I mean the big Gaudí church in Barcelona, whose official name I can’t not include: Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. Words are entirely inadequate to describe it, as are pictures. That isn’t stopping me, but what’s on offer here is a poor substitute for standing inside it with eyes wide.
It was a brutal day; raining and blowing hard and not much above 10°C; a weekday too, and thus no line-ups to get in, which I gather is unusual.
I remember as a kid staring for a long time at a picture (perhaps in Life magazine?) of one of its facades, which at that time was about all that was standing. It was only a quarter done when Gaudí died in 1926 and what with wars and Fascism and so on the work has often lagged. Now it’s in steady progress; the interior was good enough to be consecrated just a couple of months ago, and there’s a good chance it’ll be complete in my lifetime.
The aesthetic of the exterior facade is idiosyncratic verging on grotesque; it’s really hard not to consider it overdone. It is however, like every other part of the church, entirely confident.
Inside, the space is vast beyond imagining, a peer of Europe’s other great Gothic poems in stone (although this a church not a cathedral). It’s hard to capture space on this scale in a picture, but the spiral staircase here helps a bit, I think.
It’s still under active construction. You can see the stonecutters at work, and while we were there a pair of engineers were sighting with some scope-equipped measuring tool from near the altar to way up at the top back, taking notes and talking them over.
The whole inside, much of it very freshly built, is white and pristine to a degree disconcerting to those like me who in touring many of the world’s best-known pieces of ecclesiastical architecture have come to expect centuries’ worth of accumulated surface grunge.
Let’s come right out and say it: this architecture is kind of weird. It doesn’t look like anything. Quite a bit of twentieth-century architecture looks like it; in particular quite a bit of extremely bad sixties and seventies work. I’m actually not 100% sure I like it. But it doesn’t care what I think. It is utterly confident in its design and execution, not trying to be anything but what it is, quoting effortlessly from the Gothic vocabulary in the shape of the enclosed space, which space however is wrapped by insanely-huge Ionic columns and decorative flourishes that might as well be from Mars.
Here’s a view straight up from more or less at the center of the nave.
My feelings about this are obviously complex and I think they would be even if I believed generally in the Deity this exists to serve or even particularly in the deep Catholic weirdness the symbology on every wall and window is pushing in your face.
Here we stand in front of the altar, looking up.
I’m so glad Gaudí convinced whoever picks major church designs to pick his. I’m so glad I was there and saw it. I’m totally going back once it’s finished if I have the good fortune to be alive then.