Pope consecrates Barcelona's Sagrada Familia church
Pope Benedict XVI sprinkled holy water to consecrate Barcelona's Sagrada Familia church on Sunday, transforming the masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi into a Basilica.
The 83-year-old pontiff, his golden mytre on his head to underline the solemnity of the moment, blessed the massive stone altar as singing from an 800-voice chorus rang out under the vaulted ceilings of the huge church during a special dedication mass.
The Catalan architect's masterpiece is a symbol for the pope of the sacredness of family, and a rallying cry against Spain's progressive policies on gay marriage, quick divorce and abortion, which the Church abhors.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims and locals welcomed the pontiff, lining the streets of Barcelona as he paraded in his popemobile to the landmark spires of the Sagrada Familia.
Not all were welcoming.
About 200 homosexual men and women locked lips for five minutes in a kiss-in protest against the Church's policies against gay marriage, breaking off to shout "Get out," and "paedophile" as the pontiff passed by.
"We are here to demonstrate against the pope's visit and call for a change in the mentality of the Catholic institution which still opposes our right to different ways of loving," said one protester, Sergi Diaz.
Some 6,500 guests including hundreds of priests and bishops witnessed the consecration of the building, where work continues 128 years after the first stone was laid.
They sat in the vast nave, surrounded by a forest of white tree-like columns rising 60 metres up, splitting into branches and then spreading into a ceiling of leaves crackled with gold and green mosaic.
Light showered through the stone canopy and down to the nave from orbs open to the sky.
With the consecration, the main nave is open for daily mass for the first time since the first stone was laid March 19, 1882. Until now mass has been held in the crypt, Gaudi's last resting place.
Building could still take another 15 years at least, with 10 more spires to be constructed, including the central tower crowned by a cross reaching up 170 metres (560 feet), the main Glory facade, and the sacristies.
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 mosaic, the Nativity Facade of Christ's early years and the stark Passion facade with an angular Christ on the cross.
Architects hope the main Glory Facade will be completed in time for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death in a tram accident on 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 carrying on Gaudi's work.
© 2010 AFP