Why are there geese inside Barcelona’s Cathedral?

barcelona cathedral white geese

White geese in Barcelona’s Cathedral (photo by Nathan Badera PD)

If you are visiting Barcelona on holiday, then a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia of Barcelona will probably be on your itinerary. Located in Barri Gòtic (the Gothic quarter of the city), the cathedral dominates the surrounding streets which were built on the remains of the original Roman city and within the city walls.

Walking around the cathedral you will go into the cloister, and there you will find a ‘garden within a cathedral’ with magnolias and tall palms, and area known as the Fountain or Well of the Geese (Fuente de las Ocas) completed around 1448. It contains white geese which have a large raised pond to swim in. The sound of their honking echoes through the cathedral and as tourists pass by they poke their beaks at them between the bars of their enclosure. But why are the geese there? There are two competing answers t

o be found.

The Cathedral (in Catalan, Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, or more commonly La Seu) is dedicated to the Holy Cross, (the cross on which it is believed that Jesus was executed) and Saint Eulàlia, a Christian martyr, who is the patron saint of Barcelona. Eulàlia was a 13 year old girl who it is said suffered persecution and martyrdom under the Romans. It is said that the number of geese represent her age at her death. Her remains are said to lie in the crypt of the cathedral. The other answer is that keeping geese is a tradition that harks back to the Romans who kept geese as security guards. Thus from medieval times the geese have safeguarded the treasures of the cathedral.

This is not the first cathedral in Barcelona’s history. There was a cathedral as early as the 4th century, but it was partly destroyed in 985 by the Moors. Replacing it, a Romanesque cathedral was consecrated in 1058, and work began on the present day cathedral in 1298. The main construction work lasted over two centuries. However, the west front was not completed until 1890.

Also to be found in the cathedral is a plaque commemorating the baptism of the first people from the Americas who arrived in Europe in 1493. They were six native Caribbeans brought back by Columbus.


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