The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gaudi, Sagrada Familia, Sainthood & More

If you've been following this blog for the past few weeks, you'll know that Diane and I spent some time in Barcelona last month. We both agree that the highlight of our stay was our visit to the newly designated Basilica of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). Its consecration as a Catholic church and basilica by Pope Benedict XVI occurred while we were in Barcelona, and we were privileged to have seen the Holy Father as he passed by us in the Popemobile en route to the church. We actually didn't visit Sagrada Familia until the following week after we had returned from a week-long cruise in the western Mediterranean. We would happily have joined Pope Benedict at the consecration on November 7, but I think our invitations got lost in the mail.
Sagrada Familia from Montjuic (Note large cranes.)

Over the years I've visited and worshiped in a lot of churches and cathedrals, but this basilica is far and away the most remarkable. The exterior is so unique, so different from any other church, that one can spend hours just looking at it from every possible angle, trying to absorb all that the architect, Antoni Gaudi, has presented to the world. Gaudi actually began working on the project in 1883 and completely revised the original architect's designs. His many successors have been diligent in bringing Gaudi's vision to reality. As it stands now, the church has been under construction for a mere 128 years and will likely remain so for another decade or two. If I am fortunate, I may live long enough to see its completion and perhaps make another visit. But Diane and I both consider ourselves blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it at least once.

Sagrada Familia: The Passion Facade

As remarkable as its exterior is, the interior can only be described as breathtaking. Indeed, that's exactly what happened to me when I first entered and tried to take it all in. I literally had my breath taken away. It was similar to the experience of first entering St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, except there I had expected to be astounded by both size and beauty. Entering Sagrada Familia, however, was different because what I encountered was so completely unexpected. The basilica is shockingly beautiful. It possesses the familiarity of a large church or cathedral with all the standard features: nave, transepts, apse, etc... But everything is so completely different from anything I had ever seen before.
Central Vault with the four evangelists
The work of Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Barcelona's most famous architect, is scattered throughout the city and elsewhere and is typified by its seeming liquidity, its gravity defying designs that sometimes appear almost alive. Before my visit to Barcelona I didn't expect to like his work, but it took only a moment for Gaudi to change my mind. Diane and I especially enjoyed our visit to La Pedrera (sometimes known as Casa Milà), a building designed by Gaudi and completed in 1912. 
Facade of La Pedrera from the street
Interestingly, in most of the guidebooks and other publications I read before and during our visit, there was remarkably little about Gaudi the man. Almost everything centered on his work. In particular I could find no answer to the one question that intrigued me: Why did he devote almost all of the last 30 years of his life to Sagrada Familia? After all, he was a very successful and high-priced architect. Why would he drop almost everything else to focus on this one project? I had read that he even poured all of his personal wealth into the project and for 30 years led an ascetic life, even taking up residence in the church as it was under construction.Was this just a personal obsession, a professional fixation on a major project?

And then, in one guidebook, I read about the cause of it all. After he had been working on Sagrada Familia for a decade, Gaudi, it seems, underwent a conversion in his 40s. Subsequently, from 1906 until his accidental death in 1926, he lived an almost monk-like existence in which he abstained from meat and alcohol, went to daily confession and Mass, and developed a deep prayer life. Sagrada Familia became, in his words, his "expiatory temple" and God became his client. Indeed, he became known as "God's acrhitect."

I also just discovered that Gaudi has been under consideration for beatification and ultimately for sainthood. I didn't realize his cause has progressed to this point. Indeed, I actually didn't realize he even had a cause, but apparently it was initiated over ten years ago. It's all very interesting. You can read more here (from 2000) and here (from 2010).

I've included a few more photos of both Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera below. I took these and the above photos during our visit to Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia: 4 of the towers (cranes digitally removed)
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia: the Nativity Facade
Sagrada Familia: Interior
Sagrada Familia: Above Sanctuary
Sagrada Familia: the Nave
Sagrada Familia facade detail: Marriage of Mary and Jospeph
La Pedrera: Rooftop Sculptures
La Pedrera: Atrium
La Pedrera: Interior rooftop in atrium well

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