First Mass in the Sagrada Família: The Pope Beatifies Gaudí
Benedict XVI is going to Barcelona to consecrate the masterpiece basilica. And he is proposing it as a model for modern builders of churches. A visitor’s guide to the astonishing edifice
by Sandro Magister
ROME, November 5, 2010 – Tomorrow, Saturday, Benedict XVI will visit the cathedral of Santiago di Compostela, for centuries one of the leading pilgrimage destinations in Christendom.
But above all, on Sunday, November 7, in Barcelona, the pope will consecrate – while celebrating the Mass for the first time there – the basilica of the Sagrada Família, the stunning masterpiece of Christian art conceived by the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí, whose beatification cause is underway.
It is impossible not to see a message in this act of the pope. The Sagrada Família is an exceptionally powerful lesson for the sacred art of today: the exact opposite of so many modern tendencies toward bare and empty geometry in which the Christian mystery is lost, instead of making itself seen and lived.
Begun more than a century ago, and continued amid ups and downs after the death of its designer in 1926, the construction of this basilica is still far from being completed. But each year two and a half million visitors go to visit the construction site. From the master to the disciples, this church is growing with a plurality of contributions and styles that recalls that of the medieval cathedrals.
The Sagrada Família is a grandiose open book. A theater between heaven and earth in which all the arts come together to enact the sacred history of the world, and draw everyone into the adventure.
Gaudí and the architects and artists who continued his project – from Lluís Bonet i Garí to Joan Vila-Grau, from Josep Maria Subirachs to Etsuro Sotoo – have created a work so rich in symbols as to demand time, competence, and passion simply to read it.
An additional art that this basilica has generated is precisely the art of its interpretation. One who excels in it is an Italian-Spanish Jesuit, Jean-Paul Hernández, author of the most beautiful book yet published on the symbols and spirit of the Sagrada Família, issued in 2007 with the title, “Antoni Gaudí. La parola nella pietra.”
Some suggestions from the book are recalled here. They are small fragments of an immensely more vast account, between the divine and the human, destined to remain always open like the construction site that the visitors discover in Barcelona.