Papal Visit to Barcelona: Gaudí the Man, Part II

Regular readers know that this week I have been writing on subjects related to the upcoming Papal Visit to Barcelona, when Pope Benedict XVI will be consecrating the newly-designated Basilica of the Holy Family, or “Sagrada Familia”. Yesterday readers were able to examine several photographs of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, the architect of the church, in conjunction with a loose timeline of what was going on in his world at the time the pictures were taken. Today we will take a look at some of the aspects of the great architect’s native place and age, and perhaps gain some insight into his thoughts and outlook.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance that Gaudí’s being a Catalan, and emphatically not a Spaniard, had on his work. There are those who would find such a statement to be somewhat inflammatory, for the issue of Catalan nationalism has often been a cause of conflict in Spanish history. Yet as a man who appears in the universe at a particular place and time, Gaudí like any of us was a man informed and shaped by where and when he found himself.

When Gaudí was born in 1852, Catalonia was beginning a rapid transformation from a commercial backwater into an industrial powerhouse. As money poured into the industrial cities of Catalonia, Barcelona foremost among them, the Catalans went on a building boom which they had not experienced since the heady days of their lost empire in the 14th and 15th centuries. New fortunes were being made, and new fortunes need new homes, factories, offices, warehouses, parks, churches, schools, libraries, and theatres: in short, there was plenty of work for ambitious young architects.

At more or less the same time, the Catalans were rediscovering their history and their language. With the encouragement of the elites, they began to express and patronize their cultural identity as a people in poetry, music, and art, in a movement known as the Catalan Renaissance or Renaixença. Spoken and written Catalan once again began to take over the cities (it had never really been stamped out in the countryside), and festivals that had fallen into disuse or which were banned under the Bourbon autocracy in the 18th century were revived, such as the reestablishment of the Medieval “Jocs Florals” or “Floral Games”, last celebrated in the 1400’s and revived in 1859. Catalan newspapers, magazines, novels, and songs were created to spread the use of the language, while the plastic arts commemorated important figures and concepts from Catalonia’s past.

Gaudí was very much a part of this movement, and to look at a building like the Sagrada Familia without understanding that it was designed by a Catalan architect of this period and built by men committed to a conservative, Catholic Catalan nationalism, is to completely miss the point of it. The evocation in its design of the unusual, towering finger-like rock formations of the holy Catalan mountain of Montserrat, location of the image of Our Lady housed in the ancient Benedictine monastery dedicated to her, is obvious to anyone who has visited both sites. The Catalan love of nature, particularly of the combination of sea and mountain – mer i muntanya – throughout the decoration of the basilica, is conceptually important in many aspects of Catalan identity: there is even a national dish bearing this name.

Although he could speak Spanish when he wanted to of course, Gaudí continued to use Catalan as his primary language throughout his professional life. This may be part of the reason why there are so few Gaudí buildings that exist outside of Catalan-speaking areas. In fact, there are no buildings by him that exist outside of Spain, though he did design a skyscraper for Manhattan which, sadly, was never built.

The architect’s insistence on Catalan knew no bounds: when King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to visit the construction site of the Sagrada Familia for example, he addressed Gaudí in Spanish, but Gaudí answered him only in Catalan. This sort of Catalanism was both very serious, in a political sense, and also very funny – to Catalans anyway. Gaudí knew who he was, and he was not going to defer to a Bourbon who refused to learn the language of a significant portion of his kingdom.

On another occasion, the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who frankly was rather full of himself, visited the Sagrada Familia and announced that he thought the whole thing was a waste of money which would never be finished. During the tour which the architect attempted to give, Unamuno wandered around wringing his hands, and very rudely saying out loud, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” in Spanish. The (naturally) offended Gaudí decided to follow along behind Unamuno imitating his gestures, and saying, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” in Catalan. This sort of behavior was to get him into trouble however, as we shall see.

Most nations or peoples celebrate what they consider to be their national holiday in order to mark a particular high point. For example, these holidays will often take place on the anniversary of achieving independence, or the birth of a significant figure. Catalonia however, marks its national day, known as “La Diada” or the “Day of Days”, on September 11, 1714, the day of their greatest defeat. This was the day that the Bourbons took Barcelona in the Wars of the Spanish Succession, abolishing the local autonomy which had been established in Catalonia during the Middle Ages, and later preserved, albeit with increasing restrictions, under the Hapsburg Empire, along with the use of the Catalan language.

In 1924, the government of Spanish dictator General Primo de Rivera ordered the closing of all churches in Catalonia on September 11th, in order to prevent popular commemoration of La Diada. However, some edict from a military junta was not going to deter Gaudí and other Catalan Catholics from marking the occasion as a conservative Catholic Catalan would normally do. And so on the morning of the holiday, he set out for mass at the Basilica of Sts. Justus and Pastor, located just across from Barcelona city hall, which planned to hold a mass to commemorate those who had died on September 11th during the French siege. Those interested in learning about this ancient and beautiful Gothic church can read about its fascinating history on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona.

