Masterpieces of Light and Space: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

I’m just going to jump in today on one of the most intimidating churches to write about that I can imagine, and maybe what might be, in my opinion, the most beautiful church on the planet. I’ve been avoiding writing about it because I want to make sure and do it justice, but today is the day. I’m finally going to write about La Sagrada Familia, the still under construction masterpiece of Gaudi’s in Barcelona.

Barcelona, SpainI’m not sure how anyone ever gets a picture of this magnificent church without cranes, but whatever.

One of the things I found absolutely fascinating about La Sagrada Familia was the “rough” texture of the outside of the building. As you approach it looks like the building is furry or something, but once you’re close you see that it’s all relief carvings of bible stories and stuff. Every single surface was covered with some sort of artistic display or symbolism. I believe one facade of the church is the Nativity, and the other side is the Passion.

Barcelona, SpainThe entrance we used to the church was under the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainMore of the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainEven the floor you walk upon in the entry is used to tell the story

The exterior of the church is fantastic, but the real size of the place really smacks you right in the face when you walk through the doors and feel the upward vertical pull of the ceilings, and the brilliantly colored light from the massive stained glass windows wash over you. I wasn’t exactly religious at the time that we visited La Sagrada Familia, but I was definitely moved when we went inside. I did have to ask myself Where did Gaudí get such inspiration? because it plainly seemed supernatural.

Barcelona, SpainThe heights inside La Sagrada Familia are truly dizzying, and it feels so organic with the tree-like columns

Barcelona, SpainThe amount and variation of color in the light in this place is otherworldly

Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the brightest church I’ve ever set foot in

Barcelona, SpainThe very bright choir of La Sagrada Familia

Aside from the absolutely beautiful, bright, and airy design aesthetic, the building houses some amazingly beautiful art. Of course, Catalonia produced some of the best artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe you haven’t heard of them before. Guys like Picasso and Dalí. Oh yeah, those guys. Spain as a whole, and particularly Catalonia have such a rich art tradition that of course the art work in the most artful church on the planet would be amazing, right?

Barcelona, SpainEven Christ himself is beautifully artistically rendered in La Sagrada Familia

So in La Sagrada familia we have dizzying heights, beautiful light, and great art. Gaudí was clearly a masterful architect. He was also clearly a man with great faith that allowed him to still devote a huge portion of his life to the construction of a church, even though his own lifestyle was not accepted by the church. What kind of inspiration leads someone to so perfectly design every detail of such a huge space? I guess one of the things I love about church and cathedral hopping is that it always leaves me with more questions than answers.

Barcelona, SpainI mean seriously, that is a beautiful Chancel.

Certainly La Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful buildings of any type that I have ever entered, church or not, and it’s one that I would love to revisit – after construction is complete (if that happens in my lifetime). It’s also an example of architecture that for me, much like the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, raises the question “is this divinely inspired?”

Found Ruins, They Old: The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

I’ve been avoiding writing about the most iconic and impressive churches I’ve ever visited in my Masterpieces of Light and Space series because I don’t know where to start. I’m pretty sure La Sagrada Familia is going to require some serious work because holy cow that’s an amazing church, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican? That’s going to require multiple parts. That said, I also think there’s some degree of trepidation with which I approach those pieces because I’ve built it up internally.

Athens, Greece

For this series I’m starting out by going for the throat, going for the one most iconic and wonderful ancient ruin that anyone could write about. The one on textbook covers, coins, refrigerator magnets, and a plot of land at Vanderbilt University. You know, THE PARTHENON.
Athens, Greece

High, high, HIGH above Athens (which is a rather low-lying city that sprawls and sprawls) on the top of a hill reinforced by the most epic stone walls you’ve ever seen sits, among other ruins, the Parthenon. Originally, the Parthenon was a temple to Athena Parthenos, who you probably know more simply as Athena – the patron goddess of Athens. Blah blah blah, the Greek empire fell, blah blah blah, Rome, blah blah blah, the Turks invaded, BOOM, the temple was destroyed. And it’s remained that way for the better part of a millennium.
Athens, Greece

At the top of the acropolis, above the heat of the city below, there’s not much to hear but the wind, and when the wind blows through the columns of the Parthenon and other buildings that have been perched up there for thousands of years it’s kind of hard not to imagine that it probably sounded pretty similar when there weren’t cars and busses down on the surface or airplanes flying overhead. The city’s white buildings probably gleamed in the sun about the same. They say Rome is the Eternal City, but Athens was here first and from the Acropolis you can get a little glimpse back into what it must have been like so long ago.

Athens, Greece

Unlike the temple of Hephaestus just down the hill, most of the relief carvings on the Parthenon are no longer in place, but rather now are located in the British Museum. Talk about history stripped down to the bone, right? The good news is that means the carvings are at the very least preserved in a safe place.

