The Passion façade is nearly finished: the lion and the lamb were put in place in December; the sculptures representing the resurrection are scheduled to be put in place in April, and the cross and angel that will crown the pediment will go in this summer. But in this article, we want to focus on a part of this façade that is hidden behind the great upper narthex in the shape of a triangular pediment that will celebrate its first anniversary in April. It is a fairly large space that is fully contained, closed off by this pediment and the window, and between the two central towers on the façade. Although it is not visible from the street, its symbolism is significant: the garden where Jesus was buried.
The evangelists describe that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council of wise men administering justice in Israel who did not agree with the decision to crucify Jesus, asked Pontius Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ dead body off the cross. Pilate allowed it. Near Golgotha, where he had been crucified, there was a garden and, inside it, a new tomb that Joseph had had carved into the rock. They put Jesus’ body inside and covered the entrance with a large stone.
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE WORDS FOR GARDEN
Today, in Catalan, there are two clearly different words: hort (vegetable garden) and jardí (enclosed area with decorative flowers and plants). The etymology of these words, however, draws interesting connections that help us understand which type of garden the evangelists were most likely referring to.
The human desire to grow decorative plants and flowers in a garden, as we understand it today, came much later than the need to cultivate vegetables. So, in the beginning, hort was the term used for a bit of land that was fenced off to be used to grow vegetables for one’s own use and jardí didn’t exist. The latter came into the Catalan language around the 15th century, from the diminutive of the French word jard, which meant vegetable garden. The French word, in turn, had been borrowed from the Germanic term gard, which meant fenced off, enclosed. In English, this word evolved into “garden”, but also into “yard”, meaning an enclosed bit of personal land, clearly related phonetically and semantically. So, in Catalan the word jardí originally meant hort: a space that one has fenced off for their own use. The word “paradise” is also connected to this sort of vegetable garden, from the Greek word peri-teicos meaning wall or fence around an enclosure.
Therefore, when the Holy Scriptures speak of a garden, they don’t mean a vegetable garden like we would imagine today with tomato vines and beans. They mean a fenced off, enclosed space, where one could have fruit and olive trees and let some edible or simply pleasant plants grow more or less wild. From its owner’s point of view, this space was personal, a domestic paradise.
AND THE STONE AND TOMBS CARVED FROM ROCK
The gospels tell of this tomb carved into the rock. What would that have been like in Jesus’ times? Archaeological digs from the second half of the 20th century discovered a quarry in the area where meleke stone had been extracted and used to build the city of Jerusalem between the 8th and 1st centuries BC. Afterwards, when the quarry was abandoned, people took advantage of the existing cuts in the rock face and their skills to create family tombs. This was a need, as the Jewish religion prohibited bodies being buried within the city walls. As is to be expected, nature began to take over the cracks between the cuts and the blocks left half removed.
This spot, now part of the city but beyond the city walls in Jesus’ time, was near one of the main paths into the city and, therefore, it seems highly reasonable that it would be the location chosen for a capital execution to serve as a lesson to sympathisers. The fact that there was a quarry there, with a rock face full of openings from removing stone or digging tombs, and a hill just above it that could have been where the three crosses stood, leads us to believe the name Golgotha, which means “skull”, came from its physical resemblance to a human cranium.
So, this supposed appearance of the place where Jesus was buried is what we have tried to recreate in this special spot on the Passion façade. It has the look of an abandoned quarry, showing the scars cut into the stone, as if a negative of the blocks that had been removed, which must have been large bricks, like big boxes.
SPONTANEOUS VEGETATION IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SHADE
The garden and the quarry are an ongoing dialogue between the stone and the vegetation. The plants that, little by little, are covering the rock show how life (plant life in this case) imposes its will on anything barren. The vegetation that is taking over, more natural or wild, fills every possible nook and cranny between the stones. The areas with a gentler slope, with more water, were filled with strawberry plants, violets, snowdrops and myrtles, which have quickly taken over the available space since last April.
The cracks between the blocks are the easiest place to put in the little bit of soil the plants need to set down roots, before they invade the vertical rock face. As the slope becomes more pronounced, the plants are scarcer and the vegetation slowly tapers off until the point where the walls are nearly vertical and only ferns fill some of the cracks between the stone blocks.
The vegetation chosen is native to the Mediterranean region and, specifically, to shady areas with little or no sun, like this one. These plants don’t need much water, which reduces the risk of damp permeating from this space, although every possible precaution has already been taken to ensure it is waterproof. Nevertheless, below the visible elements, there is a sophisticated rainwater collection system that stores the water in a tank nearby, purifies it and reuses it in a drip watering system with settings customised to each season.
To protect this fragile vegetation, metal walkways have been installed 20 cm above the ground to make sure they aren’t stepped on. Some of the plant species will grow beyond this height and, then the walkways will become nearly invisible.
THE GARDEN, SYMBOL OF LIFE
In some sense, this vegetation also represents life after death, which is what, in short, the Passion façade will become after the two remaining sculpture groups are put in place. Because this is a very special space, with a unique rear view of the empty tomb. It will also be visible from the rood cross that will crown the whole Passion narthex and, from below, the huge elliptical rose window of the resurrection. Looking up at an even steeper angle, you will see the golden resurrected Christ on the level of the bridge between the towers. So, this space is loaded with symbolism.
This is why, in this hidden spot 25 metres above street level, we want to create a feeling of introspection and reflection: a place between the hard rock and the wild vegetation, isolated from its surroundings, surrounded by large vertical walls and close to the elements that define a crucial moment in the Christian faith. Access to this area is restricted and set aside for special occasions. Nevertheless, seeing it and experiencing it will be like being taken back to that old garden, like the ones in Jesus’ time, an enclosed piece of private land, a small paradise like the one Joseph of Arimathea had domesticated for his own use and then ceded for such a noble function.