Basilica de la Sagrada Familia: Folly or Masterpiece?

 

Many years ago, when we visited Barcelona, Spain, we were awestruck by the Basilica and Temple of the Sagrada Familia. We had never seen anything remotely like it, and it dominated the city’s skyline. Here is a brief description:

Often mistaken for Barcelona’s cathedral, the breathtaking Basilica and Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, paid for entirely by private donations and sales of tickets to the 2.5 million people who visit it each year, is unlikely to be finished before 2026. Given that construction began in 1882, this is clearly the work not just of a singular and devoutly religious architect, but of several determined generations of dedicated professionals and enthusiasts.

Looking for all the world like a cluster of gigantic stone termites’ nest, a colossal vegetable patch, a gingerbread house baked by the wickedest witch of all or perhaps a petrified forest, this hugely ambitious church has confounded architects, critics and historians ever since its unprecedented shape became apparent soon after World War I.

The basilica was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, causing controversy to erupt once more. The inside is ornately decorated, and the outside challenges the imagination of the viewer. As you can tell from the quotation above, it was both revered and ridiculed. Gaudi began construction in 1882, knowing that it would need to be constructed over several generations.

In spite of the controversy about its construction, however, architects have been humbled by the brilliant mathematics that Gaudi was able to work out for such complex three-dimensional mathematical models in his mind’s-eye, using intuition alone.

People worldwide are deeply devoted to Gaudi and the basilica; there is an Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudi campaigning for him to become a saint.

 To view the photo gallery of the basilica, go here

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Folly or Masterpiece?

    Yes.

    • #1
  2. Jim O Member
    Jim O
    @JimO

    Embrace the power of And.

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    When I was a teenager, my parents and I made a road trip in Europe.  (Aside: Imagine three people with three weeks worth of luggage in a VW Beetle for three weeks.)  Anyway, one of our stops was Cologne.  Our second-floor room featured a breathtaking view of the Cologne Cathedral.  I’d hesitate to call any such structure a folly.

    OTOH, I can’t wait to see the Obama Presidential Library.  I bet it tops Bill Clinton’s . . .

    • #3
  4. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    When we saw it, we instantly felt like we had entered a parallel Earth, where everything was better, but also wackier.

    • #4
  5. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    It looks like a church in a Pixar movie.

    • #5
  6. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    Masterpiece

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The part of the basilica that impressed me the most were the plain sculptures on the outside. I’m not sure why. It was probably their simplicity that moved me.

    Subirachs' sculpture group on the Passion façade

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I was slated to go see it some time back but the whole city was paralyzed with strikes and demonstrations so I had to pass.  

    The measure of it will be how it is used.  If it engenders spiritual experience or is just a giant photo-op locale is the question. 

     

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    I was slated to go see it some time back but the whole city was paralyzed with strikes and demonstrations so I had to pass.

    The measure of it will be how it is used. If it engenders spiritual experience or is just a giant photo-op locale is the question.

     

    Indeed.

    • #9
  10. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    There is an Alan Parsons Project with it in us name.

    • #10
  11. BillJackson Coolidge
    BillJackson
    @BillJackson

    It is such an impressive place and I think, for some, it will engender a spiritual experience and for others it will be another stop on the day’s tour … a place to see, and nothing more.

    It’ll always be special to me because I first saw it on a sunny day in summer on my first trip to Europe, and then again on a December day the next year. Both were wonderful experiences that I’ll always be grateful for having. 

    And at the risk of completely embarrassing myself, since I wasn’t exactly up-to-speed with the Bible and its stories, it wasn’t exactly clear why these people [right] were kissing or that, um, why they were both dudes? I mean, I’d heard of Judas and I’m sure I’d heard the phrase “betrayed with a kiss,” but I honestly didn’t know it was, you know, like that. 

    I guess we all learn things at different times. And it remains an amazing thing to see in a beautiful place in the world.

     

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    BillJackson (View Comment):
    I guess we all learn things at different times. And it remains an amazing thing to see in a beautiful place in the world.

    I so agree, Bill. I tried to google the photo that you included in your comment but I couldn’t find anything on a brief search. Maybe someone can find it or speculate what we are seeing. 

    • #12
  13. BillJackson Coolidge
    BillJackson
    @BillJackson

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    BillJackson (View Comment):
    I guess we all learn things at different times. And it remains an amazing thing to see in a beautiful place in the world.

    I so agree, Bill. I tried to google the photo that you included in your comment but I couldn’t find anything on a brief search. Maybe someone can find it or speculate what we are seeing.

    Ha, yes, so I somehow found out it’s depicting Judas’ kiss of Jesus, which, if I’d been better versed in my scripture — or even half culturally aware, I suppose — I would have realized at the time. 

    And if I remember correctly, each of the four sides depict a different portion of Jesus’ life. And each is done in a different style. The side that’s directly opposite this one is very organic in its styling, if I remember correctly, so it contrasts with the clean, angular lines seen here. 

    • #13
  14. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Barcelona is is often forgotten, but it is one of the most fabulous places in the world. Not a little because of Gaudi. Genius.

    • #14
  15. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    Definitively a case of conspicuous consumption. If you have it, flaunt it! Seriously, though, it is a lot better use of their wealth than I have seen among moderns whose children’s weddings look like potlatch ceremonies.

    • #15
  16. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Folly or Masterpiece? Why can’t a folly be a masterpiece?

    Gaudi’s work is in a surreal universe all it’s own.  It’s ( and the Sagrada de la Familia to be sure) is  definitely not for everyone, but this church is  still a great inspiring addition to architecture and an inspiring church. 

