It’s not that Barcelona is running out of places where you can worship God. With 208 catholic churches in this city of 1.6 million, 49% of the population being catholic and church attendance dropping to 14%, why would you spend the equivalent of US$1,000,000,000 to build church number 209? The logic behind the construction of the most extravagant church ever built, escapes me. If you really want to worship God and can’t find a church to your liking, climb a mountain or take a walk in the woods.
Now that I got that off my chest, I want to tell you about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Construction work on this catholic church began 135 years ago. It is expected to be completed by 2026 with another 20 years of “fine tuning” after that. The driving force behind this work of art was Antoni Gaudi, Catalonia’s most unusual and eccentric (and pious) architect. The Sagrada Familia was his life’s work. Gaudi poured 38 years into the project before being run over, at age 73, by a tram on the streets of Barcelona. It was a rather unceremonious ending to the life of a genius.
The real miracle about the church is the way the work was continued by his students, assistants and fellow architects. The people, who worked with Gaudi day to day for many years, knew his vision so well that they were able to pick up where Gaud left off. The result is a stunning work of architectural art.
There is praise and condemnation galore for the Sagrada Familia. Some see in the church a “marvel of technical perfection” while others call it a structure designed with “ruthless audacity”. People who are less impressed by the church call it “vulgar and pretentious”. My assessment comes closest to that of James A. Michener who called the Sagrada Familia “one of the strangest-looking serious buildings in the world.”
When allied forces bombed the German city of Cologne during WWII, they completely razed the town but left its famous cathedral unharmed, “to make sure that people will know where Cologne once stood”. The Sagrada Familia is not even completed yet, but the unmistakable profile of its unique towers has become, like Cologne’s cathedral, a highly recognizable new emblem of a beautiful city.
Now that the money has been spent, we might as well enjoy this spectacular work of art. The Sagrada Familia already welcomes 3 million visitors per year and while very few of them come to worship God, they all will appreciate Gaudi’s genius…and, as an aside, pay for the rest of the construction. Build it and they will come…