Gaudí Beatification

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Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona

Since 1992, a movement to put forward Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí as a candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood has been underway, led by The Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí, a lay organization based in Barcelona, Spain.

Founded by architect José Manuel Almuzara, the Association has sought to gather evidence of Gaudí's saintliness throughout his lifetime, as well as the testimonies of believers who claim to have had prayers answered upon seeking intercession from the architect. The case has been moving slowly through the labyrinthine stages of the Vatican's beatification process as the Association have sought to maintain publicity for their cause, raise funds, and promote private devotion to the architect through the distribution of prayer cards, books, and newsletters.

Though a key part of Barcelona's cosmopolitan Modernisme movement in his early years—and not particularly noted for his piety—Antoni Gaudí gradually become more religious throughout his life, particularly when he took over the role of architect of the Sagrada Família in 1883.[1] Gaudí ultimately became known for his ascetic and frugal lifestyle as the Sagrada project consumed him from 1909 onward; he had a reputation for radical Lenten fasting (to the point of almost starving himself to death), was known to be celibate his entire life, showed selfless concern for his workers and their families, and famously died in a hospital for the poor after being run over by a street tram.[2][3]

The architect's channelling of his own faith in the design and construction of the Sagrada Família, in particular, led to him posthumously being labeled "God's Architect"—a designation that has stuck, and been much foregrounded by those campaigning for his beatification.[4]

The path toward Sainthood

Founder of the Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí, José Manuel Almuzara, has credited the initial idea of putting Gaudí forward for sainthood to priest Father Ignasi Segarra Bañeres. Together with three other associates, they incorporated in 1992, with Almuzara assuming the role of president.[5]

The project initially proceeded slowly. While the Association printed prayer cards and created a donation box to raise funds that they installed by Gaudí's tomb in the crypt of the Sagrada, Catalonia's religious leaders remained skeptical, concerned that making Gaudí a saint might narrow the appeal of his buildings to non-Catholics.[6]

It is unusual for lay organizations to initiate a beatification process, as ultimately the proposal must be submitted to the Vatican by the archbishop of the diocese in which the postulated saint died.[7][8] But in 1998, thanks to the intervention of a Jesuit priest, Father Enric Puig, the cardinal archbishop of Barcelona appointed Monsignor Luís Bonet i Armengol (brother of the then-head architect on the Sagrada) to lead the case, and the Vatican issued their "nihil obstat" (no objection), allowing the establishment of an investigatory court at the local diocese level.[9][10]

As the court gathered evidence of Gaudí's sanctity, studying his life, writings, and interviews with surviving people who knew him, news of the movement supposedly reached Pope John Paul II in 2000, who took an interest, giving a boost to the effort.[11]

The diocesan process was completed in Barcelona in May 2003, and a portfolio on the cause submitted to the Vatican; it received an immediate expression of interest, with Gaudi officially named a "Servant of God", the first step on the path towards beatification.[12]

As the case moves its way through the Vatican, and the Association continues to gather and submit evidence for the 'Posito' (the “positio super vita, virtutibus et fama sanctitatis", a book compiling information on the life, virtues and reputation for holiness of the postulated), Pope Benedict XVI visited Barcelona in 2010 to consecrate the Sagrada Família, conferring on it the status of basilica.[13]

Next steps in the process involve the cardinals and theologians of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican voting on a decree regarding Gaudí’s worth, which will then be put before the Pope. If the Pope agrees with their positive verdict, the architect will be deemed "venerable", the last step prior to beatification.[14] In 2015 Pope Francis met with members of the Association in Rome, lending his support to the project.[15]

Upon being declared "venerable", the subsequent stage, beatification, requires evidence of a miracle directly attributable to the postulated. Full sainthood (canonization) requires evidence of two miracles.[16]

God's Architect

Much of the demonstration of Gaudí's holiness and his candidacy for sainthood rests on considering the architecture of the Sagrada Família as an expression of profound spirituality.[17] This case was laid out in an August 23, 1998 letter by Cardinal Monsignor Ricard M Carles published in a number of media outlets at the time.[18] It specifically makes the claim that, considering the work of the Sagrada, it is impossible to imagine that a motive other than the spiritual was driving the architect:

