The ‘incomparable’ Sagrada Familia

Amongst much other published hyperbole, I have several times seen the word ‘incomparable’ used to describe Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

I disagree.  There are many other constructions, both religious and secular, to which this famous basilica can be compared, and not always favourably.

Admittedly, it is still a long way from being completed, and this picture of mine is not the most flattering view of it, clad in tarpaulins and cranes as it is, but there are several obvious comparisons that we can make.

Four of the multiple spires of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain

Four of the multiple spires of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain

One of the main features of the Sagrada Familia that is often praised for its originality are the open framework design of its spires.  But that idea is not original at all.  There are many precedents for that approach to spire construction, even in Gaudi’s own formative environment.

Just a short distance across town from Gaudi’s Basilica is the mostly 14th century Barcelona Cathedral.  Its multiple spires are similarly hollow and open to the sky in their construction, and they reach for the heavens with the spiky elegance of ice crystals, besides which, Gaudi’s yet to be finished spires already look tired.

The open fretwork of one of the spires of Barcelona Cathedral

The open fretwork of one of the spires of Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral with its multiple open frame spires

Barcelona Cathedral with its multiple open frame spires

And in terms of being the product of the singular vision of a lone genius, Simon Rodia’s hand-built towers in Watts, California, have a vernacular energy that, to me, makes the Sagrada Familia seem clumsy and flabby by comparison.

Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, in Los Angeles, California, hand built by one man from collected scrap, over several decades.

Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, in Los Angeles, California, hand built by one man from collected scrap, over several decades.
(Image by InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (Watts Towers Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

But the most unflattering comparison of all is that between the inside and the outside of this extraordinary building.  Inside, it is breathtaking.  Built with respect towards centuries of traditional cathedral construction, it brings a new vision to the creation of a sacred space that truly inspires awe.

The breathtaking interior of  Gaudi's Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

The breathtaking interior of Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

But outside, it looks like an unpleasantly dun-coloured wax model of a cathedral that has been left out in the sun too long and has started to melt.

Detail from the facade of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona

Detail from the facade of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona

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