“You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.” – George Bernard Shaw
A Photographic Journey through a Wonder of the World
The Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) basilica is the most popular tourist site in Barcelona. A first glimpse of the exterior is a melodramatic experience. Simply, this architecture, this church, is like no other in the world. The Sagrada Familia was designed by Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudi, an artist, a genius, and a revolutionary in his approaches to art.
The Sagrada was his greatest work, his magnus opus. Gaudi may have also been a mystic who received inspiration from a higher spiritual power. He was a very religious man for whom nature was a fundamental inspiration. All his works are infused with a spirituality that reflects the natural world and God.
For the silhouette of the Sagrada, it is not too far a reach to think that the limestone caves of Cappadocia, Turkey may have animated the idea of the overall exterior.
Looking up and trying to incorporate the grandeur and singularity of the basilica, the detail and height become rather overwhelming. The soaring towers mingle with a confabulation of detailed sculptures, dioramas and decorative flourishes.
As you approach the entrance doors, a bewitching sculpted motif on the left wall greets you. It is a beguiling composition of rich, green ivy with a small bronze lizard peering through a little round window into the recesses of the church. This charming pictorial, that flash of dark green with the clinging creature. resonates as you enter the magnificent, sylvan interior.
When we enter the church into the transept that crosses the main aisle, I become weepy with awe . The height and the light is astonishing. Inside, it is bright and airy unlike any typically, moody Gothic church. The columns, modeled in the likeness of the great trunks of trees, rise from the floor and curve slightly to the center. They soar, like the giant redwoods of California, up into the incomprehensible pinnacle of a ceiling. It is inspiring, beautiful and inventive.
The tops of the trees culminate in the branches high above the floor, just like a forest canopy. Light enters through and around the bowers. It is a Gothic ceiling like no other reflecting a myriad of colors from the stained glass windows with a series of beautiful organic flourishes. It is a wonder of decoration in flora and fauna. Natural light illuminates all the elements. The height is a startling miracle because there are no buttresses in Gaudi’s construction. Achieving this soaring, gargantuan grandeur is another aspect of his genius.
As in the Gothic style, the interior of the church is set in a cross shape. The transept crosses the nave, that is the long rectangular passage running from the front to the back of the church. The altar is on the right, hidden a little by the thicket of Gothic columns sculpted in the imitation of tree trunks.
The apse of the basilica is the semicircular center of the choir or sanctuary. This is where the altar is placed, the central focus of the interior. Here the light and open space are crowned by a free-hanging sculpture of the crucified Jesus. Light through the stained glass set above the apse showers warm color. Grandeur blends with simplicity in this centerpiece of the cathedral.
As you turn to the back and look up to the left, the stained glass windows set high into the sides of the nave produce a particular play of light. Each side of the nave is a different theme. On one side, the light that enters through the colored glass is soft yellow and green. The sandstone of the columns absorbs the color so that everything in that area is infused with the color mood. That side is the east and the theme is the rising sun. The other side of the nave displays light that is brilliant orange and red splashing on the upper columns. That is the west and the brilliance of a sunset.
The Sagrada Familia incorporates the austere Gothic, the curvilinear Art Nouveau, and Gaudi’s unique Catalonian Modern style. The motifs and flourishes are organic with curves and soft edges because straight lines do not exist in nature. The magnificent blend of light, the beauty as it naturally plays on the raw stone of the pillars, the arches and the ceiling of the cathedral is imaginative and stunning. Wondrous to walk the space, amazing from every angle, I did not want to go outside.
When you re-enter the outdoor world on the other side of the cathedral, you can walk along the curved, landscaped cloister walk. The silver-grey, herbal motifs in the landscape are a natural to the organic theme. There is rosemary, sage, santolina, thymes and low growing mounds of Mediterranean shrubbery; no petunias and roses here. The cloister walk contains several interesting unique and sweet buildings with curved and rounded windows, intriguing doorways, and lovely, warm construction materials. It was delightful to be in this cloister landscape in spite of the surrounding bustling, modern construction, the cranes, the fencing and the dust.
Gaudi’s art and style are very individual and defy categorization. Gaudi began his commission on the Sagrada Familia in 1883. It was his obsession of 43 years up until his death in 1926. This amazing man, a prodigious artist and mathematical genius is considered the epitome of expression of Catalan Modernism. He was an original. His lack of orthodoxy in style and expression produced unusual, beautiful structures and imaginative, decorative art. He loved Barcelona; the bulk of his work is in the Catalonian capital. He extracted the forms, the colors, the structures, the feeling and spirit of his work from the natural world. He was devoted to his faith and his God. His spirituality speaks in the temples he oversaw to design and build. He is deemed to be the most talented architect in history. Seven of his buildings, including the Sagrada, have been deemed UNESCO World Heritage sites. Construction continues today and completion is scheduled for 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
After a disappointing experience at the Prague castle in the May shoulder-season, here we were in shoulder-season again in November in another great, tourist city. Dare we think that this eminent site would be light on people-traffic? No, it was not but, at least here the throngs were very well organized and secure. The site was well worth the 45-minute wait in line. Buy a ticket, get in line and go inside. You must see the interior. In spite of the dozens of tourists engrossed in their selfie-portraiture, you may come to believe when you enter this sacred space that perhaps God can be found somewhere inside a church if not inside the bower of a forest.
The creation continues incessantly through the media of man. –Antoni Gaudi
For more beautiful photographs from our ex-pat life, make sure you click these links to enjoy Greg’s photos at:
http://bit.ly/1RsaN1M and http://bit.ly/1mtVVTW (Assignment 2016 and Assignment 2015)
authored by Grace Nagiecka, photographs by Gregory Spring