Nov 16, 2014

La Sagrada Familia: Spaceship, Batman's Cave or a Cathedral?

Confessor were ready to take on the world in the early '90's after our first album, "Condemned" came out.  That album was released in 1991 and within a few months we were part of the legendary "Gods of Grind" tour with Cathedral, Entombed and Carcass bringing our own brand of twisted metal to hungry metal heads throughout Europe, and audiences were floored by the bill everywhere we went.  We were young and bulletproof and that tour was a really big deal.  Every night there seemed to be as many headbangers as possible packed into each venue and while I was excited about all of the shows, I became increasingly excited about the show scheduled in Barcelona. I had been checking out as many of the historical spots as I could walk to everywhere we went without really knowing very much about what I might find.  There were so many amazing things to see, and I didn't want to waste any opportunities to be mesmerized by what people were able to accomplish centuries ago before modern technology gave us the skyscrapers we know today.  One of the only places that I had any prior knowledge of was La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and I was chomping at the bit to see it in person.
The shows in Spain ended up being cancelled for reasons I never heard or have since forgotten, but I do remember the disappointment I felt when I found out we would not see either Barcelona or Madrid.  Once we got back home from our tour I read a little more about Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece and I decided I had to make it to Barcelona one way or another to be able to experience it for myself.  I became a real fan of Gaudi in the same way I have "obsessed" over many things in my life.  I love ideas and concepts as much as the actual execution and final products people, or movements produce.  Original concepts are pretty pure and unadulterated.  Reality hasn't had a chance to corrupt the principle idea. Execution and final products are usually compromised by logistics, financial realities, resistance or other facts of life.  Not every neat idea is a good one, and often it only takes a few seconds to see the basic flaw that will bring an idea crashing to the ground.  If the concept is inspiring enough a realistic approach might be discovered and the world will benefit from the idea being realized.  La Sagrada Familia is the kind of vision that has been so inspiring that an entire city has struggled with the task of completing its construction since Gaudi's sudden death in 1926.  Gaudi kept much of his design concepts in his head, and no one knew how to build what he envisioned after he was struck by a tram in the street during his daily walk to his place of worship.  He had become reclusive in his final years and was mistaken for a beggar until someone recognized the old man in his hospital bed the day after the accident.  At that point Antoni Gaudi's injuries were too severe for him to recover. A true visionary, Gaudi had almost died unnoticed by the city that adored him.  Funding for the project ran dry, and within a decade Spain went through a civil war.  Not without controversy, La Sagrada Familia is a one of a kind cathedral that seems to be developing as it unfolds decade after decade, in ways that were neither intended nor predicted, but that are endlessly fascinating.  Having seen it without a roof in 1996, and again eighteen years later I can say that my position regarding its contrasting architectural styles has evolved.  I hope to see it completed in my lifetime.  That would be rewarding on many levels.  I doubt that most people ever think that they might have an emotional investment as an observer to a one hundred plus year construction project. 

The Controversy

The oldest section of La Sagrada Familia is called the "Nativity facade" and is very easy to spot.  It's the four towers in the photo at the top of this post that are darker brown than the rest of the cathedral.  Photos of that section standing tall with nothing around it look really strange.  Kind of like the fake towns in old Western movies that were just two dimensional storefronts, you expect to see two by fours nailed to the back of the towers to hold them up. Somewhere along the way I had remembered hearing about a "... melting sand cathedral" so when I first heard someone describe Gaudi's  project in Barcelona I knew exactly what they must have been referring to, and from that conversation on I was interested in Antoni Gaudi. This section of the cathedral really does look as though it is melting.  There wasn't time to take a lot of photos of the exterior, and it's difficult to see what makes the Nativity facade so unique without a good telephoto lens because of the size of the building.  It's an overall texture that makes it look so organic. "Organic design", or designs that reflected nature's own design were important to Gaudi and that is reflected in much of what he built. The opposite side of La Sagrada Familia has the "Passion facade" and is no doubt what generated much of the controversy regarding the direction of the newer construction. Where Gaudi had a smooth, organic flow in much of his creations, with more than a little dose of fairy tale fantasy, the Passion facade is loaded with the sharp angles of cubism and modern sculpture.  The contrast between the two styles really is like comparing night and day.  

