Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Nativity Façade of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia, detail. From

I´ve found it nice to offer a tribute to the work of architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926) for the Nativity façade of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia. (Expiatory Church of the Holy Family).
Antonio Gaudí was an architect whose buildings made Barcelona world famous in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He invented a radical new language for architecture, fusing traditional and seemingly avant-garde ideas into a hybrid natural form. He can also be said to have invented a new, popular form of ecclesiastical architecture, explicitly designed to bring the ordinary person to God. His desire to understand spiritualism is clear in this anecdote: being a young student at the School of Architecture of Barcelona, he had to design a cemetery gate; he said to the astonished professors that he had to draw the road to the cemetery and the mourners before attempting the gate. Professors flunked him.
Gaudí´s private life remains a mystery, it is possible that he dedicated his life to work and religiosity. He worked on the Sagrada Familia until three days before his death in 1926. His work was continued by assistants and, later, outside architects commissioned by the private foundation that oversees the Temple.

Templo expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia. Picture from

The Tree of Life, Templo de la Sagrada Familia. From

Nativity façade. From

Gaudí designed the Nativity façade as a landlocked ark, including most if not all of the creatures on God´s Earth. He concentrated on birds, of land and water, the former to the right and the latter to the left of the façade. As with the flora also featured here, he intended the façade to display a range of fauna that would have been present both in the Holy Land at the time of Christ and in SXX Spain. Most prominent is the pelican, but not even the lowly turkey is omitted.
Some familiar lizards and mammals, including the snake and the salamander, also appear, and there is a touch of probably unintentional ecumenism in the Buddhist turtles and tortoises supporting one of the columns. Also distributed among these images are oddly placed secular zodiacal symbols.
Most curious, however, is the effect that seems to start above the Nativity scene, in what some see as a Christmas ice cave and others as penitential tears. This appear to be a melting process, seeming to be an allusion to the impermanence of the physical, the inevitable death of the flesh. Equally they could represent the tears of God on seeing His finest creation, Man, has fared since giving His Son to them. (Adapted from Gaudí, by John Gill. P. 230, Parragon Publishing, United Kingdom, 2001).

Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus at the manger, encircled by a mule and Ox.  From

The natural materials are also fascinating. The structure is reinforced concrete faced with natural stone - the Montjuic, together with basalts and granites. ¨The Montjuic sandstone is joined for some of the interior elements by Scottish sandstone from the Clashach quarries on the Moray Firth. A "New Red" sandstone from the desert dunes of the Permian Period, some 250 million years ago, it is famous for its preservation of the tracks of ancient (and doomed) reptiles, all very geologically different from the Montjuic. But the two are similar in important ways. The Clashach sandstone had been used during refurbishment of Barcelona's old cathedral, and came to the attention of the Sagrada architects because of its similar appearance to the Montjuic, the warmth of its colour, its texture, and its durability¨. (Michael Welland, geologist.

Portrait of Gaudí. From

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