Gaudí, as we well know, designed not only buildings but also, in many cases, the furniture to go inside them. For the Sagrada Família, he designed two different styles of pews for the crypt. The first type, for the central area, has a moveable backrest, which means they can be used facing the central apse chapel or the chapel of Saint Joseph, the saint to which the association leading the works was very devoted, which is just opposite. The other type, for the sides of the crypt, Gaudí designed as a fixed pew, without the moving backrest. It has high sides, which come to a triangular point.
After the Second Vatican Council, these pews were modified to adapt to the openness of the new liturgy and, among other changes, the protrusions on the sides were eliminated, improving visibility of the altar. All of these pews had a metal structure of T-bars and varnished oak, but they have become very dark over the years.
The inauguration of the temple in 2010 meant it had to have pews. So, the idea was to follow the line Gaudí had set and use the second type of pew from the crypt as a model. They were made of beech, a very light, clean and bright wood. However, seven years later, as we are putting the finishing touches on the inside of the temple, we’ve also started putting in the final pews.
COMFORT: THE MAIN GOAL
As celebrations at the Basilica tend to be longer than most parish masses, comfort as the main function became decisive in designing the pews. At the same time, the choice was made to create a pew specifically for the Basilica, fitting with the aesthetics of the new architecture of the naves and moving away from the neo-Gothic style of the crypt. So, a study was also done of the bench Gaudí designed for Colònia Güell, which has the same functional base and materials: wrought-iron structure and wood for the parts in contact with the body, warmer to the touch.
Plus, these pews once again use oak, the wood originally used in Gaudí’s furniture, but with a clear varnish so they don’t darken. And great effort has gone into making them truly ergonomic, meaning they are more comfortable. In this regard, other, more modern pews commonly used today in various churches and in the Seminari in Barcelona have also served as a reference in the design process. The height and depth of the seat and angle of the backrest, for example, have been taken from these pews. The silhouette and the shape of the pews, however, straighter with sharper edges, often makes them uncomfortable on the back and the knees. So, in the new design for the pews for the Sagrada Família, all of these edges are rounded.
Each of the new pews is 4.5 metres long, seating eight people. If more space is needed, however, they can fit up to ten people, as there aren’t any uncomfortable legs or edges. Each pew weighs 180 kilograms, which means they are practically impossible to move or flip over. As a result, a tool had to be designed to move them around when necessary. Everything has been carefully designed, even the hook to hang bags on.
The shape of the pews groups worshippers together in pairs along the eight spots, giving the backrest a gentle wave that breaks up the excessive monotony of rows and rows of pews filling the space. This backrest, designed with a paraboloid to round the edge, is not only fitting of the architecture of the temple but is also functional, making sure the elbows of a person praying on the pew behind don’t bother someone sitting on the one in front.
So, the pews at the Sagrada Família have come from a sort of combination of Gaudí’s pews for the temple crypt and Colònia Güell. One of their most noteworthy characteristics, however, is the folding prie-dieus, which allows worshippers to pray when folded out but can also be put away to make it easier to move around the pews during non-religious events. The prie-dieu for the first row, as it is a stand-alone piece, was designed to be one of a kind, incorporating the JMJ anagram of the Holy Family, taken from the original baldachin in the crypt, in wrought iron.
This video shows the process of designing and making the one-of-a-kind final pews for the Basilica.