What happened next shocked many observers, not only in Barcelona and in Spain, but around the world. As the 72-year old Gaudí made his way across the square in front of the basilica, he was stopped by the Guardia Civil, the Spanish national police, who refused to allow him to enter the building. They asked him to identify himself and explain what he was doing there, to which the elderly architect replied – in Catalan.

Matters escalated as the police continued to question Gaudí in Spanish, and he continued to answer them in Catalan, remonstrating with them for trying to prevent him from attending mass. They insisted that he was breaking the law by attempting to attend the mass and by addressing them in Catalan, to which the architect responded: “My profession obliges me to pay my taxes, and I pay them, but this does not oblige me to stop speaking my own language.” Gaudí was then arrested, and taken to jail where he was housed in a communal cell with petty criminals.

As the arrest was witnessed by many people, someone contacted his office at the Sagrada Familia with the news of what the old man had been up to. One of his assistants contacted a priest friend of the architect, who then came down to bail Gaudí out and pay the fine for disturbance of the peace and speaking Catalan, which amounted to about $700 in today’s money. In an interview he gave to a journalist the following day, Gaudí made the comment that after his rather shocking experience, he was convinced that with such actions on the part of the police forces, a radical transformation of Spain was inevitable; his prediction would later be proven correct with the establishment of the Leftist Republic in 1930, and the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Tomorrow, in our final post before the Papal Visit, we will have a round-up of some of the interesting things to look out for during the coverage of the event.

A caricature of Gaudí at work, by his friend Ricard Opisso i Sala

>Papal Vist to Barcelona: Gaudí The Man, Part I

>My posts this week hope to provide some interesting and useful information for those following the upcoming Papal Visit to Barcelona this Sunday, when Pope Benedict XVI will be dedicating the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia and raising it to the status of a Minor Basilica. The late architect of the church, Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet, has been a not-infrequent topic in these virtual pages, most recently regarding developments in the cause for his beatification. While he has come to be a revered architect around the world, this development occurred despite a man who ended his life in abject humility.

For many, Gaudí remains a somewhat remote and mysterious figure. Part of this has to do with the fact that, as he became more famous, he also became more reclusive. He loathed speaking about himself, and equally loathed having his photograph taken. Yet from the documents we have, the few photographs of him that are known, and some details about his personal life and habits, we can see that not only was he a man of great faith, but a man fiercely proud of being a Catalan, and having a typically wry Catalan sense of humor.

Gaudí was born June 25, 1852 in the Catalan province of Tarragona. Like many Catalans he was always short in stature, though this was also partly as a result of rheumatic fever he had suffered as a child, and which continued to affect him physically throughout his life. Also like many Catalans, he had dark, ash-blonde hair, blue eyes, and pink rather than olive-toned skin – something which those not familiar with the people of Catalonia may find surprising, though red hair, blue eyes, and paler complexions are common particularly in the countryside.

Let’s take a look at some of the few known photographs of him, and place these in the context of his work and the world he lived in.

Here we see a photograph of Gaudí in 1878 as a young architect just starting out in the profession, when he was 26 years old:

He had moved to Barcelona in 1868 to begin his architectural studies, and in 1878 his transcript had been submitted for approval of granting the title of architect to him at the completion of his studies. It must be said, at this point Gaudí was a bit full of himself, and was already creating a bit of a reputation for being something of an odd duck with odd ideas about architecture. It was just at this point that he received his first municipal commission, for the lampposts in the square known as the Plaça Reial, which are still there. This was also the year that he first met Count Eusebi Güell, who was to become the great patron of his work.

Ten years later, at the age of 36, we see Gaudí in 1888, with a shaved head:

The year 1888 was a very important one for Barcelona, and it was the first time in several centuries that the city had come back into international cultural consciousness as a result of the civic renaissance taking place there. This was the year of Barcelona’s International Expo, which was the impetus for an enormous number of municipal building projects which have placed a permanent stamp on the layout of the city of Barcelona. The work of Gaudí and his contemporaries was now attracting enormous international interest from other architects and critics, particularly in England, France, and the Austrian Empire.

At this point the Count Güell and Gaudí were already well-underway in their collaborative efforts as patron and architect. The pavilions to the Güell country estate in Pedralbes, with their enormous wrought-iron dragon gate, were already completed, and work on the Güell Palace in downtown Barcelona was almost finished. In addition, the architect had been awarded the commission for the Sagrada Familia in 1884, and the crypt of the church was about halfway completed when this photo was taken.

