The Swan Song Of Antoni Gaudi

The scaffolding covered structure that towered over us was underwhelming. Not that I had expected much else. As mentioned before, I had never been a Gaudi fan.

But again, delving into the symbolism inherent in every stone and more importantly, the  principles of construction, the designer in me could not help but be drawn into the spirit of the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, the magnum opus of Antoni Gaudi i Cornet!

Apse & Nativity Facade

R would have gladly skipped the tour of this ‘chocolate confection’ as he called it! But the price of traveling with an obsessive, compulsive spouse who needs to do everything ‘right’ is that you get dragged into places you would rather swap for a bar and a cold beer.

Since that was not an option in the near vicinity, he reluctantly stood in line with me for the 11am English tour. Our guide was a bit of an automaton and her few attempts at humour fell embarrassingly flat! But she somehow managed to impart a tremendous amount of information about the construction of this basilica that we had been unaware of!

Close up of Tower

To understand the concept of this building one needs to understand the Catenary arch –  the curve assumed (with the apex pointing downward) by a hanging chain or rope supported at its ends. Gaudi suspended strings of  the desired length from his layout plan and then worked out the volume and centre of gravity, as well as the optimum incline of his columns to support the roof, from the inverted Catenary arch which was the mirror image of this model!!

If you turn the image (below) upside down, you get a fair idea of the final shape and size of the Sagrada Familia! This also eliminated the need to shift the load outside onto external buttresses that was the norm in Gothic cathedrals. Gaudi percieved such buttresses as the main drawback of Gothic architecture and often referred to them as “vulnerable crutches”.  His giant Basilica could now stand free and tall with no outside supports!

Inverted Catenary arch model. The reflection of the model in the mirror above was photographed and used to determine the volume and center of gravity of the roof and the column incline needed to bear that load!

Gaudi reveled in Christian symbolism, and it was given free reign here, in the decorative elements but also in the architecture itself! The eighteen bell towers symbolise Jesus (the tallest and topped by a cross), the Virgin, the four evangelists and the twelve apostles.

The Nativity facade – the only one he worked on personally –  faces East, signifying light and life, and celebrates the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. The Passion facade faces west and the end of day symbolises darkness and death. This facade and especially the portico was designed in Gaudi’s words for the purpose of “giving an idea of the cruelty of the Sacrifice”.

The sculpture-set in the portico show the twelve stations of the cross. The yet to be completed Glory facade symbolises resurrection. The interior depicts Jerusalem, where a set of columns, dedicated to Christian cities and continents, represent the apostles!! Even the dear disinclined husband was mesmerised 🙂

Detail, Nativity facade

Gaudi worked on his dream project for 43 years – almost exclusively after the completion of Casa Mila in 1912 – and knew it would continue well beyond his lifetime. Upon his death in 1926 ( hit by a tram and tragically left unattended till too late, since he wasn’t carrying any identification.) he left behind meticulous drawings and scale models. Some of these were unfortunately lost in a fire and some more destroyed during the civil war. Architects and sculptors subsequently pieced together his original vision from a few surviving models and the wealth of records maintained by his assistants. His spirit guiding them from his final resting place below the crypt.

Today, 130 years later, the grand basilica of the Sacred Family seems ready to open its doors to the people of Barcelona……..almost