Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I got to go to Barcelona last weekend.  Eighteen hours on the plane for three days with my husband in a lovely city--definitely a fair trade-off.  I won't do a travelogue in this post.  Rather, I want to share one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen.

This is La Sagrada Famillia--The Cathedral of the Holy Family.  See the cranes?  It is not done yet.  It was begun in the 1880s, quickly taken on by Antonin Gaudi, and won't be finished until 2026 or so.  I didn't have high expectations:  I thought Gaudi was a show-off, and I didn't think I liked "Modernista" architecture.  I'm so, so glad that I was wrong.  Imagine being invited to stand inside daVinci's "Last Supper" or a Bach requiem.  Gaudi created an ethereal masterpiece of art and worship.

I have been few places where I felt that the appropriate posture was prostrate.  This is one.  Everything about the cathedral is built to point to the majesty of God, the amazing love He has for us, the lordship of Jesus.  I mean everything.  I'm afraid my pictures don't do it justice.  Most of the time it felt distracting to have my camera out.

The West entrance tells the Passion story.  The hard, brutal sculptures are intentional, not merely a reflection of the time in which they were made.  Gaudi, while he didn't sculpt them, gave general instructions for the angular figures with minimal detail.  There is so little detail that small gestures become important, like the Jesus' face leaning against the column in exhaustion.

But the scene is also hopeful.  Jesus is up there, very high between two of the bell towers, ascended already to heaven.

The East entrance, greeting the sun every morning, shows all of creation in celebration of the Birth of Jesus and the Holy Family itself.  One of my favorite scenes here was Joseph and young Jesus together (the picture on the left).  Joseph is remembered throughout the cathedral, something not done very often.

Inside, the nave rises up among columns that look like they are taken straight out of Tolkien.  Gaudi had pioneered these organic hyperbolic arches and curved columns--they give you the effect of being inside a giant forest.  And the sound is incredible.  The organ was awesome, played for a too-short time while we were there.

I return again and again to the idea of Gaudi's that his project should not be limited to only his ideas. Rather than leave plans for every single detail, he left general ideas, planning for later generations to participate in the design of the cathedral.  That was very important to him. The stained glass windows, with their careful selection of color but modern pattern, are a great example.  (Gaudi indicated the color choices but left the actual design for later.)  Incidentally, the east- and west-facing windows have slightly different color schemes.  I think the west, on the left, is more oranges and reds, moving to just a little blue up on the top.  The east-facing window has far more blue, the color of water and life.  (I could have them backwards, but I think that is right.)

Looking back at my pictures, one other thing comes to mind:  isn't it good to know that modern man hasn't lost his ability to make something beautiful and grand purely as a gift to God?  This is a worthwhile pursuit.

The official site is here.  Pictures much more beautiful than anything I could take!

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