Breathless in Valencia

The Miguelete is a round tower that’s part of the cathedral in Valencia. There are 207 steps to the top and they get narrower the higher you get. They also get slippier so make sure to wear strong shoes with a good grip.

People ascend and descend using the same steps, which is fine at the bottom but can get tricky at the top. I had ascended without a problem although going round and round in such cramped conditions might cause dizziness in some people. I admired the views over the city centre: The Plaza de la Virgen, the Plaza de la Reina, and the Parque del Jardia all clearly visible with Calatrava’s Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencas on the eastern horizon.

After 20 minutes of seeing the sights, counting the churches, and admiring Valencia’s neat and tidy roofs I decided to continue my exploration of the city – I had noticed that no new people had arrived at the top recently, so all in all it seemed like a good time to return to terra firma.

I started down the slippery steps and made good progress for around 20 steps despite the narrowness – and then I saw why no-one had emerged at the top recently. A large woman was slowly puffing her way upwards; behind me two other people were also descending so it wasn’t possible for me to reverse. I was reminded of the film In Bruges and Colin Farrell’s character’s comments about elephants and narrow stairs in towers. I flattened myself against the inner curved wall of the tower, made sure both my feet were securely on a step, and braced for impact; the woman said nothing as she squashed the air out of me on her way past. I had a breathless close up view of the Gothic stonework that allowed me to truly appreciate the quality of the stone mason’s handiwork and their use of plaster. After she had gone I was able to breathe again as eight people of more slender body shape made slow progress upwards. After they’d gone I hurtled downwards as no more people were coming up and I then emerged in the cathedral, where I obtained a view, from a distance, of the Gothic interior.

I would recommend paying the entrance fee to see the magnificent chapels behind the altar – in particular the chapel of St Raphael and the Chapel of the Resurrection – and also the two Goya paintings in the museum. However, most visitors come to see the Santo Caliz, the Valencian version of the Holy Grail, which is located high on a wall in its own chapel.

The Santo Caliz is a hemispherical cup made of agate about 3.5 inches in diameter. Two curved handles and a stem connect this cup with a base made of chalcedony, so that the whole item is only around 7 inches high. In 1960, a Spanish archaeologist called Antonio Beltrán decided that the cup was around 2000 years old and of Middle Eastern origin. The cup even has The Vatican’s seal of approval as a Holy Relic but not as The Holy Grail.

Apparently the Santo Caliz spent the Dark Ages in an Aragon monastery, but no one is quite sure how it reached Aragon. Perhaps it was one of the treasures smuggled out of Montsegur in 1244 by the Cathars and then from there made its way over The Pyrenees into Aragon?

As I looked at the Santo Caliz through a small pair of binoculars I found it difficult to believe that such an ornate cup such as that could have been in the possession of Jesus – I agree with the Indiana Jones logic that a carpenter’s son would have preferred the company of a simple, plain wooden cup.

On the other hand this chapel is visited by many pilgrims who firmly believe that the Santo Caliz is the cup used at The Last Supper and this belief combined with the thought that they could just be right, did make me catch my breath – for the second time in just a few minutes.


Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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