Our next photograph of Gaudí shows him in 1910 at the age of 58, well into middle age and at the height of his powers – and having grown his hair back:

His major apartment buildings in the Eixample, or the “expansion” development of Barcelona north of the old city center, had all been built by this point. The Casa Calvet was completed in 1904; the Casa Batlló with its St. George and the Dragon motif by 1907; and the undulating, extremely innovative Casa Milà – more commonly known as La Pedrera – shortly afterward. The architect was still at work on the Parc Güell development, so beloved by tourists today, as well as the Sagrada Familia of course.

The next photograph, taken in 1915, shows Gaudí at the age of 63 giving a tour of the worksite at the Sagrada Familia to the Apostolic Nuncio to Spain (and later Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura), Francesco Cardinal Ragonesi. We see the Cardinal in the center of the photograph, staring up at the church, and Gaudi standing just to his left, with white beard and hat.

During this visit which, in the form of the Papal Ambassador, was the closest Gaudí himself would ever get to meeting the Pope, the architect’s normally reticent form of speech was thrown out the window. He showed the Nuncio all over the building, explaining his plans and the theological study and reflection that had gone into them, as I had written about in yesterday’s brief overview of some of the complex iconography and symbolism that went into the plans. The Nuncio was apparently extremely impressed at everything he saw and heard, and told Gaudí that “You are the Immanuel Kant of architecture.” (Of course, one is not exactly sure whether this is a compliment.)

At just about this point Barcelona’s building boom had come to an end. Commissions had started to dry up in an economic downturn, art and architecture was changing to geometric styles in rejection of the elaborate designs of the 19th and early 20th century, and Gaudí soon found himself without his greatest patron when the Count died in 1918. This combined with the death of his only remaining family members and his best friend and business partner led him to become a near-total recluse, working only on the Sagrada Familia and nothing else.

Finally here is probably the last known photograph of Gaudí in his lifetime, taken in 1925 at the annual Corpus Christi procession when he was an elderly man of 73:

At this point Gaudí was considered by many, particularly those who did not know him, to be something of a lunatic. In fact, he had moved out of his house and was living in his studio at the church, and sold most of his possessions. He spent much of his time when not on the construction site going around quite literally begging for contributions for the completion of the Sagrada Familia. When not doing this, he was at mass or in prayer or in fasting, or in seeking spiritual direction from the Oratorian fathers.

Because he looked like an old beggar by this point, and did not carry a wallet or identification, when Gaudí was hit by a tram on June 7, 1926 on his way to mass after work, no one offered to help him. In fact several taxi drivers refused to take him to the hospital because they thought he was not able to pay the fare. Incidentally, when this was discovered and reported to the police, these cab drivers were tracked down and charged with refusing to render aid, and they were heavily fined. Barcelona’s greatest architect was eventually taken to Santa Creu (“Holy Cross”), a hospice for the indigent, where he lay unrecognized for 24 hours.

Gaudí’s friends began to look for him in the city hospitals when they realized that he was missing, and late in the evening on June 8, 1926, they eventually tracked him down to the Holy Cross Hospital. He had been found with a copy of the Gospels in his pocket, his clothes held together with safety pins. There was no identification on him and he was unconscious, so could not tell anyone who he was.

The next morning, he regained consciousness and the first thing he requested was the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. This was administered while his friends were out spreading the news about Gaudí’s very poor state of health to the powers that be. The newspapers began to fill with reports of the accident, and crowds gathered around the hospital.

Soon after, a flood of important people began to arrive at the hospice, including the Archbishop of Barcelona; Gaudí’s younger contemporary the great architect Puig i Caldafach, who was then at work on the Abbey of Montserrat; and the spokesman of the Mayor’s office, the Baron de Villar, who told Gaudí that the Mayor and city council were going to have him moved to the best hospital in the city and would pay for the expenses themselves. Gaudí refused this offer, saying that “I belong here, among the poor people.” He asked for a crucifix to hold, and he kept this in his hand until he died the following afternoon, on June 10, 1926.

Gaudí was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, and it is said that half of Barcelona turned out for his funeral; in a sense, this is his final photograph, of the very few ever taken of him:

Papal Visit to Barcelona: A Theological Floor Plan

As we continue our series this week leading up to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Barcelona this Sunday for the dedication of the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia, this is a good opportunity for us to get a sense of the planning and reflection that has gone into the building, from a theological perspective. So much of what is written about the building focuses on its style, but so little focuses on the symbolism employed by Gaudi and those adhering to his plans for the building. No doubt this is because we once again find ourselves living in a secular – and indeed I would go so far as to say, anti-clerical age, where the history of salvation is unknown to those writing about what are really theological matters, and the theologians whom these reporters tend to turn to are usually the sort of Catholics who in an earlier age would have received at best a tongue lashing from St. Vincent Ferrer.

