Q. I was fascinated recently by a popular network TV broadcast about the Spanish architect, Antonio Gaudí. Why is it that we have not heard or seen more about him?
A. The story of Antonio Gaudí, who died in 1926, has long engaged my own interest. For the record, I have done several articles about him for the Transcript over the past few years. Perhaps the most revered architect of the 20th century, he remains a lasting icon of Barcelona and Catalonia. An artist of consummate perfection, he was also a Catholic pilgrim of saintly aspirations, whose masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, ranks among the world’s most famous cathedrals and testifies both to his extraordinary faith and artistry. (The church, which was formally dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI, draws three million visitors annually. It was planned to seat 13,000 worshipers.)
Gaudí’s genius and holiness are reflected in buildings and other projects throughout the world. To many he was the “Dante of Architecture”; LeCorbusier declared Sagrada Familia a masterpiece; his work remains unique, transcending modern forms and modes and reaching heights surpassing even the greatest of Gothic aspirations.
At the same time there are detractors; Picasso, of all artists, cautioned against his style. Evidently, one factor of his influence that is especially dismissed by an increasingly secular world is his absolute commitment to faith and poverty.
In 1998 the Archbishop of Barcelona declared him a patron of architects; his life’s accomplishments were deemed a mystical body of work only equaled by the towering Cántico Espiritual of St. John of the Cross, Spain’s greatest poet and among the world’s most dynamic spiritual figures.
Most of Gaudí’s artistic works are integrated within the City of Barcelona, instead of within museums – Barcelona today is Gaudí; the two are inseparable.
As Gaudí entered old age, he concentrated most of his genius on Sagrada Familia, even taking up residence there in a crypt. On 7 June 1926, he was hit by a tram – a public transportation vehicle. Mistaken for a pauper, he was taken to a hospital for the abandoned poor, where he was eventually identified by friends and disciples who traversed the city in search of him. “I belong here,” he protested, when efforts were made to transfer him to an upperscale infirmary. He died on 10 June, at age 73, and was buried within Sagrada Familia.
Gaudí’s accomplishments can hardly be outlined in books, let alone an occasional column. Of the many volumes and articles about him, few have been translated into English. The one in my own library is Gils Van Hensbergen’s Gaudí (HarperCollins 2001).
One final point: Gaudí was an intensely committed proponent of Catalonia, as well as its language, which at times doesn’t even sound Hispanic. He suffered from political upheavals more than once; simply for responding in his native Catalan instead of Spanish, he was once jailed. The Spanish translation of his name, I have read, is Antonio Gaudí. However the Catalan form, Antoni, is now quite common: Antoni Gaudí í Cornet.