    Gaudi’s interior design for La Familia is so complex,  I don’t think it was possible to even construct it without the advent of computers, and when I visited the site I think the tour guides kinda said as much, for I think they have only been able to build the really complex shapes in the last few decades.  That said, I think the recent construction while faithful to the his design shapes is too precise and “machine made” to reflect the wild organic Gaudi one sees in his other work.  At least it was for me. 

    • #16
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Jim O (View Comment):

    Embrace the power of And.

    Given the various definitions of folly, you could answer yes to different effect.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the April 2022 Group Writing Theme: “Folly.” Stop by to sign up and share your own observations on folly of one sort or another.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #17
  18. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Both.  Definitely ornate.  But then, so is this:

    St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Camden, NJ

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Unsk (View Comment):

    Folly or Masterpiece? Why can’t a folly be a masterpiece?

    Gaudi’s work is in a surreal universe all it’s own. It’s ( and the Sagrada de la Familia to be sure) is definitely not for everyone, but this church is still a great inspiring addition to architecture and an inspiring church.

    Gaudi’s interior design for La Familia is so complex, I don’t think it was possible to even construct it without the advent of computers, and when I visited the site I think the tour guides kinda said as much, for I think they have only been able to build the really complex shapes in the last few decades. That said, I think the recent construction while faithful to the his design shapes is too precise and “machine made” to reflect the wild organic Gaudi one sees in his other work. At least it was for me.

     

    A very insightful comment, Unsk; why can’t it be both! It is an amazing church and we spent a long time visiting and admiring its many aspects. Thanks.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • #19
  20. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    When I saw it,  I thought a lot of it was odd.  Then I was inside and I felt the outside oddness did not do justice to the open and very natural and very blessed sensation of the internal.

    It was like being in a white forest with glorious light and colors.

    I don’t have words for it. 

    But there’s a lot I dislike on the outer.  Good thing,  the inside makes up for it!

    • #20
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):

    When I saw it, I thought a lot of it was odd. Then I was inside and I felt the outside oddness did not do justice to the open and very natural and very blessed sensation of the internal.

    It was like being in a white forest with glorious light and colors.

    I don’t have words for it.

    But there’s a lot I dislike on the outer. Good thing, the inside makes up for it!

    They aren’t done yet. 🙂

    • #21
  22. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    We were both skeptical, but went there anyway and found it amazing.  It was from the age when it was started and they kept at it.

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I Walton (View Comment):

    We were both skeptical, but went there anyway and found it amazing. It was from the age when it was started and they kept at it.

    That it was funded only from donations all these years is amazing, too, IWalton. Although I’m not sure about putting Gaudi up for sainthood is a positive step. Do Catholics want to weigh in on that effort?

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Do Catholics want to weigh in on that effort?

    Don’t worry. It will be at least another couple hundred years before the Church has anything to say about it. . . The Church typically takes the long view of these things. Even longer than it will have taken to complete the Sagrada Familia.

    There needs to be evidence of two miracles attributed to the intercession of Gaudi, which means people have to be asking him to intercede. I don’t know who would ask for the intercession of an architect known for his, um, unusual designs, but, I suppose there could be someone. Maybe other architects?

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Do Catholics want to weigh in on that effort?

    Don’t worry. It will be at least another couple hundred years before the Church has anything to say about it. . . The Church typically takes the long view of these things. Even longer than it will have taken to complete the Sagrada Familia.

    There needs to be evidence of two miracles attributed to the intercession of Gaudi, which means people have to be asking him to intercede. I don’t know who would ask for the intercession of an architect known for his, um, unusual designs, but, I suppose there could be someone. Maybe other architects?

    Thanks for the input, WC.

    • #25
  26. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    The impression that the basilica is a “termite mound” is dispelled if one examines it up close.  The coarseness of the exterior at a distance is due to the incredible complexity and detail of sculpture work that decorates it.  

    • #26
  27. JVC1207 Member
    JVC1207
    @JVC1207

    Visited in 2013 and still one of the most beautiful and intriguing places I’ve ever been. Highly recommend!  I am an avid fan/visitor of cathedrals in Europe and this is my favorite one. Also full of interesting and creative expressions of the Christian faith. I particularly enjoyed the wall with verses of the Lord’s Prayer in dozens of different languages. 

    • #27
  28. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    We saw it in November 2019.  Little did we know that the world was getting ready to be shut down.  We were very impressed by La Sagrada Familia. I hope that we will be able to return to Barcelona to see the basilica again some day.

    However, it brought to my mind the time when the Olympics were in Barcelona and an example of how lazy and ignorant so many newspaper writers are.  One of them was writing about all the examples of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona.  She explained that the word “gaudy” came into use because of Gaudi and his flamboyant designs.  Which of course is complete nonsense.

    The word dates back to the 16th century and is from the Latin gaudium – joy and rejoicing.  Even today, formal parties or “feasts” at Oxford are called Gaudys.  It also sometimes means decoration (gauds) as in someone’s dress is quite gaudy – covered in gauds.

     

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    EB (View Comment):
    She explained that the word “gaudy” came into use because of Gaudi and his flamboyant designs.  Which of course is complete nonsense.

    You’re right, EB! I knew there was no relationship with “gaudy,” but didn’t know the real background. Thanks!

    • #29
  30. kjl23 Member
    kjl23
    @kjl23

    We were there in 1997 during a 6-week romp through Europe on a (just-graduated)  student budget.  It was magnficent already, with much more work to be done.

    Here are some favorite images.

    Exterior Crucifix

    Angel Spire Topper

    View of Construction Site through Rose Window Frame

    View of Towers under Construction Through Rose Window Frame

    I love it!

    • #30
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