Mummified hands and Jesus’ favourite coffee cup, Ben Holbrook discovers that Valencia is unfathomably ancient…
I’ve just spent a beautiful sunny evening wandering the sun-kissed streets of Valencia. My guides were two locals: my old friend Neiser, who I met in Barcelona, and her boyfriend, Pau, both born-and-bred Valencians. The weight of a poor and neglectful government resting far too heavily on their twenty-something-year-old shoulders. As they so simply put it as I announced my immediate, but perhaps premature love for the city: “We’re fed up with Valencia. Well, the people who are running it. There are too many problems.” Their focus was not on the best places to eat tapas or find cheap jugs of Sangria, but on the good-old-days that they seem to so lovingly yearn for, even if they were 800 years before they were conceived.
We walked slower than I’ve walked in years, through Plaça de la Reina, where Pau discussed how much he hates the Valencian flag because it doesn’t represent the way it used to be, before taking us into Catedral de Valencia, an intensely rich display of Christianity (though, it was a mosque for much of the 13th Century), complete with worshiping locals and pearl-haired priests. Neiser grinned as she explained in her best English that we were about to witness the mummified hand of Vicente Martyr. I smothered a laugh, believing she’d perhaps misplaced her vocabulary, but was soon interrupted by the sight of a smokey-yellow, skinny but life-like hand and forearm which reminded me of the skeletons you see on Iron Maiden t-shirts. It looked like a guitar had recently been prized out of it. But what captured my imagination, beyond the fact that they had even felt the need to maintain such a religious souvenir, was that they had the means to do so when old Vincente died back in the year 304. I’m going to let you struggle to work out how many years ago that was. Needless to say, it was quite a long fucking time ago.
And as we strolled toward the river, Pau (pronounced Pow, if you’re still wondering) explained how the city was, until recently, completely surrounded by an almighty wall – moat and all. The main gateway still stands and we stood for a while, talking and taking pictures. It was only when I got back to our piso, and started doing a little more research, that I discovered that when Pau said “recently”, he was actully referring to the year 1865. I’ll do this one for you, that’s 148 years ago.
PS – Pau and Neiser neglected, or deemed it too boring, to inform me that the Catedral de Valencia also houses The Holy Grail. Yes, the very chalice that Jesus drank from at his biggest party, The Last Supper. I’ll never believe a word Tom Hanks says ever again.