So many people I know have been to Barcelona. If they’ve been to Europe, and especially if they’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, they’ve been to Barcelona. And all of these people, when they heard about our trip to Spain, asked if we were going to see Antoni Gaudí’s famous cathedral, La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family), while we are here. ¡Claro que sí!
I had high expectations when I entered the cathedral, and I must confess they were exceeded. Oh! My! Goodness! Gaudí was so outside the box on this one. This is like no cathedral ever built. Where did he come up with his designs? Nature, they say. Beginning as a young boy, he studied the shape of natural things: the angle of the roots at the base of a tree trunk, the angle at which the branches extend from the trunk, the arc of palm fronds hanging from branches. There are no straight lines or right angles in nature, he determined, so there aren’t any in his cathedral. Why not make the columns that support the massive roof grow like trees from the floor right to the lofty ceiling? The spreading branches eliminate the need for buttresses, and you feel like you’re in a forest. For him, religion and nature were one. He also loved mathematics, especially the geometry of paraboloids and hyperboloids. I have to agree with him: There is nothing more aesthetically pleasing than a curve.
Gaudí loved color as well. The gradations of the rainbow, from reds to blues and violets, as you progress around the side aisles of the cathedral are phenomenal. There is the beautiful, visible stained glass, but he also included colored windows you can’t see that allow light suffused with color to strike the white, interior side walls.
Gaudí used visual allegory throughout his design, but especially on the exterior. Each of the three façades; the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory; is covered in flora, fauna, and Biblical characters rich in significance. The two columns on the Nativity façade are supported by a tortoise and a sea turtle representing the land and the sea. Only the Nativity façade was complete when Gaudí died at the age of 73 in 1926. He was hit by a tram as he was crossing the street to go to work at the cathedral, but after a short hiatus the work continued under his assistant’s guidance. The Passion façade was completed in 1976, and now they’re working on the Glory.
They are hoping to have the cathedral finished in 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death, but I’m hearing whispers of 2040. What they’ve accomplished so far is literally fantastic, and if the Glory façade has as much detail as the other two, then they’ve got a ways to go yet.
From any hill in Barcelona you can see Gaudí’s cathedral sailing on the sea of buildings and watch the cranes hard at work. It’s so exciting to think that one day this masterpiece will be complete and we were there to watch it unfold.