Attention! Attention! Be it know that there is an extremely gaudy church in Barcelona that is need of urgent repair. The funny thing is that they haven’t even completed building the church, and now they are in the middle of a nineteen year planned renovation. Your support is greatly needed to… wait. What am I talking about? It’s not just a gaudy church, it’s Gaudi’s church. The Basilica of Sagrada Familia is the iconic church of Barcelona. It is currently under drastic restoration, financed primarily by the tourists who are charged nearly $11 to enter… just to see the construction site. At two hundred thousand tourists a year, it should reach the necessary funds, and complete the restoration of the basilica in the year 2026, the 100 year anniversary of the death of its architect Antoni Gaudi (from whom we presumably get the word “gaudy”).
Antoni Gaudi is someone more lay people should look to as a hero. He is famous for his architecture, but could also be famous for his spirituality. He was a passionate Catholic who saw the possibilities of architecture to serve God. There were several projects which he abandoned or walked away from ,because the financers would not allow him to include religious works in the completion of the buildings. His passion was Sagrada Familia, which is a church entirely funded by lay people, who wanted to build a church. The church was never started, or supported by, the planning or funding of the heirarchy of the Catholic Church (though they definitely cast their approval on the efforts).
Antoni Gaudi actually has a petition active to consider him for beatification (the first step toward canonization (sainthood,) It is really difficult for lay people to be canonized because there is rarely a group of people willing to sponsor and finance the enormous effort it takes to make someone a saint. The petition for Gaudi is based on the belief that a lay person, dedicating his life and work to the service of God, is the substantial life of a saint.
There is no other church like Sagrada Familia in the world. With its very modern, yet inspirational style, it is designed to enliven the soul. Antoni Gaudi infused his style and spirituality into its plan from the ground up when he was given the project at the young age of thirty one in the year 1883. The Basilica has elements which sort of make you feel like you are in a fairyland castle, and works which show the depth and travesty of the crucifixion. The interior casts the eye heavenward with its massive columns, towering overhead.
The church was never completed for its architect to see it, or anyone for that matter. It still isn’t finished. Gaudi died before in June of 1926, but the work serves as a towering achievement of his style, in service of the glory of God. In terms of the grand churches of the world, it is one of the newest, and yet this massive restoration project is desperately needed. The unfortunate nature of the Spanish sandstone, from which the church is built, is that it quickly deteriorates in color and strength, especially in the toxic advent of industrialization and smog.
If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view my pictorial of the parish by clicking here. When you see the pictures, take a look at the pictures which demonstrate the drastic difference between the qualities of sandstone on the exterior. The cleaned sandstone is brilliant white, while the original sandstone is darkened brown and orange.
I like showing this contrast, because it points out what the great cathedrals originally looked like throughout Europe, and what Sagrada Familia will look like again. When these massive churches were built, they were gleaming white fortresses that stood against the dull mud that dominated the villages and cityscapses present during their construction. The great cathedrals must have seemed as something “otherworldly” to the common peasant who came to humble himself before a God worthy of such a palace.
Unfortunately, smog quickly changes the gleaming alabaster white of the great churches into darkened towers that often invoke doom rather than elation
There is a nasty tendency I have of walking into churches and finding Mass. I didn’t know if I was going to get to Mass today, since I was traveling on a boat until 3:00 PM without any knowledge of where to go in Barcelona. Shortly after I had gotten settled in Barcelona and finished taking my daylight pictures of Sagrada Familia, I began wondering around the church, and walked into the parish area which is open despite construction. I walked in, noticed a group of people, decided to sit down and see what was going on, only to immediately stand up as the priest came in to celebrate Mass. It amazes me sometimes. It is almost as if God is watching over me.
The Mass was very tiny as all they have done is save a small corner of the church from the activity of tourism and construction. The altar itself is made out of construction grade chipboard, a reminder of the transitive nature of the worshiping community until the Basilica is repaired. But Mass is still as blessed an experience, no matter how gaudy the surroundings.