Long time coming: 130-old church by ‘God’s architect’ consecrated

November 4, 2010

Artfully

When Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was asked to hurry along his work on Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, he was known to reply, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Of course, he wasn’t talking about the archbishop of Barcelona. He was taking about God, and that’s how he viewed his imaginative, soaring work — as something built for God, not man. Gaudí was known for piety, and he’s been dubbed “God’s architect.” A cause is underway for his sainthood, which is pretty impressive, since few artists have been given the honor.

Now, almost 130 years after Gaudí began his church, it’s finally being consecrated — and they pulled in the big guns to do it. No less than Pope Benedict XVI himself will pray the ritual Nov. 7 for its consecration during a papal trip to Spain.

The consecration of a church formally distinguishes the space as sacred, rather than “profane,” or common. Usually, churches are consecrated at the beginning of their use, after the buildings are finished. Although Sagrada was dedicated to the Holy Family, it was never consecrated, probably because it was never finished.

In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram, and he died a few days later. His art nouveau church was unfinished, and his vision was so grand that its actual completion was no small task. It remains unfinished today, although it’s hoped to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death in 2026.

If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, the thing worth knowing about Sagrada Familia is that it’s absolutely wild. I mean it — it’s the kind of thing that gives the imagination of Zaha Hadid a run for her money. With its eight telescoping spires, flying buttresses and sculptural forms that look like wax sliding down a 394-foot candle, it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, medieval and futuristic. If completed according to Gaudí’s plans, it will have 18 towers, the tallest of which could soar to 560 feet.

Mass has been celebrated in the cathedral despite its construction status, and it draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each day. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site. People are attracted to the cathedral’s harmony, beauty and symbolism, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, told Zenit. It also converts, he added.

“I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.

“The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.”

According to the cardinal, Japanese sculpture Etsuro Soto, who was working on the church, and his wife, became Catholic because of Gaudí’s work in 1991.

“We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God,” the cardinal added.

It’s hard to judge what’s going to be more impressive — the pope’s Nov. 7 consecration Mass, which is expected to include 1,100 concelebrating priests, or the cathedral itself when it’s completed in 16 years.

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About Maria Wiering Pedersen

Maria Wiering Pedersen was a writer for The Catholic Spirit between 2004-2010.

View all posts by Maria Wiering Pedersen
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    Very appropriate description.

    Thanks for sharing this…

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