Many Paths, One Truth – La Sagrada Familia

Religion and science have been pitted against each other in the minds of the masses. I stitched “science is the answer” into a sweater and have been surprised how many first responses are, “yeah fuck religion,” or something along those lines. First of all, I didn’t say anything about religion, second, why was that your first response?
I believe this is because religion is taken literally instead of being seen as one of many beautiful paths to truth. Science in its very nature questions, religion in its current iteration knows or has faith so questioning is seen as a foe. And the fact that questioning, the very nature of science, is seen as a foe causes science to perceive of religion as an enemy despite both being fundamentally proponents of identical goals – to find truth and communal balance through love and wonder. La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral and the number one tourist destination in Barcelona, blends the divine experience of nature and religion through science and math. It was founded with the conscious intention of creating a space “built by the people, for the people.”
In all honesty, I was quite skeptical of Sagrada Familia for the following reasons 1) they charge admission – charging admission is a huge red flag to me because, as I’ve stated before, if a space is inaccessible to the poor then it will never be truly revolutionary, 2) it is a church – religion, although at its core very beautiful and community focused, has been tainted by generations of hypocrites, liars, manipulative thieves and closed minded bigots. Religion is a very powerful galvanizing force that has unfortunately been used as a tool for the powerful to reign over, control and pacify the people. 3) almost none of the locals I had met in Barcelona had been to see la Sagrada Familia.
Nonetheless, I felt compelled to check it out and I am so glad that I did. Although, like Gaudi’s other spaces, it has a very touristy and has a Disneyland feel, it turns out that the church is a collaboration with several different architects and artists with their own style and voice. This was reminiscent of La Experimental , however here, instead of simple drawings on the wall we have, for example, 50 foot wrought-iron doors depicting a wall of leaves and occasional beetles, butterflies and other little creatures made by a Japanese artist. This is a well funded production.

The building is impressive and the feeling is very ethereal, very natural. Gaudi brilliantly uses naturally existing shapes and mathematical patterns to design the space. For example, the arches of the Cathedral were designed by hanging string with weights to render parabolic shapes through gravity.

The inside of the Cathedral is a breathtaking Gaudi rendition of a forest. The light coming through the stained glass windows is reminiscent of the divine moment when light filters through leaves and streams down to the forest floor below. The stairways like seashell spirals. Gaudi is showing divinity not through symbolism (although there is a good deal of that in the space as well) but through mimicking nature through math and science.

This blending of the natural world, science, mathematics and religion is truly wonderful. Especially today as religion and politics become increasing devoid of beauty and wonder. A space that brings together these many paths to the one truth is necessary and so so very wonderful.

The founding concept of a space by the people for the people is exactly what I am looking for. However – is this really the case with Sagrada Familia? Who are its people? Tourists? The space is not open to the public, it does not host events other than mass and even then the mass is in the crypt. It feels more like a money machine than a space for the people. In the crypt is a museum describing the history of the space. They explain that the space grew with the people of the city as population increased, funding the continued building of the church through donations.
Gaudi is quoted as having said that people will come from all over to see the Sagrada Familia, “the world will see what we are building.” This fascinates me because 1) it is in direct opposition to the anti tourism sentiments that are expressed by the community of Barcelona and 2) it alludes to a concept I find central to the building of spaces – The idea that each space that I build and find serves as almost an organic radio, where the concepts and the intentions behind the space naturally attract those far and wide who resonate with the space.
In actuality, Gaudi did not come up with the idea of the church. The theory behind the cathedral as a space built by the people for the people was the dream of a simple shopkeeper who sold books. He is mentioned very briefly in the crypt and there is no real information provided about the shopkeeper or the reasoning behind his desire to create the space. I would be fascinated to learn more about him and how he came up with the idea if any of you guys know! I would be particularly interested in why it is that he decided to make the space for the people a church. Perhaps it is due to funding or perhaps he was genuinely religious.

Things the space brought up

  1. The power of religion as a galvanizing tool for community
  2. Having spaces where religion and science coexist
  3. Space built by the people for the people but is it really for the people?
  4. Space as a collaboration with multiple artists
  5. Community spaces treated like Disney land. Commodification of art and experience. Commodification of religious experience
  6. Space as organic radio – attracting people from all over the globe to visit
  7. Using nature to inform space