Light and Lightness in Sagrada Familia

Although the Rock of Gibraltar is as awe-inspiring and graceful as it has been for the past 2 months which I have spent at its foot, I began to long for a change of scenery. Consequently, we packed up our bags once again and ventured to Barcelona. I could still remember its unconventional taste since I had been there with my family 7 years ago. 7 is a beautiful number, so I decided I could allow myself the eccentricity of saying I visit Barcelona every 7 years. No sooner said that done. However, this time I had to do everything I couldn’t do back then – most importantly, entering the famous Sagrada Familia and visiting one of the houses that Gaudi designed. To my delight, I managed to achieve both aims.

Whilst visiting Sagrada Familia, I instinctively drew an analogy between this Catalunian sanctuary and its Romanian counterpart – Catedrala Mantuirii Neamului, as both caused some stir in their countries. Personally, I know which one I prefer, although I must admit I have not seen Catedrala Mantuirii Neamului on the inside yet. It is now on my bucket list for when I get home.

Meanwhile, Sagrada Familia had a huge effect on me.

The facade of the Cathedral tells the stories depicted in the New Testament. Initially, Gaudi wanted to include the whole Bible, but eventually it has be proven to be too ambitious a plan. Apparently, the intention behind telling the entire story through the facade was that old priests would step out of the cathedral to explain the scenes of the bible to the novices. Ojala the surroundings of the cathedral will be closer to this charming image Gaudi planned. For now, they are full of people more concerned to get their best angle in the photos taken in front of the cathedral, rather than the interpretation of a biblical scene.

The sculptures are modern and modest; the faces of key characters such as Mary, Joseph lack the detail often found in Catholic Cathedrals after the Renaissance. If in Islam, Prophet Muhammad cannot be depicted, in Christianity painters and sculptors have extensively tried to achieve the opposite: to depict Jesus as accurately as possible, to capture his every frown, wrinkle and grin from any angle at all ages, in any material and colour that was available. Sagrada Familia adopts a neutral ground. It depicts Jesus but isn’t concerned with the details of his appearance. Instead, the simplicity catches the eye and reinforces the unconventionality of the church.

The key element of structure that the viewer must remember is that the Eastern of the church tells the birth of Christ and the Western the end of his life. The nativity scene, the 3 Wise Men and the Roman soldiers are located on the Eastern side, while the puzzle revealing the age Jesus had when he died, Judas’s kiss and the Crucifixion can be found on the Western side.

The interior maintains this chronology. The stained glass is blue, green and yellow on the East side of the Nave, and red, orange and purple on the other side.

This may sound like nothing more than a nice design idea, and it is not the first time these colours were used to express certain feelings. The originality comes into play as soon as the light enters the church through its stained glass and the sanctuary is flooded with the most serene yet playful gleam I have ever witnessed.

Normally, when entering a church, I have burdening feelings of shame and guilt. It’s very far from the lightweight, inspiring sensation that I experience in much less grandiose surroundings. When I’m in nature, for example. In fact, I am sure Gaudi must have felt the same, because he designed the interior of Sagrada Familia to replicate a forest. There are no austere paintings in heavy gold frames, but a peaceful forest made of marble that seems to welcome its visitors with joy.

Surprisingly simple for many, I was not so surprised to see this unrefined scenery, where light, rather than paintings plays the main role. Where the eye is not overloaded with inputs and the soul feels light. Etymologically, I recently realised that the English language uses the same word for light in the sense of illumination and for the opposite of heavy. I think Sagrada Familia is the best representation of this poly-semantic word.

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