God’s architect: Saint Antonio Gaudi?

Thanks for Mary for finding this article about the camapaign to confer sainthood upon architect Antonio Gaudi, creator of my favourite building site in the world: La Sacrada Familia in Barcelona. I say building site because the colossal cathedral is not due to be finished for another twenty to forty years.


It is well known for its UNESCO protected facades, but it is the columns that flank the impossibly tall and narrow nave, sculpted like impossibly slender trees that are astonishing. All imagined and engineered without finite element analysis or any other modern day computer wizardry. The grounds for Gaudi’s beatification are his pious lifestyle and his divine inspiration (attempts at finding a “miracle” to confirm his saintliness – a prerequisite on the saint application form – have resulted in some pretty hilarious and far-fetched tales. See the article for more). I have no doubt that Gaudi lead a pious life and there is no doubt that having a new saint on the block will help with the construction of this cathedral: every drop of concrete has been paid for by private donations and gate fees so a few extra pilgrims would do no harm. It would be a shame however to confuse mastery of the mechanics of materials for divine inspiration. A wander around the crypt at the at the Sagrada Familia demonstrates some of Gaudi’s technical mastery through his models (details of which deserve a post of their own).

The same could be said of other ‘devinely inspired’ engineers and architects: Christopher Wren for St Paul’s, Michelangelo for St Peter’s, Imohotep and his step pyramid (Egypt’s first). They may have prayed a lot but they are also all great engineers!

Finally, I wonder about the wisdom of granting sainthood to an architect/engineer. The bible is not exactly full of praises for worldly construction afterall…


Engraving The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré

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  1. i agree with you about the most impressive delicate beauty of this building. unfortunately, i just read today that spain is considering burying a bullet train tunnel within 2 meters of the cathedral’s foundations. naturally there is very serious concern that this tunnel may actually lead to cracked foundations and, consequently, collapse. you can read the article here: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/news/story/0,,2065589,00.html

  2. Before commenting on the foundations, I was alarmed to read in the guardian article that was linked in your comment, the remarks made by the architect who has been heading up the construction of the catherdral for forty years. I quote “I am astounded by this brutality. This is an attack on culture of the highest order, something one would only expect of a third-world country” !!!!! I hope that his remarks have been taken out of context because if not they are astonishingly biggotted.

    I had also read about the foundations and it is alarming but the protest may just be reactionary. The article makes it sound like the train will be passing two meters from the walls of the cathedral whereas later on in the article, it is stated that the tunnel itself will be ten metres from the foundations. I am by no means an expert on tunnels but I can think of numerous examples where tunnels have been constructed in recent years to no adverse effect. The jubilee line extension in London for example passes right next to Big Ben’s tower. In this instance, high pressure grout injection was used to shore up the ground around the tower and to this day it seems to be doing alright. This isn’t to say that such a scheme isn’t difficult; it demands detailed modelling, testing and monitoring once in place, but it is possible.

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