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Online Edition - October 2004

Vol. X No. 7

 Holy Architect

Antoni Gaudí, the Spanish architect best known for designing the as yet unfinished Church of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona, has recently had his "cause" for beatification accepted by the Vatican.

Gaudí, born in 1852, was recognized early in life as a genius in his field. He was given commissions by Barcelona's wealthiest families to design buildings and homes. These commissions brought him both accolades and wealth at a very young age. Gaudí's unique work, though modern in structure and ornament, is stylistically inspired by organic forms of nature. Adornment consists of complex arrangements of simple forms. The unconventional architect also employed colors -- often embedded mosaics -- into his concrete structures.

The early recognition Gaudí received led to his commission to build the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Temple of Expiation of the Holy Family) in 1878. Sagrada Familia would become not only his life work but the source of his conversion.

Gaudí spent his remaining years overseeing the construction of this magnificent edifice and raising funds for its construction. During this period Gaudí became deeply religious. He attended daily Mass and devoted himself to prayer. He gave up his material wealth to focus completely on his masterpiece -- which is still under construction 126 years after it was begun.

Gaudí lived as an ascetic, and walked about the streets Barcelona, eating whatever he could find and begging for donations to continue constructing the church. He is said to have had several mystical experiences during these years that provided his inspiration to continue building the church. The project so consumed him that he eventually took up residence in Sagrada Familia.

The saintly architect's commitment to his work and to his asceticism continued until his death in 1926 from injuries sustained when he was struck by a commuter train. After the accident, the shabbily dressed Gaudí was was mistaken for a beggar and taken to a hospital for the indigent. When his friends found him, Gaudí refused to be moved. "Here is where I belong", he said. Two days later, at aged 74, Antoni Gaudí died as he wished -- poor among the poor.

If Gaudí is beatified, he will be the first professional artist to achieve this status. In part for this reason, many hope for a speedy beatification of this artistic genius and pious Catholic. Pope John Paul II has reportedly shown interest Gaudí's cause.

A group formed in 1992 to promote his beatification includes Japanese architect and sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who continues to work on Gaudí's monumental Sagrada Familia. Sotoo, who began working on the church in 1978, attributes his own conversion to Catholicism to the influence of Gaudí's greatest work.

Father Lluís Bonet i Armengol, rector of Sagrada Familia and vice-postulator of the cause for Gaudí's beatification, says that the innovative and devout architect was "A man in love with God who proclaimed to others the marvels of God. This is demonstrated by his work, mainly in the church of Sagrada Familia. The Christian message is expressed in it. His desire was that the church would 'provoke' in people admiration for the saving work of Christ. He was in love with God and sought to get others to also fall in love with God".

- Compiled from various sources

(photo courtesy of Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia)

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