Thursday, 4 August 2011
Sagrada Familia is a cathedral that’s still under construction in Barcelona. It’s the unfinished masterwork of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, whose work adorns the city and who is one of my favorite architects of all time. His work is different and original, and there’s no better reflection of that than this cathedral, which resembles no other cathedral in the known universe. Pope Benedict was just in Barcelona not too long ago, in 2010, to consecrate the cathedral, now that most of the interior work is completed.
It’s difficult to describe how profoundly different and magnificent I find the Gaudi work I’ve seen. That said, although the Sagrada Familia was in many ways his life’s work and his passion, it does not fully represent his design. Partially, that’s because his design was never finished; instead it evolved and he modified it as work progressed. Secondly, it’s because Spanish (anti-Catholic) anarchists destroyed some of his models and plans in those turbulent times after Gaudi’s death in 1926, and while some of these plans have been reconstructed, some damage remains. And partly it’s because other artists have, by necessity, had to step in in the years since his death to continue the work on the cathedral, which now also represents their work and their interpretations of his intent. The passion facade, in particular, is controversial, because some argue that its haunting figures and angular representations are profoundly unlike Gaudi’s work, which is more natural and flowing in its design.
The beauty of the interior is difficult to describe, or fully capture with the photos I’m capable of taking. The stained-glass windows in particular look about a thousand times more gorgeous in person than they do in the photos I took. It’s worth noting as well that most of the windows lack stained glass, which is still being made and added to the building as we speak.
For the rest of the interior, I think I’m just going to share the photos I took and then offer a few brief thoughts.
Other cathedrals that are close to my heart – Lisbon’s Sé comes to mind – have an austerity and severity that I love. One way of interpreting the architecture and design is as a representation of the divine, and sometimes, the interpretation that I take away is one of God the Destroyer; the Shiva-like incarnation. It’s a religion-is-serious-business impression; repent-while-you-can. The design of most cathedrals evokes some measure of majesty and awe; it’s an on-your-knees, God-is-great impression, and that’s common. But to me, Sagrada Familia is unique in its capacity to evoke an impression of God the Creator: its wild spray of light, color and shape seems to me to express delight, a delight in the divine; joy; fun. I felt joyous being there, and while I also felt joyous in the Sé (which I loved) and most other cathedrals I’ve visited, the Sagrada Familia is something very special.
Two last, anticlimactic parting shots: