Gaudi & Subirachs – Nature & Hermeneutics


Allow me to interrupt the electoral fever that seems to have also gripped my blog (I have the sensation of a public invasion of a private club… but so be it) and revert to talking about things other than political for this post. I feel compelled to share with you the incredible experience that is a visit to the work in progress that is the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The immense work of art was commenced in 1882 and still continues to this day – which is the first reason you should visit. Imagine you could be present when Canterbury Cathedral, Milan’s Duomo or St. Paul’s Church were being built. Imagine being able to walk among the master masons and perhaps glimpse Christopher Wren or some other master architect at work. Imagine being able to stroll up the towers of an unfinished masterpiece – one which can already claim the name of masterpiece much before it is finished. Well that is the Sagrada Familia for you.

It is one of the last architectural behemoths inspired by faith and blind devotion – and we must thank faith and blind devotion for many of the wonders of this world. From the pyramids to the temples to the colossa of the past the need to please or reach out to the divine has inspired artistic enterprises of magnificent proportions and quality. Art owes much to faith. This particular temple was inspired in the late 19th century and after an early disagreement with the architect originally entrusted to do the work, the task fell upon the genius of Gaudi. I will not fill you in with the factual and historical details, you can find that on Wikipedia.

Let me just tell you about Gaudi and the architects that followed. Although I speak from a pagan pedestal of architecture that is normally limited to describing things as “nice”, “cool”, “funky” and “absolutely brilliant” I must admit that I was carried away by the concept, plans and eventual elaboration of Gaudi’s style. The artist was obsessed by nature and insisted that all answers were provided by nature. Every shape, every idea that is in the church is to be found in nature. The most evident of them all is the immense supporting structure on the inside of the church shaped like enormous trees supporting a leafy roof through which light shines onto the praying crowd. Words cannot describe the intricate, yet deceivingly simple use of shapes to replicate nature in a way that exalts the divine and his creation. It’s beautiful.

Gaudi met an untimely death when he was run over by a tram in Barcelona when on his way to some function. Since then his work has been inherited by architects who have painstakingly followed his plaster plans and continued the elaborate construction. One such architect is Subirachs who was to conceive the Passion facade of the church, dedicated to the Passion story of Christ. Subirachs chose to give his particular imprint to the Passion side although there are many hints and nods of the head to Gaudi and his works. While Gaudi impresses the observer with his testimony of the beauty of nature wrought into rock and iron, Subirachs is concerned with symbolism and hidden meaning. His most famous addition is a magic square with a set of number that can be combined in hundreds of ways to always add up to thirty-three. I was particularly impressed with the figure of the roman legionnaire Longines piercing the church itself – a symbol of his piercing of the Christ on the cross (See picture).

Pictures and photos will be added to my Flickr collection when I find some time. My advice however is that now we have flights to Girona from Malta you should get on the next plane and fly to the beautiful city of Barcelona. Don’t forget to put aside one day for a visit to the Temple and one evening to watch Barcelona’s stars play football.


4 responses to “Gaudi & Subirachs – Nature & Hermeneutics

  1. we must thank faith and blind devotion for many of the wonders of this world.

    Both wonders and disasters… but yes you’re right there is something magical about the Sagrada Famila and art and music owe much to religion – and I think very few people would not be inspired by a number of religious buildings. Incidentally, the Gothic cathedral in Barcelona is also an art treasure not to be missed.

    Also I doubt there are buildings which can claim to have become synonymous with a city before they were actually completed.

  2. ‘we must thank faith and blind devotion for many of the wonders of this world’ – yes but lets not also forget that faith and blind devotion is also a destroyer of art. Malta is a typical example, we have nothing to remind us of our islamic past. Rome is another, all Renaissance churches and palaces were built using the Roman remains.

  3. I’ve been to the Sagrada Famiglia a couple of times, and got to agree with most of J’Accuse has said. The building really blows you away.

  4. It is one of my aspirations in life to see the Gaudi’s Sagrada Famiglia. I once heard on some documentary that it resembles an upside down crystal chandelier. It somehow fitted the description exactly.

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