Imagery abounds in cathedrals, and in churches of certain denominations: the windows, carvings, statues, tapestries all tell stories through both illustration and symbolism. One cathedral I’ve been to takes its role of storyteller seriously: La Sagrada Familia. Construction began in 1882 and in 1883 Gaudí took the reins as architect. Every column, every arch, every piece of stone is infused with significance in Gaudí’s designs–which are still being followed to this day, 133 years later. From a distance, the cathedral’s baroque exterior reminds me of melted wax; no less symbolic to me, having once been an altar server and acolyte.
In front of the doors of the Passion Façade stands a column, set forward from the entrance, which you have to pass in order to enter the building. To this column is tied a statue of a man, Jesus, as he might have been when he was flogged before the crucifixion. Facing west, the words behind him shine gold in the last rays of the sun. These words bear his testimony. I què és la veritat? the doors ask in Catalan, echoing Pilate.
Jesús De Natzaret Rei Dels Jueus, they answer.
Meanwhile, the statue of Christ slumps against the column. Clustered above the doors is a collection of figures narrating the stations of the cross and of the crucifixion, the latter of which most of us are familiar–perhaps, too familiar. Down at ground level, where we mortals walk, Gaudí presents a scene given only one sentence in the Gospel of Matthew, often passed over: “But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Matt. 27.26b). It is as if Gaudí knew the cathedral’s visitors might have become inured to the image of the cross. Instead, visitors are faced with the image of Christ tied to the column, a reminder that Christ bore our pain long before he was put on the cross.
On this Maundy Thursday I remember these doors of La Sagrada Familia and how they so poignantly, and so simply, depict the betrayal and pain of the days leading up to Easter.
Photo: The doors of the Passion Façade, of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.