"About Gaudí’s spirituality – If you know his amazing works at all, it is impossible to consider that their grandiosity, and the profound details, could be elaborated only by a cold thought that seeks a spectacular work or that has focused only on what could cause admiration for his work. These were neither the criteria nor the aspirations of Gaudí. Without a profound and continuous contemplation of the mysteries of faith, the façade of neither the Nativity nor any other could have been conceived as he wanted them to be, in such a moving way."[19]

A number of conversions to Catholicism have been attributed to encounters with the architecture of the Sagrada, including that of construction workers working on the building.[20] The Association have foregrounded the case of Jun Young Joo, a businessman from Busan, South Korea, who wrote about his experience after visiting Barcelona in 1998:

“I was in the Temple of the Sagrada Família, as part of my route seeing the work of Gaudí around Barcelona. It is impossible to describe the impression left on my heart. I couldn’t help but bow my head before the solemnity, the sanctity and the greatness of the building. A deep feeling overpowered my heart. Through the works of Gaudí and the divine touch that they have, I was convinced of the existence of God. Although I have previously been a devoted Buddhist, I converted to Catholicism on returning to Busan, because of the deep impression caused by the works of Gaudí."[21]

Lourdes Cirlot, an art historian at the University of Barcelona, has noted how the lighting at the Sagrada has the tendency to promote a state close to mystical ecstasy. "It is hard to say that a building can be miraculous. But if someone goes into the Sagrada Família, and really believes that they'll be cured, it will probably happen."[22]

Pope Benedict, on his visit to the church on the occasion of its consecration as a basilica in 2010, was "visibly moved"[23], calling the Sagrada "a magnificent achievement of engineering, art and faith". Echoing the motivations of cathedral-building throughout the centuries, he declared that the basilica "stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself."[24]

The problem of a miracle

Kidney stone 4mm

While there is some current debate within the Catholic Church on expanding the definition of what counts as a miracle, the processes of beatification and canonization still prefer evidence of directly attributable medical miracles.[25][26]

In the case of Gaudí, over 500 reports of answered prayers to the architect have been gathered by the Association from around the world. "There are letters from a man in Chile who says he was cured of cancer, a girl in Switzerland whose lost architecture school project magically reappeared, and—perhaps as a nod to the rock-carved appearance of the Sagrada Familia—testimonials from dozens of believers who passed kidney stones."[27] The fact that no workers have ever died in the construction of the Sagrada Família is often cited as a miracle in itself.[28][29] One correspondent, Maria del Collell Plana of Girona, Spain, whose daughter was undergoing a new treatment for lumbar scoliosis, appealed to Gaudí for intercession, entreating him to become "the architect of my daughter’s spine". Sure enough, her daughter's condition improved to an extent beyond her doctors' best hopes.[30] Perhaps the strongest case is that of Montserrat Barenys, an artist and former lecturer from Gaudí's birthplace Reus whose sight was restored after praying to the architect when she was diagnosed with a perforated retina.[31][32]

José Manuel Almuzara, who heads the Association, however, seems to acknowledge that the evidence gathered so far is unlikely to pass the Vatican's stringent review processes, admitting that “no miracle recognized as such” has yet been confirmed.[33]

Nevertheless, there is a growing movement within Catholicism to move away from the strict need for medical miracles, and acknowledge a broader and more modern definition of the miraculous, including the power of conversion.[34] The current pope, Francis, has exercised his ability to declare “equipollent canonization"—a papal prerogative that fast-tracks saints by requiring fewer proven miracles—and in three cases, has elevated saints without even one confirmed miracle.[35]

The move represents a shift in emphasis toward saints' status as role models. The church clearly benefits from the PR value of creating new saints—particularly with someone as already-celebrated as Gaudí. The aim is to balance expanding definitions of the miraculous with the more traditional glow of the metaphysical that adheres around medical miracles.[36]

As for the Association, they have distributed thousands of prayer cards in multiple languages including Catalan, Spanish, English, Japanese, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and Korean[37], and are prepared to play the waiting game: "To recognize the probable miracle, we leave in the hands of divine Providence: “only God knows the day and the hour” (Mt. 24, 36), so we will stay vigilant (Mt. 25, 13), and we will always remember that “Our client is not in a rush"."[38][39]

