Redemption (SOS)

Christians believe that Jesus redeemed the world from sin by sacrificing himself for the sake of all humanity, and yes before I get picked apart by theologians I know that’s a simplistic explanation!  Nevertheless the message of redemption is an important one – the largest Christian statue in the world is called Christ the Redeemer after all.

Anyway, before I get to drawn into a debate with those of faith let me get on with this post, which is about redemption.

In my earlier post, Sagrilege, I expressed my reservations about Gaudí’s great cathedral the Sagrada Familia, based upon the disparity of styles on the two visible facades and the sheer excess of the decoration.  Could the interior provide redemption?

Most people are familiar with the Sagrada’s exterior; it has been a feature of the Barcelona skyline for over a century, but the interior is less well-known.  It was only in the last few years that the scaffolding and builders were withdrawn, allowing the Pope to consecrate the building as a basilica as recently as 2010.  Naturally in the intervening years there have been millions of visitors so the relative mystery will doubtless be short-lived.

Like the facades, the interior is rich in symbolism, individual pillars and doors each carry different insignia, with different areas of the church given over to different categories.  The four main pillars at the heart of the church for example bear glazed plaques representing each of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plaques that seem to glow in the rich light that pervades the church.  There are images on floors, symbols on capitols, a magic square in the doorway.

All of this is easy to miss when you are overwhelmed by the space within the building, space created by Gaudí’s unique architectural approach.  I referred to columns, but perhaps a better description would be trees, for the way they branch out into formations like spiky leaves it is easy to see Gaudí drawing on nature for inspiration.

But even the architecture is subservient to another feature.  Perhaps I was lucky with the weather conditions on the day, but the whole edifice was awash with light and colour.  White light from higher windows and a circular skylight above the altar, and great blocks of colour created by stained glass, which instead of adopting the tradition of multi-coloured representations, restricted itself to  single colour fields which were far more dramatic.

Did Gaudí redeem himself?

In spades.

sagrada int-4



Sagrilege (SOS)

_PW_0760The Sagrada Familia, or to give it its full title, The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, is the “must see” structure in Barcelona, and from many places around the city it’s hard not to see it, or at least the cranes that are as much a feature of this building site as the 8 spires that tower over everything in the vicinity.  

It will be the tallest church in the world when the work is complete.  That is hoped to be in about 10 years time to celebrate the centenary of Gaudi’s death though some estimate it could take another 25 years after that.  Whatever the outcome the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, the oldest and for centuries tallest of the seven ancient wonders of the world took only 20 years in total.

So is it worth all that effort and attention?

The reviews are mixed with descriptions ranging from sensual, spiritual, audacious and whimsical to vulgar, pretentious and hideous (George Orwell being responsible for the last descriptor).

So what did I make of it?  Well I’m going to consider the exterior and interior as two different propositions, so you’ll have to wait for the full story, but let’s start outside.

There are three facades (why not go the whole hog and create four?), but as one is obscured by the construction at the moment I’m only able to comment on two; the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade.

First to be constructed, and built during Gaudi’s lifetime, the Nativity Facade is packed with sculptural detail and is all about the birth of Christ, though the presence of a Christmas tree in the heart of the decoration seems incongruous.  To my eye it’s a mess.  The concept of “less is more” was clearly anathema to Gaudi.  Apparently he intended for every figure in the facade to be individually painted, and this might be helpful in guiding the eye to important details but for now it’s just a melee of masonry.

The Passion Facade isn’t entirely Gaudi’s work.  Although he had outline his concept and created sketches and models, the actual detail of the sculptures wasn’t addressed before his death.  The angular columns, inspired by the trunks of sequoia trees, were always part of the plan but the sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs come from another century, being quite literally designed almost 100 years after the building’s construction began.

Subirach’s style is angular and blocky, which to me seems completely inappropriate for a building designed by the man who hated straight lines.   I wondered at first if the figures were unfinished, they were so different to those elsewhere on the building.  Not as busy as the Nativity Facade, but whereas the designer loved his subject so much he couldn’t stop here, on the Passion Facade there seems no love at all.  Perhaps this was deliberate dealing as it does with the end of Christ’s life, but for me the building lacked any clear identity as a result.

The church is of course rich in symbolism, something that would normally fascinate me, but too rich a diet can leave you feeling rather sick, and I preferred to keep my distance.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona