Monday, November 15, 2010

Sagrada Familia

On his current visit to Spain, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated Antoni Gaudí's gingerbread cathedral, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona as a Roman Catholic basilica. Ever since Gaudí left it unfinished at his death (1), the city has had to come up with various plans for the use of the structure, including its transformation into a train station. The Pope's consecration has raised hopes that the cathedral will be finished by the centenary of the artist's death in 2026. Many artists have commented on its strange beauty, but when George Orwell saw it on leave from the Republican front during the Spanish Civil War, he had this to say:

“For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral—a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It had four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution—it was spared because of its 'artistic value', people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires.” (2)

(1) The story of Gaudí's death is perhaps better-known than his life: when crossing a street he was hit by a tram and, unconscious and because of his poor attire, taken to a pauper's hospital where he laid unrecognized until some friends found him the next day. He refused to be moved, however, stating that he belonged with the poor, and he died there three days later.
(2) Homage to Catalonia, London, Penguin Books, 1962, pp. 179-180.

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