Dissenting voices

The move to beatify Gaudí has not been without contention. Some have highlighted the architect's worldliness in his younger days, the fact that he was an active Freemason, and raised concern over the appropriation of his legacy by a conservative strain of Catalan nationalism that is close to the Catholic Church.[40][41] The latter tensions reflect longstanding ideological battles at the heart of the movement for Catalan nationalism since its rebirth in the late 19th Century: tensions that were embodied in Gaudí himself, who was, at the same time, a member of conservative Catholic clubs, yet harbored youthful plans for the construction of progressive utopian communities; who was the victim of beatings and arrests by police for attending Catalan rallies, but whose studio was, in turn, sacked and destroyed by leftist mobs at the time of the Spanish Civil War.[42][43]

Catholic Freemason

In "Park Güell: Gaudí's Utopia", Josep M. Carandell has proposed that the architect, his patron, Eusebi Güell, and their close circle were Freemasons, incorporated a number of Masonic symbols into the construction of Park Güell, and that the park's housing was intended to include homes for members of their lodge. The symbols include anagrams for Masonic terminology, crosses that "have nothing to do with Christian crosses", but bear a greater resemblance to Masonic symbols, and female figures and iconography referring to the figure of the Masonic Sister.[44]

Traditionally, Masonry and Catholicism have always been two very incompatible doctrines, so, the author asks, where do these findings fit with Gaudi's supposed piety and candidacy for beatification? The paradox, Carandell suggests, proves that the architect's life and character were much more complex than the image of his pious old age would lead us to believe:

"The group that is driving for beatification, with support of the Catalonian bishops, forgets that before being old Gaudí was also young. On the other hand, in the declarations and writings of the architect, which form a total of 300 pages, it is verified that allusions to religion are minimal."[45]

Elsewhere, Carandell notes that the architect's character was not exactly saint-like to many of those who knew and worked with him: "They thought that Gaudí was egocentric, prideful and bad-tempered."[46] Rafael Puget, who knew Gaudí well in turn-of-the-century Barcelona, described the architect's "morbid, insoluble pride and vanity”, and claimed he acted “as though architecture itself had begun at the precise moment when he made his appearance on earth.”[47]

Sagrada Família lightning rod

The Sagrada Família itself has long been at the center of tussles over which vision of Catalan nationality prevailed. Commissioned in 1881 by conservative philanthropist and bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella, the church was specifically intended to act as counter to the growing leftwing anticlericalism that had been developing in Barcelona since the late 1870s.[48]

Imagined as "a great penitential church", the project took inspiration from then-Pope Pius IX, who had expressed alarm at what he saw as "the evils of liberalism, democracy and individual conscience that were taking hold in Italy and Spain".[49] Pius had called for a renewed faith in papal infallibility and increased levels of devotion to the Holy Family, and Bocabella and the conservative group of laymen who initiated it, saw the Sagrada Família project as a response to this call.[50] As an expiatory temple, contributions to the construction of the Sagrada would effectively act as atonements for sins (and, to this day, visitors buying entry tickets are effectively making atonement).[51][52]

To what extent Gaudi was aligning himself with Bocabella's agenda in coming on board the project in November 1883, is open to question.[53] During the early 20th Century as work continued on the church, the main Catalan nationalist party was the right-leaning Regionalist League of Catalonia, who supported (and gained, in 1914) recognition and a degree of autonomy for the region. Though the League had initially been opposed to Gaudí and his architecture, they saw in the Sagrada Família an opportunity to forward their conservative version of Catalonian nationalism, and became one of the main bodies involved in the promotion of the architect as "the genius of Catalonia".[54]

Gaudí's studio sacked

The events of Tragic Week in Barcelona in August 1909 crystalized some of these tensions. In response to the reintroduction of military conscription to protect Spanish colonial operations in Morocco, violence erupted in the city, and many churches were attacked (the Catholic Church considered part of the same establishment that was justifying conscription).[55]

The Sagrada Família survived unscathed, but, perhaps not uncoincidentally, it was in the late summer of 1909, at age 57, that Gaudí resolved to turn his full attention to the Sagrada, taking on only minor other projects from then until his death in 1926.[56]

After Gaudí's death in 1926, these political positions boiled over again in the 1930s. Following Franco's military coup in July 1936, anarchist labor unions took control of Barcelona, which unleashed a wave of violence across the city in which many churches were attacked. This time the Sagrada was not spared, and Gaudi's worksop at the church was ransacked and set on fire by members of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, with the majority of his drawings and models for the project destroyed.[57]