From a practical standpoint, I should probably point out that when you buy your Acropolis tickets they include admission to many different sites, and that the Parthenon is one of the ones that closes the latest, so you may consider making it one of the final stops of your tour through Athens. Also it’s a heck of a walk up to the top, and likewise a heck of a walk back down. And it’s hot. And the marble is slippery, so good shoes are probably a better plan than the flip flops I wore.

As I write this, I feel like I don’t have quite the right words or maybe the capacity to capture my love for Greece without sounding like a 20-something traveling for the first time having all sorts of self-realizations about how amazing life is and you should travel alone and blah blah blah. I loved every minute of it. I want to go back. The end.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece
Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens, Greece

This old church stands on the ancient agora in Athens,  Greece; a beautiful little byzantine Chapel that has stood on this spot for basically forever (that is such an exaggeration but whatevs.) The Church of the Holy Apostles is in such an interesting spot. It’s literally in sight of the Parthenon, you know, the ancient temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos, daughter of Zeus.

Athens, GreeceOne of the Apostles, I’m guessing Matthew, Mark, John, or Luke.

One particular type of art I was really looking forward to seeing on our trip through the Mediterranean is mosaic. The images used in these old churches were heavily stylized so as not to be “graven” images or idols of false-worship and whatnot. I find the aesthetic really pleasing to the eye. I’d seen art like this in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but never “in the wild.”
Athens, GreeceI think a good ol’ Cupola is an architectural motif that really brings the concept of heavenly light to life

I think the image above is a good reason for the “Masterpieces of Light and Space” title. The whole point of sacred places is to make you feel that there is a greater presence, and the best architects over the millennia have been able to do that through the use of negative space and light.

Athens, GreeceChurch aside, something about this image captures the charm of Greece in general for me. Perhaps because some of my best memories of traveling through that beautiful country involve sitting in simple chairs at simple tables.

Athens, Greece Athens, GreeceThe Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Just outside the door of the shrine, high up on a bluff, is the defining characteristic of Athens – the acropolis. Isn’t it wonderful that you can see the visages of the old gods from the doorstep of a current one? To see the similarities in style that transcend religion altogether and join a past epoch to ours? The answer is yes. Neener neener.

FOUND RUINS, THEY OLD: My favorite ancient places

It was a rough spring and summer for weather here in South Texas. In April we had perhaps the most damaging storm my city has ever scene. Cars and houses looked as if they had been sprayed by machine guns after millions of baseball-sized chunks of ice fell out of the sky in a span of about 20 minutes. We got through that okay, but boy oh boy did it freak the dogs out. Okay, so what the hell does this have to do with ancient places? Good question! You see, I have things I want to write about but sometimes I can’t think of a title. A good title is very important to me, especially when writing a series.

Great #Theatre at #ephesus #turkey. #travel

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At any rate. We were keeping up with Nextdoor pretty well at that point, and during a storm some time after the big one, we saw a post about a lost dog that showed up in someone’s garage. It just said FOUND DOG, HE SCARED. So anyway, the title of this series simply pokes fun at the ommission of the verb to be, a grammatical practice that makes modern user-generated content kinda hilarious.

#pompeii #italy #ancient

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Explanation aside, I think I’ll just drop some names of places we will be visiting in this series. Athens. Ephesus. Rhodes. Santorini. Kos. Rome. Pompeii. See where I’m going with this?

#athens #greece #travel

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I look forward to taking this written journey down my memory lane with you, just as we have made it a good way down the road of the Masterpieces of Light and Space series.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Riverside Church, New York, NY

Riverside Church #nyc

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I’m pretty sure my favorite neighborhood in New York City is Morningside Heights. It has a college-town feel, cool restaurants, and of course the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Tucked away on the other side of the university from the Cathedral is another gem, The Riverside Church. The church was designed to appear similar to Chartres Cathedral, which I think is quite obvious when you see the stained glass in the choir.

Riverside #church #nyc

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Perhaps the most striking feature of Riverside is its bell tower. It’s visible from all around the neighborhood and notably from Riverside Park because it’s frickin’ 20 stories tall. It also kinda screams GOTHIC REVIVAL right into your face.

Riverside #church #nyc #architecture

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I don’t know what it is about these Gothic Revival churches, but I really want to sit in one through a loud thunderstorm with tons of rain coming down. Something about the imposing angles and upward-jutting towers (which apparently add quite a bit of weight to the outer walls to help secure the arches for the roof) really makes me think it would be a delightful place to take refuge in a deluge that was huge. (rhyme intended, I am a dad, after all.)

So there you go, another masterpiece from good old NYC, The Riverside Church.