The topic of the day for the good citizens of Barcelona last weekend was the visit by the Pope to officially open the completed interior of Gaudí's Sagrada Família, an event 128 years in the making. The weekend was shaping up as a contest between a celebration of either religion and faith or of architecture. Would the primary focus be the Pope or the building? Both have been contentious in Catalonia. For Gaudí himself, an intensely devout Catholic, his architecture was the servant of his faith.
Last Friday, as I was taking a desultory walk around the local district, I came across houses sporting Vatican flags in anticipation of the Pope's visit while others flaunted a curiously ambiguously banner expressing indifference to the whole drama of the week. The design is quite arresting.
This literally translates as "I'm not waiting for you". The locals I asked about whether there was some hidden punch in this seemingly soft slogan said this was not so much about a protest rally as a public statement of indifference, and could be rendered as "it means nothing to me". Over dinner that night we discussed how quickly secularisation had taken hold of Spain. It is amazing how topics like abortion and gay marriage...are now totally unexceptional here. In less than a generation church attendance and affiliation has dropped to less than a fifth of the population. How ironic in a country whose imperial past saw the State as the heavy handed bovver boy for the conversion of the Americas. Later that same close link between the State and the Church under Franco accelerated the desertion of the pews.
The weekend, therefore, is full of irony. The Pope's mission here is more about the re-conversion of Spain than a celebration of a miracle of architecture. And Gaudí's Sagrada Família is itself a story of the collateral damage from the anti-clericalism which broke out during the Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1939. The wounds from that war are still visibly raw and it is only very recently that people have started to talk openly about it.
During the war churches and monasteries became a prime target for the republicans. Some were completely destroyed, others merely gutted. At the Sagrada Família the teacher at the attached school was executed and the mob rampaged Gaudí's studio, smashing his carefully constructed plaster models and burning drawings. It was this act that made the reconstruction of Gaudí's intentions such a painstaking affair and these celebrations of a completion milestone such an achievement.
If the Sagrada Família is implicated in a long running debate about Church and State, it has also divided the architectural confraternity. Ever since Gaudí's death there has been a noisy collective of opponents arguing against the completion of the Sagrada Família.
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