Without a plan

The upheaval of the Civil War and World War II, and the loss of Gaudí's drawings and models, set back work on the Sagrada for many years. When work did resume, it led to questions over the direction of the project in the absence of the original plans. In 1965, Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia published a letter by a group of leading artists, architects and intellectuals, including Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Joan Miró, and Antoni Tàpies, claiming that the ongoing work represented a bastardization of the architect’s original vision, and calling for the project to be halted.[58]

Nevertheless, work continued, the building fund swelled by entry fees from the ever-increasing tourist trade from the 1950s onwards.[59] In 2005, the Sagrada Família was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO - but only the parts of it that were completed by Gaudí in his lifetime[60], reflecting an ongoing unease within architectural and heritage circles that the building work carried out since the architect's death veers too far from his original plans.[61] The sculptural additions of Josep Subirach and Etsuro Sotoo have been particularly called into question[62]; critic Robert Hughes has labeled the post-Gaudí construction and decoration “rampant kitsch.”[63]

Barcelona–based contemporary architect Beth Galí has concurred: "We have tried for years to stop it. We have appealed to UNESCO, to the city government, we have staged demonstrations - but nothing works. Those who support the project are people who come from that dark period of our country's past, the Franco dictatorship. As for the beatification," she adds, "words fail me. It's ludicrous."[64]