In any case, reproduced below is the floor plan for the basilica. It is quite frankly going to be impossible for me in a single blog post to go into every single bit of religious symbolism in the design. There is so much thought and reflection that went into the plan that it is astounding, and I suspect that many of my readers, who may have assumed that the Sagrada Familia is simply a random, weird building, will be extremely surprised as they pour over the details of the plan and realize how the entire project fits together like a stone jigsaw puzzle of Christianity.

For example, if we walk up the large flight of stairs at the bottom of the plan, labeled “Gloria”, this will be the entryway to the main entrance to the basilica. At this point, the only thing finished for this facade are the giant bronze front doors, which His Holiness will be walking through on Sunday. Because the building of this part of the church is going to involve the demolition of some nearby apartment buildings that were built during the Franco period, when no one thought the Sagrada Familia would ever be finished, work on this final facade is going to take some political maneuvering as much as engineering.

As we walk up the stairs to the main entrance to the basilica, we will notice two unusual objects: on our left, a large water fountain, and on the right, a perpetually burning cauldron. The significance of these, as well as their location in relation to the building, will become apparent momentarily. So let us not linger but approach the main portal into the church.

This “Glory Facade” will have multiple columns supporting the whole, and each is dedicated differently. The first set of seven columns correspond to the Seven Cardinal Virtues. Behind these are nine larger columns dedicated to the hierarchy of the angels – Dominions, Archangels, Principalities, etc. And behind these are four enormous columns dedicated to St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James.

The entire facade will be dedicated to showing the creation of the world, but it is split by the use of these last four columns. The two on the right, being those of fishermen, are to delineate the part of the facade dedicated to the importance of water in our faith. There will be a large sequence showing Noah and the Ark, for example. The two on the left, being St. Paul of the fiery temper and St. James the Moor Slayer, are for the part of the facade indicating the importance of fire in Judeo-Christian theology. So on their side we will see, for example, the Ark of the Covenant. And now we understand the water and fire we saw back on the entrance plaza.

This also explains the division of the main facade, since the Baptistery is on the “water” side, and the Reconciliation Chapel is on the “fire” side. There will be seven doors leading into the church, dedicated to the Seven Sacraments. That on the far left leads into the Baptistery, and so is dedicated to Baptism, and that on the far right is dedicated to Penance, for it leads to the Reconciliation Chapel. The other five sacrament doors lead directly into the basilica, with the central of the five doors being that of the Eucharist, of course. Above the central door will be a representation showing God the Father at the top, The Holy Spirit, then Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the house of Nazareth, and finally Adam and Eve at the bottom as the root of humanity.

However the Glory Facade is not only the main entrance into the church, but it is also the entrance to the cloister that will wrap around the outside of the building. Normally one expects a cloister to be on the interior of a structure, of course, such as in the grounds of a monastery or cathedral. In this case Gaudi has turned things inside out, so that the church is inside of a covered cloister and rises out of the midst of it.

If we take the cloister portion to the left, heading to the West Front, we will walk along a Via Crucis lined with chapels, and leading to the Facade of Christ’s Passion. If we take the cloister path to the right, we pass through an area dedicated to spiritual direction, again lined with chapels, culminating in a large chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat and the entrance to the Nativity Facade at the East Front. From either of these facades, the cloister continues through more chapels until we reach the back, north cloister, which is formed of two giant domed Sacristies.

These two Sacristies are connected behind the apse with two shorter cloister segments. That on the left, NW side is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, since it is connected to the cloister leading to the Passion Facade, and that on the right, or NE side, dedicated to Our Lady in Glory, since it leads to the Nativity facade. This north section of the cloister is bisected by a giant tower with a domed chapel beneath dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady, uniting the favor she received from Heaven in being made the Mother of God with the suffering she had to go through as predicted by Simeon in the Temple.

Again, gentle reader, this is just a small sampling of the plans for this building; I have not gone over every planned detail, even of these few sections which I have mentioned here. One could easily write a very thick book explaining all of the theological significance of not only what Gaudi’s designs mean, but how they relate to each other, and why certain events or persons or concepts he thought fitting to put together in certain parts of the building. While the Sagrada Familia can certainly be admired as a work of architecture in and of itself, for Catholic visitors reasonably well-formed in the faith – and I daresay for those who wish to understand it better – the experience of visiting the basilica will allow them to see, and hopefully reflect and pray about, the great mysteries of our Catholic Faith.

Now that we know a bit about what will be taking place on Sunday, from yesterday’s blog post on the missal to be used at the Papal Mass, and also a bit more about the floorplan of the building, we will be taking a look at the man himself: Gaudi is often considered a forbidding, mysterious figure, genius or madman depending on whom you speak to, but he was not only a very devout Catholic, he had a very Catalan sense of humor and loved being a Catalan, a fact which I hope to highlight for my readers tomorrow.

The present floor plan for the completed Sagrada Familia