Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, where the visitors miss the point

Thirty years ago a friend went to Europe and came home with photos of undulating, fantastical buildings. That's how I was introduced to the work of Antoni Gaudi.

His buildings were outrageous when he began designing them in the late 1800's, and they still feel futuristic. He began the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in 1886, and it's scheduled to be completed in 2026. I don't think I'll get to see the finished work, but I'm glad I got to tour it in October. 

I've been in several famous churches in the US, other nations of Europe, and now Spain.  I love the majestic sweep of the eye up pillars to ceilings. Stained glass teaches history and was the only Bible the original attendees could read.  Sometimes the statuary moves beyond the familiar birth, death and resurrection of Christ to illustrate more obscure Bible accounts.

 Like the medieval cathedrals built over centuries and supervised by generations of craftsmen, La Sagrada Familia displays the varied styles of its different artists. Some of the depictions of Christ are three dimensional, cubist-like figures, all angular as if shaped with a wide flat blade. Others are intricately decorative and more life-like. Every part of the building departs from earlier styles.


There is also a certain symbolic whimsey to the decorative details outside.
Huge clusters of grapes are covered in  broken pieces of colored glass, as are the wheat sheaves, representing the bread and wine of communion, the blood and body of Christ

 Words urge the observer to worship: gloria, sanctus. Large doors have the Lord's prayer embossed in fifty languages.  

Inside, each pillar was different. The number of ribs carved in each decreases as it goes higher. Each capital (head of each column) is unique. You can see the ornamental medallions  glow as if they're electric!  

The windows are more impressionistic than realistic. In other cathedrals we spent time identifying the stories they tell, but here I was drawn to the overall color scheme. Each panel  seems to slide from one hue to the next, like a giant color wheel. 

  At one point the sun hit a wall of glass and the colors reflected onto the  sculpted walls and ceiling. I could imagine swimming in an underwater polychromatic cave.

Gaudi said that God was his client, and the work was done to His glory. 

It's our habit to sit down in every church we visit to pray for a moment. Unfortunately, here the crush of visitors snapping selfies, chatting and giggling, made the interior feel more like a concert hall just before a pop concert. The energy was high, but irreverent, ignoring the sacred nature of the building. 

I imagine for a person who does not know the gospel narrative, it's easy to overlook Who is supposed to get the glory in this magnificent church. 

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