Monday, 6 June 2005
This is Antonio Gaudí's Sagrada Família in Barcelona. I think that anyone wanting to get a real sense of medieval culture should visit this cathedral. It is, in short, astonishing. When Monsignor Ragonesi, the Papal Nuncio, visited the site in 1915 he told Gaudi: "Maestro, you are the Dante of architecture. Your magnificent work is a Christian poem carved in stone." The achievement of this piece of architecture is difficult to put in to words, just as it is difficult to put the achievement of the Divine Comedy into words. Its unfinished nature adds to its mystery and compels us to work our way through the structure in a very physically and intellectually challenging way. But what do we think about making Gaudí a saint? I'm not sure. There is something every bit as miraculous and mystical about experiencing this building as reading about the lives of any other 'conventional' saints. And yet we seem to see it as an encroachment upon art. Somehow the whole thing looks, how shall I say it: unseemly. (After all, are there any 'real' modern saints anymore?...Media darlings maybe, but not saints). How would we feel about making Dante a saint, for example? I suppose he has managed to be safely hedged by the academicians and somehow seems not at home in a conversation about sainthood. Perhaps he was too critical of the Church he saw around him. It would be a bit like talking of Saint William Langland - it jars too much to take seriously. And at the same time nobody is talking about making Henry Yvele a saint, or Villard de Honnecourt.
And then there is that wonderful link that Ragonesi intuited between the structure of the Comedy and the structure of the cathedral, later outlined so powerfully (in this case anent St Thomas and High Gothic architecture) by Panofsky in Architecture and Scholasticism (1951).
So do we make Gaudí a saint or not?