Sagrada de Familia: The controversial church

We humans always have an impeccable liking for controversies. They give us something to put the gray cells of our brain to work. Let’s exercise them today by taking a look into the world’s tallest church(basilica), Sagrada de Familia, constructed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi(1852-1926). The God’s architect, started the construction of Sagrada de Familia in the year 1882. Be prepared for this statement. The basilica is still under construction and will not be completed until 2026! That’s a whooping 135 years of construction! If it is a famous church, which can be funded abundantly, why is it still under construction after over a century?

Sagrada de Familia and its private funding

The construction of the basilica has been carried out with the help of private funding and donations and is not funded by any government or church. Now you may ask why a church has shortage of funds. The answer to this is the beginning of the controversy. Before divulging into it, it is important to note that it isn’t a church, but rather a basilica. It was originally designated as a cathedral but then in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica. What’s the difference between a basilica and a church?

Antoni Gaudi drew inspiration from nature

Before answering the question of why it is considered controversial, let me give you a brief tour of the basilica. The basilica is to have eighteen spires out of which only eight has been constructed as of now. These spires symbolize the Twelve Apostles, Virgin Mary, Four Evangelists, and Jesus Christ. They also differ in their heights accordingly to denote the hierarchy, with Jesus Christ’s spire the tallest of all at an astounding 560 feet.

Antoni Gaudi was an admirer of nature. He often finds inspiration for his works from mother nature herself.

The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature.

-Antoni Gaudi

This can be reflected in his basilica too. To showcase it to you, let me show you a staircase inside the Sagrada Familia. You will notice that the staircase spirals, not ordinarily, but rather ‘scientifically’. The spirals represent the famous Fibonacci spiral. The Fibonacci spiral is a logarithmic spiral whose growth factor is φ, the golden ratio 1.69, which is the ratio which is found almost everywhere. In flowers, sea shells and even the human body. You may now understand Gaudi’s love for nature.

Spiral Staircase

Spiral staircase(Left), a sea shell on the right.

Also, the basilica incorporates curved lines rather than straight ones. This can be observed in the pillars of the basilica, curved and giving the illusion of many trees huddled together to form a forest. According to Gaudi, nature did not give us straight lines. So it is to do justice to nature by incorporating curved lines in his temple.

The straight line belongs to men. The curved one to God.

-Antoni Gaudi

Not only in this basilica, Gaudi’s work reflects nature in many of his other art works and buildings.

Ceiling of Sagrada Familia

Ceiling of Sagrada Familia, resembling trees in a forest

magic square

The magic square in the passion façade.

His fascination for nature is co-walked by his fascination for something strange too. Interesting right? Next to the passion façade, near his tomb(yes, Gaudi is buried inside the basilica)there lies a 4×4 magic square with 15 numbers inscribed on it. Even bizarre. These numbers are positioned in such a way that when you add the numbers horizontally, vertically or diagonally, they add up to the number 33!

Now, 33 is not any number. There is symbology in play here. 33 is said to be the highest rank that a freemasonist can go. There exists a controversy that Gaudi was a masonist and that he achieved the 33rd rank. But 33 maybe a coincidence, you may think. But note that his other work Parque Guëll, has staircase whose steps sum to 33 too. Now this is far too real to be ignored as a mere coincidence. One more thing, Gaudi’s friend Eduard was a freemasonist and his patron Guëll was also a freemasonist. These facts make it difficult to ignore ’33’.

Addressing the elephant of the room

So what does all this have to do with the controversy. Gaudi’s nature inspired works were frowned upon during his days. The basilica had undergone many attacks, also a reason for its delayed construction. George Owens, in his novel Homage to Catalonia, wrote:

I went to have a look at the cathedral—a modern cathedral and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution—it was spared because of its ‘artistic value,’ people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.

Alongside this, there was the freemasonist theory. Christianism and freemasonry were not exactly the friendly combo. In 1983, the Church issued a new code of canon law, which stated: ‘A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict‘.

Such was the heat between these two groups. And having said that Gaudi may have been a masonist, poses no doubt in churches denying funding to Sagrada de Familia. Even though it is addressed a basilica, by now you can be sure that it isn’t seen as one by many Catholics. This can be contradicting and confusing. Like an oxymoron, propagating absolutely different ideas: Science and Religion. These two have always been like oil and water. No matter how hard you try to mix, they will stand separated.

Thus, I leave you all with questions lingering in your minds. May your quest begin!

Note: More information regarding the intertwining of science and religion symbolism can be read in the book ‘Origin’ by Dan Brown. Meanwhile, you can check another article which revolves around the ideas of the book here.