The first time I saw La Sagrada Familia it brought tears to my eyes.  I had such a yearning to see it in person for years, and to finally stand before it in all of its enormity and controversy just about took my breath away.  Knowing a little about its history and seeing so many of Gaudi's other works, which are rightfully celebrated throughout Barcelona, contributed to the massive build up I had created for the place.  It did not disappoint in the slightest.  I couldn't believe I was actually standing there!  I could not have been prepared for how massive it was, yet unlike many Gothic cathedrals it seemed warm and inviting. Also, seeing the two opposing artistic styles made it easy to understand how people could be so heartbroken over the direction of the most visited site in all of Spain.  It all hit me like a hammer.

The change of heart I had after seeing it a second time would not have been possible were it not for the new interior of the cathedral.  As I said, in 1996 there was no roof over most of the church. There was Gaudi, and there was "not Gaudi".  Stylistic conflict.  I did like Josep Suribachs' sculptures on the Passion facade, but to me they had absolutely nothing to do with Gaudi's vision.  Designers talk about grouping things in threes, and now that the interior of La Sagrada Familia is all but complete the cathedral is a collection of vastly divergent, but equally inspired visions which have a sense of collaboration that was missing when there were only two conflicting aesthetics.  There are places where you can see what the cathedral will look like when it's finally completed, and it will appear even more like something from another planet when it's done.  It is hard to believe that one edifice could have so much to offer, and so many different flavors.  Intended or not, that is what makes La Sagrada Familia unlike any place on earth.

Waiting to Get Inside

We only had a few minutes to snap shots of the cathedral before we went inside. This one is from the base of the Nativity facade. Remember the "melting sand" description?

The Passion facade is still under construction, as is most of La Sagrada Familia.  Aside from being much cleaner the towers appear to be identical to the Nativity facade. The buttresses and sculptures however are nothing like the opposite side of the building.  As you will see soon enough, the entrance doors are very unique, especially for a cathedral.  Having said that there is a palpable reverence in the doors themselves that makes them perfectly suited for their purpose.  It's strange and yet assuring to feel that in modern art.  So much of modern art has been about dissecting and criticizing social mores.  It's refreshing to see modern art supporting a concept

I had to look back at this to recognize the odd juxtaposition of a superindustrial visual and a place of worship.  The Godflesh fan in me saw this as the only chance in my life to chronicle the existence of the Church of Bleak Industrial Nightmares 

We had about forty five minutes between the time we bought our passes and when we would be allowed into the cathedral.  Monica, Marcus and I had left Cary and Stephanie at Park Guell to come down to La Sagrada Familia.  Because the three of us were going to the Salvador Dali museum the next day in Figueres this would be our only chance to see the church and there was nothing that could have kept me from experiencing it one more time.  I had brought Monica, Cary and Stephanie to see it just as the sun went down the night before to get them pumped to see it from the inside.  I wanted them to have a little buzz of excitement for the place, and I think it worked.  Unfortunately for us our time there was short since the park took longer than we expected.  We agreed that we would take turns sitting by the ticket girl while letting the others take a lap around the cathedral to snap away while we had enough sunlight. Monica was able to get us in a few minutes earlier than the printed time on our passes. The fairer sex works a very different kind of magic.  I'm not pretty enough or charming enough to pull off a move like that!

The Plunge

Upon entering I remembered at the last second to really look at the doors we all had to walk through. If there had been more time I would have spent a few minutes studying it.  As it was I saw carved leaves with these beetles and a praying mantis that disappeared into a more traditional thick, metal door. There was an open area to allow people to begin to spread out and beyond that, a truly unbelievable basilica that could just as easily have been an alien spaceship. Hang on guys, La Sagrada Familia is unlike anything you've ever seen!

