Not-quite-last touches for pope's visit to Barcelona

5th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Nearly everything is ready for Pope Benedict XVI to bless the world's greatest unfinished church, Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, on Sunday -- 128 years after construction began.

Just another 15 years or so and Antoni Gaudi's grandiose, extraordinarily complex masterpiece, which has become a symbol of the Spanish Mediterranean port city, could be complete, architects hope.

There is a fair bit of work still to do: 10 more towering spires including the central tower crowned by a cross reaching up 170 metres (560 feet), the main Glory facade, and the sacristies for example.

But the work done so far by a team of 200 craftsmen, designers and architects is breathtaking.

In time for the pope's consecration, craftsmen covered the central nave this year.

Now a forest of white tree-like columns rises 60 metres up, splitting into branches and then spreading into a ceiling of leaves crackled with gold and green mosaic.

Light showers through the stone canopy and down to the nave from orbs open to the sky.

The main 1,492-pipe organ will bellow behind the pope, accompanying three choirs of a total 800 voices, singing to 6,500 guests including hundreds of priests and bishops.

A 7,500-kilogramme, three-metre stone altar is in place.

And once the nave is consecrated by the pope, it will be open for daily mass for the first time since the first stone was laid March 19, 1882. Now mass is held in the crypt, the resting place of Gaudi's remains.

Workers installed a panoramic elevator ready for the pope's visit, with a fibre-optic cabin ceiling sketching a profile of how the building will look when finished.

From outside, the Sagrada Familia stuns visitors with its eight completed bell towers encrusted with Venetian mosaique, Nativity Facade of Christ's early years and stark Passion facade with an angular Christ on the cross.

One day the main Glory Facade will complete this edifice, architects hope in time for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death in a tram accident June 10, 1926.

Much will depend on the financing, entirely from private donations and tourist income.

"At the current rate of visitor entries and donations, we think that it is possible that by a symbolic date, in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi's death, all the architectural work of the temple could be complete," said Jordi Fauli, one of the architects who is carrying on Gaudi's work.

Funding has not always gone smoothly.

"In World War I Gaudi had to spend the afternoons seeing the wealthy of Barcelona to ask for donations to pay for the work," Fauli said.

Besides Gaudi's death, there was the 1936-39 Civil War and an attack by revolutionaries, as the church calls them, who burned Gaudi's drawings and models. On its Internet site, the Sagrada Familia insists the work still follows the architect's original aims.

Not everyone agrees.

"I think what brings the tourists and citizens of the world is Gaudi's work," said Barcelona's deputy mayor in charge of infrastructure, Ramon Garcia-Bragado.

"And what they are doing now is not Gaudi's work, it is the work of those who follow," he added.

"The architects of today are interpreting Gaudi's work. There is a strong debate over whether the continuation of the Sagrada Familia is right or not, whether or not it should continue."

© 2010 AFP

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