But this year we were with a group of IVCF students at the Study Abroad Launch (see previous post) and we had planned to go together as a group. So we finally went on a tour and were able to view the whole thing, inside and outside, including the basement gallery, which was a highlight for me.
La Sagrada Familia was commissioned nearly 150 years ago and it's central vision was shaped by Antonio Gaudi, who began work on it in the 1880s and died as a result of a tram accident in 1926. Since then, work has proceeded according to Gaudi's models and designs and vision, and though it is not completed the cathedral has been in use for the last few years. A few things struck me during this visit:
- La Sagrada Familia celebrates, of course, the "Holy Family" of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. All throughout the worship space were posters in multiple languages (and having spent time in Russia and central Asia I was glad to see Russian as one of the languages) advocating for the crucial role of the family in society, and gently encouraging couples to be married and to bring up their children in nurture and love. Spain and most of Europe has a lower-than-replacement birthrate that signifies complex societal trends including a growing selfishness and individualism, loss of hope, complacency and secularism. La Sagrada Familia's message is one of a prophetic stance against these cultural trends, as well as a deeply pastoral invitation to believe God can work through growing families, and can mend hurts and reverse forces that would tear families apart.
- Gaudi was a deeply committed believer and a deep disciple of both his faith and his craft. He was a "geometrician" as he said, and saw divine beauty in math and geometry. One of my favorite little architectural surprises was seeing that he built a "magic square" into his cathedral (in at least two places), where each side sums to the total of 33, the age Jesus Christ was when he was crucified. (Magic squares were a fascination of my own as a kid because of the work of mathemagician Martin Gardner in the math recreations of Scientific American.)
- Gaudi had an amazing ability to envision what the final work would look like and how it would inspire when he never had a chance to see it anything close to finished. Reminiscent of Beethoven's ability to write his final symphonies after he had gone completely deaf, Gaudi's genius vision is only being fully realized now and still awaits another 10-15 years of work before the cathedral is completed according to his designs. I am confident that Gaudi is content as he is now fully in the presence of the One his life's work was devoted to proclaim and adore.
(Left) This is a study of how the columns, to support the arches, change their cross section from circular to star-shaped, to rectangular to splitting into two square-shaped supports, to back to circular again. Every cross section has multiple axes of symmetry, and mathematical elegance.