The sun was going down when we first walked in, and it was shining directly into the stained glass windows of the western facade. The light and colors were remarkable

The stark white of the interior made the columns look like gemstones on fire as the sunset spilled in through the enormous windows.  It was breathtaking in person

The light seemed to change before our very eyes. The scope of the place was so massive that the sunset played out like a short film that enveloped the entire room. Before I could get to the columns in the previous shot the light was already beginning to fade to green

Sweetie, I mean Monica, took this photo.  It almost looks like an M.C. Escher lithograph!  I had stopped at the column in the last photo and turned around to see what was behind me while she kept going towards the giant drill bit in the second photo above this one.  It's good to have multiple cameras.  I never even caught all of this light play on the ceiling because I was drawn to the colored light coming through the stained glass.  The last columns before the drill bit are white, and that's where Monica was when she got this shot. The ominous figure in the window to the left of the drill bit will show up a little later

Alien Architecture

Any suggestions for how to begin to describe the ceiling of this place?  There are certain shots that make all of this begin to look like an elaborate spinal column, but it appears more extraterrestrial than earthly to me.  When I visited La Sagrada Familia in 1996 there was no ceiling.  The amount of progress in eighteen years is amazing!  The enormity of the basilica really enhances the feeling of being inside something designed by aliens. 

I was so engrossed by what we were marveling at that it took me a few minutes to recognize the low, oddly distant sound of a jackhammer echoing throughout the cathedral.  It actually made things even weirder because it sounded like the effect they use in sci-fi movies now to signify that something really earth shattering is about to happen.  You know... it's like the loud blast of  a battle horn or a tanker's horn bellowing across the waves, but mixed with what sounds like giant slabs of concrete grinding against one another.  I couldn't help but imagine the entire cathedral slowly lifting out of the ground and taking off into outer space.  Very freaky, but cool  

This settles it, La Sagrada Familia was definitely conceived of by alien intelligence! It straddled the line between other wordly spaceship and holy place of worship.  Truly enigmatic

Batman's Lair

At this point I was really at a loss for how to process everything that we were trying to absorb.  Batman? Batman lives in La Sagrada Familia?!?!  Why not, right? Anything goes when you have a structure like this one.  The fact that this figure is all black made it awfully menacing surrounded by so much white.  It really felt like the set of a science fiction movie.  If Logan's Run were to be re-released now you could expect to see people with glowing lights in their hands levitating in slow motion only to be zapped by a laser before they reach "Sanctuary"

Another photo that resembles a crazy M.C. Escher print that Monica was able to grab. This is so far beyond "over the top" that I don't even know where to begin!   

Back Outside: The Passion Facade

This is one of the doors that leads to the western side of the cathedral where Josep Subirachs' controversial "Passion" facade tells the story of Jesus' pain, his sacrifice and his death. I love the texture all of the characters on the door create.  You can see the handle about three fourths of the way down on the left side. There are two sets of double doors like this one leading out to the steps of La Sagrada Familia

This is the crucifixion scene of the Passion facade.  While it is nothing like Gaudi's much more naturally flowing designs there is a visual connection with the abstract modernism of the interior of the church.  I view the Suribachs statues, the interior design and Gaudi's exterior as three completely different visions that celebrate faith together.  Once the rest of the project is completed it will be even more amazing and unique than it is now

Whew!  There were several other things I took photos of that would have been interesting to write about, but I feel as though I'm pushing it already by spending so much time on the touristy part of our trip to Spain.  Not all of the things that inspire me to play drums are necessarily musical though, and I definitely find Barcelona inspiring!  We had just one other stop planned for our trip after our Day of Gaudi... Salvador Dali's museum in Figueres!  This was something Monica had been salivating over from the time we realized we really were going to spend a week in Spain.  I spent a lot of time following her around and wiping off counter tops the last month before we left.  I had developed a sort of tennis player's elbow cleaning her drool up everywhere we went.  Yes, I love her that much.

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