«The temple as a whole, as well being a place for divine worship, will artistically represent the truths of religion and the glorification of God and His Saints.» A. Gaudí
I first visited the Sagrada Familia in 2007 with my daughter. The exterior was the most interesting chruch exterior I’ve ever seen; the interior was a mess of construction materials, only the stained glass was fully visible. I vowed to make it back some day to see the interior when the clutter was gone. In 2010 the temple was consecrated as a place of worship by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI; watching the service on 60 Minutes, I got a good look at the interior and started making plans for a visit.
The facade looks much the same as it did 8 years ago; I’m sure that things have been done to the exterior but there are still a lot of cranes and scaffolding in the way. I don’t have many pictures of the cathedral from 8 years ago and my memory is foggy so much of the detail is like seeing it for the first time.
Gaudi studied the natural world and used nature’s building blocks as reference for his creations. The entrance under the Nativity facade is a direct reference to nature; the entry is cloaked in ivy with small creatures peeking out from between the leaves and looking into holes that look like pools of water. I’ve long been a student of botanical illustration and of folklore and fairy-lore; these doors mesmerized me.
The columns inside the cathedral make a more abstract reference to nature. The design is based on trees that branch out, serving a structural function as well as a reflection of Gaudi’s idea that “the inside of the temple should be like a wood that invites prayer and is fitting for celebrating the Eucharist.”
Other parts of the cathedral also make reference to nature as in the spiral staircase. The image on the left, below, is where a parabolid column attaches to the facade. The parabolid shape is one of Gaudi’s many contributions to architecture, created using geometric forms and ruled surfaces. The interior shot on the right is Gothic inspired.
As you enter the basilica, you are engulfed in light! With the construction debris out of the way, light and color dominate. Gaudi is quoted as saying that “colour is the expression of life”; he made its presence felt here.
He oriented the cathedral so that the early morning sun lights up the Nativity facade and the sun sets over the Passion facade. We were there late in the afternoon; people stood in awe. In my eye, the stained glass windows are are very simple in design. There are no images, just shapes and words. It’s all about color and light. The colors are pure, saturated hues. Clear and textured glass are used in the central nave to ensure natural light during the day.
“All the stained glass in the apse follows a plan of graduated tones to create an atmosphere suitable for introspection.”
Gaudi left detailed documents explaining how the windows were to be arranged with the intent of drawing the eye upwards, “inspiring meditation on the divine”. The light from the windows also enhances the architectural details.
“Verticality is a characteristic of the building chosen by Gaudí to symbolise elevation towards God. This is achieved with the rising pyramidal design outside, the loftiness of its naves, and the pinnacles on top of the towers that seem to fuse with the sky.”
We went up the Nativity tower to get a close up view; it is nice that they take you up in an elevator, going down the stairs is much easier! You can see the landscape of Barcelona, from the mountains on one side to the sea on the other. I enjoyed seeing the details of the windows that aren’t easily seen from the interior. The spires are traditional Gaudi and can be seen on many of his buildings. The ones here add color with the symbolism of episcopal attributes: corn, fruit and grapes. The Cyprus tops the Nativity; the details are small and hard to appreciate from below.
The sculpture on the far left above is a man wrestling a dragon; perhaps St George. I believe this sculpture is on the interior.
The next grouping is Flight into Egypt; the angel is warning Joseph that Herod has given orders to kill all baby boys and that Joseph should take his family to Egypt. The center grouping represents the adoration of the shepherds; to the right, you can see this grouping in context with angels above, facing the nativity.
There are 2 turtles, each supporting a column on either side of the central portal; this is the land tortoise, looking landward. According to sources, “the turtles symbolize the permanence or stability of the cosmos.”
The sculpture on the Passion facade are simple, angular shapes that convey the torment and pain of the crucifixion. The left sculpture is The Kiss of Judas; the snake behind Judas is a symbol of evil; the cryptogram behind Christ has 16 numbers that add up to 33 in 310 combinations, the age Christ died. To the right of The Kiss is the sculpture of Christ during the flagellation.
The center image above is a grouping of the sculpture on the lower level. To the right is the sculpture representing the Denial of Peter; his pose and the angularity of his cloth convey his shame. The final sculpture here is of Christ being presented to the people wearing his crown of thorns.
I have been to the Sagrada Familia twice now and, because I was so caught up in the sculpture and architectural shapes, I have not looked up and seen the crucifixion! The Nativity facade’s focal point is much lower, less sheltered, and the symbolism is much more obvious to me; the sculpture is more traditional too. The crucifixion is tucked up under where the parabolid columns meet over the portal, hidden from view unless you are underneath the arch. I should have researched a little more so that I would not have missed something so vital! Now, I guess I’ll just have to go back!!
I found a lot of useful information on the website: http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/. Quotes I have pulled are from that source. There are numerous books on Gaudi that include the Sagrada Familia and many websites that cover aspects of the basilica; Amazon lists a new DVD and some books that look like promising resources. If you plan to visit, I recommend you do your research so you don’t miss anything you’d find important – it will take several visits to take it all in!