Her name was Wendy.
I met her my first year of university in Sarasota, Florida, at a tiny college that is now at war with Ron Desantis called New College. It wasn’t my first year of uni—I’d been to two other universities by that point already, and would ultimately end up getting my degree from yet another—but it was my first year there.
She played a song for me. Well, she played several songs for me, really—she’s the reason I still love the Indigo Girls—but she played a particular song for me, Gaudì, by the Alan Parsons Project.
That opened up a rabbit hole. It was 1990, just before the Internet as we know it started to become a thing, and I wanted to find out everything I could about Antoni Gaudì, the completely bonkers architect, and the Sagrada Familia, his most famous work.
I resolved then that one day I would visit Barcelona and see the Sagrada Familia myself.
Last month, I did. It was, by a large margin, more magnificent than I could have imagined.
Mad scientists get all the media limelight. Not enough people truly appreciate mad architects.
The Sagrada Familia is deliriously, exuberantly bonkers, a brash monument to defiance of conventional ideas about working stone.
A lot of folks are familiar with it, at least in passing. If you see a photo of the exterior, odds are good you’ll recognize Gaudì’s weird, still-under-construction cotton-candy masterpiece.
Apologies in advance, this post is about to get really image-heavy. All bandwidth abandon, ye who enter here.
We were in Barcelona last month to spend some quality time together, and to do a photo shoot of the Borg Queen xenomorph hiphugger parasite strapon, about which more later.
Our first full day in Barcelona (or was it our second? The days blurred together), some of us headed out into the Spain summer heat to see the gloriously insane architectural wonder of the Basilica of the Sacred Family.
(They did not, of course, allow bunny ears inside the church.)
The place was…words fail. Brilliant. Grand. Magnificent beyond anything I expected. I cried when we got there.
I’ve seen photos, of course. But no pictures, not even the ones I’m posting here, can do any justice to the scale of the place. Even standing outside doesn’t give you a sense of the enormity of this monument to a strange man’s strange vision.
These oddly angular figures are much larger than life-sized, with a Cubist vibe I really dig.
The level of detail absolutely everywhere, inside and out, is just breathtaking. Gaudì was obsessed with animal motifs, that decorate the walls and doors all around the church.
One of the many doors is this enormous heavy thing of bronze, designed by Josep Maria Subirachs. (And yes, the text is backward on the door.)
I love that you can tell which symbols resonate with people by which symbols visitors touch.
Oh, but the inside…
The inside is where you truly get a sense of just how enormous, how vast this space truly is.
These photos don’t do it justice. No photos do it justice. The sheer overwhelming magnitude of this vast space inspires awe.
Just standing in this vaulted space, just existing here, is a deeply, profoundly awe-inspiring sensation.
We got here after a long (and honestly rather tedious) guided tour of the outside, which I recommend you skip if you ever visit—it was almost enough to suck one’s soul through one’s ears, so incredibly bland and boring it was.
I don’t rightly comprehend how it’s possible to make Gaudì or his grand creation boring, but somehow, the tour guide did it.
But all that was burned away in the avalanche of wonderment at stepping through the door into the church and really appreciating, for the first time, such incomprehensible beauty.
Standing there bathed in ethereal light, it’s hard not to feel like you’re within some living thing.
Even the light itself is alive, as much a part of the architecture as the stone and the glass. This space flows with light, in a way no picture can ever show. The light moves constantly, always changing, brilliant, flowing along the walls as the earth spins and the sun moves across the sky, never the same from moment to moment..
Every time you look up, it’s different, the light, the color, bringing even more life to what always feels alive.
My friend Alice, who I met in Tallinn some years ago, was able to join us in Barcelona. She found a quiet place from which to try to capture the extraordinary play of light and stone in watercolor.
When I visited St. Paul’s in the Vatican, I saw a monument to tedious human greed, every pope trying to outdo the one before, inscribing their names in gold above each new wing. Here…this place is the opposite of that, beauty rather than hubris, inspiration instead of braggadocio.
Everywhere your eye turns, there’s more to see, more to discover, more to explore. The breathtaking level of detail that fills every part of this space is hard to take in, yet it all works together exquisitely.
Even the essential infrastructure, utilitarian things like staircases, become objects of beauty.
Backing up to take the whole thing in, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and humbled. I visited the Sagrada Familia twice, and it made me cry both times.
It still isn’t finished, and won’t be for decades. Antoni Gaudì envisioned a cathedral in the old style, a work of generations finished a century more after it began, touched by the hands of many architects.
Some of the more modern elements include design philosophies that Gaudì might not have chosen, like this strangely abstract Jesus re-envisioned as a Sith Lord, but that’s part of the point.
He saw the Sagrada Familia as a sort of paper boat set adrift into the future, something he would never live to see completed, a project that would be guided by future generations long after his time was over.
It’s a heady and powerful thing to touch those walls and feel the way it has become not one person’s project, but a project by humanity. No words or images I am capable of can ever truly express even one percent of the incredible experience of being alive to witness such a magnificent undertaking.