References

  1. Gaudí was considered a controversial choice as architect for the Sagrada, as he was not an active Catholic at the time. However, one biographer, Josep Maria Tarragona, claims that during the construction of the Joyful Nativity Façade at the church, Gaudí “saw the person of Jesus”, and thereafter grew in piety. See: Fr Matthew Pittam, “Five controversial saints in the making”, The Catholic Herald, October 29, 2015, retrieved April 14, 2022. Other biographers have emphasized Gaudí's role in the forward-looking Modernisme movement, Josep Pla painting a picture of the architect as a young man, "dressed as a dandy, a lover of fine cuisine and beaming in the Liceu [Barcelona's opera house]". See: Josep Playà Maset, “The Vatican initiates the beatification process for Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí”, La Vanguardia, March 12, 2000, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  2. Thomas V. Mirus, “Antoni Gaudí, Patron Saint of Architects?”, interview with Gabriela Gonzalez-Cremona, The Catholic Culture podcast, March 19, 2019, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  3. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”, BBC World Service, May 11, 2015, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  4. The designation originated in a book published in 1926, the year of Gaudí's death: "Antoni Gaudí. His life. His work. His Death", which featured articles by 17 authors, including one, "God's Architect", by Mossén Manuel Trens, that pressed the notion of the architect directly channeling his faith in the construction of the Sagrada Familia. See: Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, Association pro Beatification of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona, 2012, 9. Available as an online download here.
  5. Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 38. The current Board of Directors of the Association is made up of: José Manuel Almuzara , architect, President; Javier Fransitorra Luque , architect, Secretary; Etsuro Sotoo , Bachelor of Fine Arts, sculptor of the Sagrada Familia, Treasurer; Josep Ma Tarragona, engineer, writer-biographer of Gaudí, Member; José Luís Lázaro , retired businessman, Member. See: “About the Association for the Beatification of Antonio Gaudí”, gaudibeatificatio.com, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  6. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  7. Documentary investigates possible beatification of architect Antonio Gaudí”, Rome Reports (video), Jul 6, 2019, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  8. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  9. Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint”, Gizmodo, July 29, 2014, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  10. Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 47.
  11. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Although religious services had, since Gaudí's lifetime, been held in the underground crypt at the Sagrada, this meant they could now be performed in the building proper. See: Giles Tremlett, “New hope in campaign to make Antoni Gaudí a saint”, The Guardian, November 7, 2010, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  14. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  15. Pope supports canonization of Antoni Gaudi”, La Croix International, December 21, 2015, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  16. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  17. Gaudí worked on the project for over 40 years, and devoted the last 15 years of his life to it exclusively. See: Benjamin Sutton, “The Tortured 136-Year History of Building Gaudí’s Sagrada Família”, Artsy, November 21, 2018, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  18. Reprinted in Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 46.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  21. See: Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 45.
  22. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 109.
  25. Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint”.
  26. Anthony Faiola, “As two more popes are canonized, a question emerges: How miraculous should saints be?”, Washington Post, April 25, 2014, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  27. Dana Hawkins Simons, “Obsession In Stone”, US News and World Report, June 30 - July 7, 2003. Reprinted in: Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 100.
  28. Fr Matthew Pittam, “Five controversial saints in the making”.
  29. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  30. Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 71.
  31. Giles Tremlett, “New hope in campaign to make Antoni Gaudí a saint”.
  32. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  33. Elise Harris, “Pope Francis wants the 'great mystic' Gaudi to become a saint”, Catholic News Agency, Dec 18, 2015, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  34. Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint”.
  35. Anthony Faiola, “As two more popes are canonized, a question emerges”.
  36. Ibid.
  37. The Phase of the Process of Beatification of Gaudí in Barcelona is Finished”, gaudiclub.com, May 5, 2003, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  38. Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 50. The latter reference echoes Gaudí, who, when asked about the slow progress of the Sagrada Família, would answer "My client is not in a rush" (his ‘client’ being God). See: Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint”.
  39. The Association requests that information on any graces obtained through the intervention of Antoni Gaudí be mailed to them at the following address: Association pro Beatification d’Antoni Gaudí, Apartado de correos 24094, 08080 Barcelona (Spain), gaudibeatificatio@gmail.com. See: Juan Manuel González-Cremona, ed., “Towards the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí”, 118.
  40. Fr Matthew Pittam, “Five controversial saints in the making”.
  41. Jo Fidgen and William Kremer, “Will Gaudi be made a saint?”.
  42. Antoni Gaudí”, Wikipedia.
  43. Benjamin Sutton, “The Tortured 136-Year History of Building Gaudí’s Sagrada Família”.
  44. Montse Frisach, “Josep M. Carandell discovers signs of Masonic Gaudí at the Park Güell”, Avui, September 5, 1998. Available at gaudiclub.com. See also: Josep M. Carandell and Pere Vivas, "Park Güell: Gaudí's Utopia", Triangle Postals, S.L., Barcelona, 1998.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Stanley Meisler, “Gaudí’s Gift”, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2002, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  48. Josep-Maria Garcia Fuentes, “The Sagrada Familia: how Gaudí’s masterpiece became a myth and a divisive political tool”, Business World, January 12, 2022, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  49. Isobel Hilton, “Building a case for sainthood”, The Guardian, Sept 18, 1999, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Josep-Maria Garcia Fuentes, “The Sagrada Familia: how Gaudí’s masterpiece became a myth and a divisive political tool”.
  52. One of the reasons for the long drawn out completion of the cathedral is that the Sagrada, as an 'expiatory cathedral', cannot accept government funding to speed its completion. See: Alissa Walker, “Can Architecture Perform Miracles? The Quest to Make Gaudi a Saint”.
  53. Josep-Maria Garcia Fuentes, “The Sagrada Familia: how Gaudí’s masterpiece became a myth and a divisive political tool”.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Tragic Week (Spain)”, Wikipedia.
  56. Benjamin Sutton, “The Tortured 136-Year History of Building Gaudí’s Sagrada Família”.
  57. Ibid. The church itself escaped major damage, despite a purported plan to demolish its Nativity Facade. Sutton notes how, In Homage to Catalonia (1938), George Orwell—who famously fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War—alluded to the failed dynamiting with some regret: “I went to have a look at the cathedral—a modern cathedral and one of the most hideous buildings in the world,” he wrote. “Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution—it was spared because of its ‘artistic value,’ people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.”
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Rowena Heal, “In Honor Of The 'Patron Saint Of Architecture,' Here's a Gaudi Guide To Barcelona”, Huffpost, June 25, 2014, retrieved April 14, 2022.
  62. Isobel Hilton, “Building a case for sainthood”.
  63. Stanley Meisler, “Gaudí’s Gift”.
  64. Isobel Hilton, “Building a case for sainthood”. As for the broader architectural community, some have noted that, if Gaudi's beatification is confirmed, it would surpass the Pritzker Prize as the ultimate career accomplishment in the profession. See: Henry Melcher, “Antoni Gaudi Could Become Patron Saint of Architects”, archpaper.com, July 17, 2014, retrieved April 14, 2022.