Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Sagrada Familia: Favorite Church Comes Alive"

Barcelona Sagrada FamiliaImage by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr
Here's what some pretty famous and knowledgeable people have said about my favorite church in the whole wide world, the newly consecrated but not yet completed Basilica of La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family) in Barcelona, Spain . . . .
George Orwell: one of the most hideous buildings in the world. 
Salvador Dali:"superbly creative bad taste."

Disclaimer: I haven't seen every church in the whole wide world, so let's say, my favorite among those I have visited. I also exclude my own parish church which has been and remains a beloved home to all my family.

I first visited the construction site in May of 1964. By then work had been in progress for 88 years. All I saw at that time was the massive shell of what had been the dream and passion of one man, Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudi i Cornet (1852-1926). The young architect (31) received the commission to build this church in 1883, after his predecessor resigned only one year into the project. Gaudí's concept wedded the human and divine. He labored at the task until his untimely death in 1926. The circumstances of his death make a great story in themselves. He was run over by a tram on a Sunday morning while walking home from Mass. For some time, he lay in a coma without anyone knowing  who he was. His remains are buried in the church's crypt.

From the beginning, Sagrada Familia was declared an "expiatory church." I had never heard the term until this week. It means that construction was entirely dependent on private donations and proceeded only when and as long as  money was on hand (no wonder it's taken so long). Gaudí was known to go out on the street and beg for money during his lunch breaks (siestas).

I visited Sagrada Familia again on July 18, 2008. This time I was able to study the magnificent front and rear facades of the church and tour the construction site's interior perimeter. "Thrilled" is too tame a word to describe my feelings. At a time when Americans and Europeans--even believers among us--are reluctant to call any space "sacred," that is exactly what Gaudí envisioned. The nearly finished building fits that definition for me and for most of the millions who flock to Barcelona each year to experience in actuality what the great architect only envisioned.

On November 7, 2010, Pope Benedict XI consecrated the church in the presence of 6,500 people inside the structure and many thousands of Barcelonans and pilgrims who jammed to streets around the exterior of the complex. In his homily Benedict described Gaudí's vision for the church that will be completed in 2026 (the centennial of Gaudí's death. 

"[He] accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty. Antoni Gaudí did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes, and points. Indeed, beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth." 

For the best views of the magnificent interior, I recommend the full 3-hour video of the consecration ceremony. Even if you don't watch the whole ceremony and Mass (who would besides this old blogger?), you can skip ahead to watch some of the finest and most breathtaking television camera work I've ever seen.

Below are some of my own 2008 photos of not-yet-opened interior and the two (of the eventual three) completed facades: The Birth of Christ and The Passion of Christ.

Above: Main Entrance Facade--The Passion of Christ

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
 Nave ceiling: Trees reaching to the stars 
Even today, only some of the the
stained glass windows are in place.
The Nativity (Birth of Christ) Facade

Shepherds Worship the Christ Child

In a future post, I will share more about Antoni Gaudi's life and work.

Images (c) 2008 Aflred J. Garrotto

See also October 1, 2015 Sagrada Familia documentary post.
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