The Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing buildings in the world. You could call it a church in the same way you could call a Cray supercomputer an odd-shaped coffee-table: using it that way misses the point, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer genius within. It became a world heritage site before it was even finished. It’s one of the most famous buildings in the world and it’s still not finished.
They have smartly-dressed staff whose main job is asking people not to stand stunned on the main entrance stairs, and they deal with almost exactly as many people as the ticket counter.
Entering, your first thought is that humanity has reached heaven by building a space station. It’s a soaring forest of skill in stone.
Notre Dame is an immensity constructed to crush the human spirit in awe, squeezing a flow of supplicants for the wine of surrendered devotion. St Paul’s cathedral is a pre-industrial black hole of money, a singularity of sheer wealth deforming the entire world it dragged around itself. Sagrada Familia is the first church I’ve entered where I felt like we were the point. This is a church which celebrates the humans who made it possible. The altar and torture-figure dropped into the middle barely register on the scale of the structural beauty. Large pictures of popes cry for attention, but their pleas are lost amid the monument. If this building glorifies one man it’s Antoni Gaudi. Who may in fact have been an Eldar.
The building enhances and endorses us, exemplifying our greatest achievements and inviting us to realize just how high we can reach. It doesn’t even have pews, just an array of folding seats, as if the religious ceremonies were just one temporary function of this incredible achievement. I know that’s only because the pews will be the last thing installed when there’s no more heavy lifting to be done. But I also know it’s still a good metaphor for human intelligence and progress.