The Man Behind the Architecture
In my few experiences traveling internationally I always based my reason for visiting those countries on two things; either it had a people or culture I wanted to immerse myself in, or the art and architecture was too beautiful to not see for myself. Foolishly, I think, I placed cities and countries into those categories, and if one had beautiful people then I wasn’t there for the sights, or if one had breathtaking views and buildings then I wasn’t as concerned with connecting to the people. However, one city flipped that narrow-minded categorization on its head.
My friends and I were taking a two-week trip around Europe. We had just spent a few days in Dublin and were on our way to Barcelona. Barcelona is an example of a place where all I expected to connect with was what they created with their hands. The churches, statues, government buildings, markets, even the streets were breathtaking. It was refreshing to see a country where they clearly took pride in the work of their hands.
Visiting Las Sagrada Familia, though, is what reshaped my entire perspective. This incredible cathedral, still a work in progress, was designed by Anton Gaudi, a Catalan architect who is also known well for designing Park Guell, a park full of brightly colored tile sculptures, walls, and buildings. Now, I admit that touring a church wasn’t high up on my list of interesting excursions, but my travel buddies had been talking about it as a highlight before we had even left the US, so rather than staying behind I thought I’d go and see what all the hype was about. I was far from disappointed. Still miles away we could see the highest points of Las Sagrada Familia over the towering buildings of Barcelona. The magnitude of the building became more and more overwhelming the closer that we got. It was beautiful. Nothing about the church was simple, as we walked up to the facade and in through the doors that reality became clearer and clearer.
It was impossible to not stop in awe once we walked through the large doors into the great room. Every piece of the construction had been intentional, and the closer you looked, the more detail you would find. For instance, there were four walls covered by stained glass windows, but not one wall was the same. Each represented a different season in the colors of the glass so that as the sun rose and fell, the inside of the church would be taken over by a different season. It is the only place on earth where you can experience one year in the span of one day. From that point we became more aware that every detail of that majestic building was designed to represent some aspect of creation. From the giant columns made to remind you of great trees, or the winding staircase that, when you looked up, mimicked so well the swirling shell of a snail. We spent hours inside, making new discoveries and wondering how one man could encapsulate so much of creation into one space.
Once we had our fill of the inside, we took our time walking around the facade only to find that the brilliance and creativity wasn’t only reserved for what we had already seen. Each outer wall of the building told a part of the story of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection. From the bottom up, the Gospel was written on the walls through sculptures. At the very top there was a veil carved in stone. The veil was torn and a living lamb stood above.
To say that it moved us feels insufficient. It consumed us and left us walking away in silence with our thoughts, overtaken by the creativity and ingenuity of the man who designed that inspired cathedral.
As I reflect deeper on our experience there, I am humbled. To say that a place is only worth visiting because of the art, architecture, or food is leaving out something so significant! None of those things are made without the people willing to create them. You cannot separate architecture from the architect and as we took time to appreciate all that Las Sagrada Familia was, I couldn’t help but grow in admiration for the man who created it. So now, as I go along no matter where I am or what I am seeing, I am there for the people and all that they have created. One does not exist without the other, and it would be a shame to rob myself of the full experience by excluding either from my attention.
“Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.” - Anton Gaudi