A few weeks ago, my mom visited me here in Spain and we spent a day in Barcelona. We walked down the famous La rambla street, with grand and tall buildings towering around us, adventured through the narrow and hidden streets in the Barri Gòtic, wandered in the sunlight at the port, and stared at the impressive Sagrada Familia cathedral, still undergoing construction. At the end of the day we were exhausted. But our minds were elevated. Both of us were intrigued by the classical symbolism in the quite novel Sagrada Familia, the artistic curves in Gaudi’s other architectural voyages, namely Casa Batlló and Casa Milá, and the quaint Barri Gòtic we accidentally stumbled into. We will hold these memories and images in our minds and hearts for a long while yet.
In the morning, we decided to test our luck at the public transit system, and took the metro out to La Sagrada Familia. Buying our tickets only a night in advance, the only way to enter the church was to by tickets through a tour company. The company had bought an x amount of tickets ahead of time, and added the additional tour price to it, plus some. But, only five minutes into the tour, my mom and I let go of our skepticisms and realized that it was actually good we went on the tour. The tour guide was excellent, and deciphered the many modernist nods to the classics and Catholicism.
La Sagrada Familia is impressive not only because it’s huge and beautiful, but because Gaudi is able to connect such a unique cathedral with the tradition of the Catholic Church. Gaudi, a pioneer of modernism, deeply loved Jesus Christ and His Church, and studied the Bible intensively. His work, La Sagrada Familia, displays this love. You can tell that Gaudi spread his love for the Church over the cathedral, wrapping it in a mantle of tradition and beauty, but all in his own, unique way.
From the outside, the onlooker sees a massive building that, from afar, reminds one of the muddy castle creations a child makes with sand by the sea. With a closer look, and a trained eye, the pilgrimer can see the various nods to scripture and dogma. On one side, Gaudi shows the nativity scene above the side door, with various separate altars of praise for Mary, Joseph, and other major characters of the nativity. The interior of the church on this side floods in joyful green colors. The side, facing the East, lights up the cathedral in the mornings, and is the celebratory side of the church. On the exterior of the other side, Jesus’ death, his passion, is painfully reconstructed. As this side was built after the death of Gaudi, a different sculptor took the reigns, Josep Maria Subirachs. The statues on this side are quite strange; they are faceless, and have some non human characteristics besides this. As the tour guide points out, because of the attention and dispute this brings up, it ignites questions regarding the Church. These images are doing something right, then. The stained glass on this side is red, and fills the church with bright crimson when the sun goes down. It sheds its light on the prayful inside, and bring them into a participation with Christ. According to the Church, Christ’s death is the love which brings the sinner eternal life. When the sinner is covered in the red light, he is reminded of Christ’s outpouring love, and invited to participate in that love, shedding his own life in love for others.
The interior of the church is quite bare. Gaudi loved nature, and thought that the nature is one of God’s beautiful gifts to us people. Through meditating on the beauty of nature, we may come into a fuller understanding of God’s love. Gaudi wanted his cathedral to emulate nature, and give the visitor a place to meditate and pray in silence without distraction. Thus, the only decoration in the cathedral are the carved leaves near the top of the interior pillars and the canopy of Christ’s crucifixion hanging above an altar.
We left the tour spiritually lifted up, but temporally in need of some good grub. After settling for some tourist paella and arroz negro, we continued our tour of Barcelona. On La Rambla, we paused in front of Casa Batlló and Casa Milá. The former I had already been to, and in fact toured, a few years back. But just staring at it from the outside is enough. It appears like its moving. The walls curve in and out and are multicolored. As the house is designed with an underwater theme, it is no wonder that the outside appears like waves flowing in and out above a beautiful underwater reef. Venturing a bit further up the street, Gaudi’s Casa Milá stands in sharp contrast. Hard cream-colored stone stands solidly up in the sky, with metallic balconies dancing upon its facade. Though like Casa Batlló’s outside, Casa Milá has walls which ebb in and out, its single color lends the house a much more serious look.
Later in the day, we both headed down to La Barceloneta, Barcelona’s port. But, us California girls felt just at home, and didn’t stay too long. We decided to try to find an art studio I had had my heart set on, and took the narrow streets in the Barri Gotic up to try to test my luck. This ended up being one of the highlights of the trip as the narrow streets displayed Barcelona’s quaint mediterranean lifestyle. Laundry hung from house to house, different colors streaming through the air. Plants and flowers decorated tiny balconies up above us, and both the Catalonia flag of separation and the Spanish flag of a United Spain flew from apartments left and right. Little stores housing unique styles inhabited these narrow streets, and invited those seeking an alternative to the big grand stores of the city centre. The art studio was closed, but it did a fine job in inspiring us, at least.
We ended the day with the long metro ride back to the airport, and the parting of a mom and her daughter. It had been a great day, and a good visit.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.