standing in the corner of Nuñez de Balboa Street, is a hidden treasure worth visiting, rather like a jewel a weary travel can stumble upon. It truly offers so much of art and elicits an inner feeling of peace and contentment akin to Robert Browning’s famous “God’s in his heaven- All’s right with the world.”
From a distance the architectural beauty of the church gains loftier heights with its perfect blend of Byzantine architecture and Mudéjar style (reflecting the strong Moorish influence found throughout Spain) with an Anglican slant that makes it unique in the Iberian Peninsula. It was designed by Teodoro de Ana Sagasti y Algan (1880-1938), architect-extraordinary of various other facets, being writer, painter, editor, columnist and, above all, a wide traveler at the same time. A winner of the coveted Cesar Premio Nacional de Belles Artes this Vizcayan (Northern Spain) designed many landmark buildings in Spain including the El Monumental (once a cinema and now a theater) and the Real Cinema in Madrid.
Once inside the church the visitor will be awe-struck by the colorful stained glass and the striking figures of different saints. A special mention should be made of St. George, the Patron Saint of England, and St. James, the Patron Saint of Spain.
Suffice it to say that the St. George’s Church is an exemplary blending of two cultures and two religions – Spanish and English, Catholicism and Anglicanism. And this is mirrored on a typical Sunday when individuals from twenty nations mainly hailing from the United Kingdom, Nigeria and France attend three different services.
St. George’s Church has a well-stocked library and organizes different activities for all ages.