Saturday, April 16, 2011

Barcelona and Gaudi: Sagrada Familia

Wïth only one day in Barcelona, we had decided we needed to devote it to Gaudi's art. On the itinerary are the Sagrada Familia, an enormous cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years, but is now scheduled to be done by 2024. (It's a work zone as well as a tourist and pilgrimage destination.) Park Gruell is the second stop and then his apartment building on the shopping street. All this is to be punctuated by meals. Ainara tells us the Spanish eat 5 meals a day. By the time we start we have already missed breakfast...

First order of business is to buy subway tickets which one purchases from a machine, which once again won't take any of our credit card, so we ended up paying cash 5 Euros 60 each. We buy day passes and off we go. Barcelona's subway system is very easy to use, well marked. It seems quite new and we expect that much work was done when Barcelona hosted the Olympics. The train is fast, the cars are comfortable and used by everyone. There are only minutes between trains, so the wait is also quite short.

We meet Ainara (Randy's host sister from Bilbao) at Plaça Universitat and we eat pintxos (pinchos)- a second breakfast for the Catalans, but for us our first. We order a variety of sandwiches with coffees and teas and sit outside, slightly huddled as there is a cool breeze and it's cloudy this morning. Temperature in the 60's only. There's a heater near our table, but we are not close enough for it to make a difference.

Back on the subway, our first tourist stop is the Sagrada Familia, the Sacred Family. This enormous cathedral has now been consecrated by the Pope as a basilica. Under construction for 128 years, this cathedral is not scheduled for completion until 2024. It is only in recent years that the nave has been enclosed. Construction virtually stopped after 1933 for the Spanish Civil War and significant progress wasn't made until 1978. Part of the problem is that models created by Gaudi were destroyed in the war and it has taken many years to figure out how to continue his vision. And vision is an understatement. This man of strong faith believed that everything came from God and nature and thus architecture was to be organic.

The pillars supporting the nave use mathematical heloidal principals and branch like trees, changing how the weight of the roof is supported and creating a structure that can be immensely open and still very strong. Every aspect of the church is symbolic of Christ's life.

The three main portals are the nativity, with the only statue designed by Gaudi,

the Passion, whose brass doors are literally the parts of the gospels of Matthew and Luke pertinent to the passion of Christ in bas relief, and the main entrance to the nave, the Glory portal, as yet unfinished.

We wait in line 45 minutes to get tickets to enter the church. It is possible to take elevators to the upper levels, but the wait is long and we decide to forgo this for now. The cost is quite high to get in - 10 Euros each, but the continuing construction is funded solely from private contributions and the proceeds of the ticket sales. We don't mind contributing to the completion of this masterpiece. (Masterpiece is in the eye of the beholder, of course. There are many who are put off by the architecture of the church. But for me, this seems a modern version of the work it took to build the Gothic cathedrals of the middle ages. It is an interesting juxtaposition of the church towers with the towers of the enormous cranes putting the spires into place. One wonders what the construction site of a Gothic cathedral might have looked like.)

The people are swallowed by the cavernous interior of the church and quiet surrounds you in spite of the large numbers of tourists inside. This church is like nothing I have ever seen, every aspect of it praises God with color, light and structure.

I feel calm and happy in this church despite the enormously busy-ness of people and tours moving around inside.
I never feel crowded or claustrophobic. And surprisingly, I never feel small given the enormous scale of the interior's soaring vistas. I am always looking up, it seems, rather than out. The church is designed to hold 8,000 worshippers and 1100 choir members in its choir lofts. Recorded music is playing in the background, like Pachelbel's Canon and Handel's Messiah. I wish I could be here to hear a real musical performance. The accoustics must be amazing.

Gaudi is buried in the crypt of the church, which is under the altar, but is bright with natural light due to windows tucked in below the high altar. For me, this church feels "right" and is recognizable as a cathedral, probably because it takes the shape of a traditional cathedral with a nave, side aisles, apse with side chapels, and transepts, but the interpretation is entirely new, for today and future milennia.

Need I mention the photos don't do it justice?

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