The sacristy, a model for the central towers

Some may believe the sacristies, cloisters and other structures along the perimeter were added by Gaudí to bolster the grandiose nature of the building. In truth, however, the architect was thinking about these structures from the very early stages of the project. In this article, we’ll see how the sacristies, one of which was finished in December 2016, are playing a key role in finishing the Basilica.

In 1917, the Temple magazine published a floor plan that shows how Gaudí was already thinking about the Temple’s two sacristies, symmetrical on the corners on Carrer de Provença, in quite a lot of detail. Although it quickly became outdated (Gaudí transformed the project little by little), if you look closely at the angle of the sacristy, you can see a series of details that already speak to the architect’s desires that would remain and continue to influence the definitive project for the Temple.

The most important thing in that version is that it shows a central square of space, set off with a colonnade around the perimeter, and, around it, a crown of different sized rooms. This is an antecedent to the space that would finally be defined for the sacristies: central, developed at height, delimited by eight columns and covered with a hyperboloid to bring in light from above.

The floor plans show how Gaudí planned the sacristy as a higher, central body, with a second level of windows and pediments topped with a spire, still within the Neo-Gothic style. It is as if the sacristy had a large lantern, or as if it was a large lantern itself.

The photos that remain of the plaster models of the sacristy Gaudí was working on when he had this Neo-Gothic style in mind clearly show this formal parallel between the initial proposal for the top of the sacristy and a typical Gothic lantern.

They show a series of roofs that follow the windows, as well as delimiting a square floor plan. The elevated body rises up from the centre, acting as a lantern over the central space.

In photos from a bit later, however, the sacristy roofs have changed. They now have a much more dome-like shape, but the central, Neo-Gothic lantern remains the same as in the first version.

This relationship between the sacristy and the lantern that Gaudí was beginning to establish when he was designing the former would later become totally intertwined, to extreme consequences. Gaudí modified the roofs of the sacristy, evolving towards dome-like shapes until they became masterful paraboloid domes.

If you update that same elevation drawing, we can see that Gaudí proposed very tall domes for the sacristies, nearly on the same level as the apse pinnacles. This new profile clearly contrasts with that of the Neo-Gothic lantern in the previous project. Finally, the definitive plaster model, in great detail, shows the height of the building a bit lower but has a pinnacle on the dome that would act as a lantern and reinforce Gaudí’s original idea of creating a central, elevated space full of light inside the building. The inner vaults with a great central hyperboloid to bring in light and the large windows, including elliptical and circular rose windows on the first floor, clearly reflect this desire.

This new open geometry, which so satisfied this desire, is what led it to become, by transforming the height, the new shape of the central towers or lanterns.

 

 

Isidre Puig Boada, Gaudí’s disciple and the author of books of his quotes and desires for the temple project, on several occasions shows the relationship between the sacristy and the lanterns. These ties are not only formal but also structural and symbolic similarities. In this regard, the succession of low domes that culminates with the lanterns, the maximum exaltation of the Temple, shows the harmony in the general plan and this is why there is colour on all its pinnacles, which vibrate with light and reflections to connect the building to the heavens.

 

 

So, the process of designing the sacristy and the fact that it was conceived of as a sort of lantern shows us that it is an indication of what Gaudí would later express. Today, for us, the experience of building the sacristy dome before the central lanterns, as Gaudí wished, was a trial run for the geometry, structure and building method that would later be used for the Temple’s large towers. In fact, although we weren’t talking about post-tensioned stone when we were working on the sacristy, we did come up with the embryo of the future main structural skeleton, a way to subdivide and make modules to organise production and control processes more easily. And we began working with panels pre-fabricated at the external workshop in La Galera, learning how to overcome the difficulties of transporting and hoisting them, as well as devising systems to mark and assemble them provisionally in La Galera and definitively at the Temple.

Comments

    1. Hello,
      The symbolism in the sacristy building (mainly the dome) is extensive and wide reaching. Puig Boada’s 1929 book has a good description:
      ‘El temple de la Sagrada Família’
      Puig Boada, Isidre
      There certainly are ties to the Book of Revelation, specifically the following passage:
      Rev 7: 9-12: “After this, I saw a great crowd, impossible to count, from every nation, race, people and tongue, standing before the throne, and the Lamb, clothed in white, with palm branches in their hands, and they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Who saves, but our God, who sits on the throne, and the Lamb?’ All the angels were around the throne, the elders and the four living creatures; they, then, bowed before the throne, with their faces to the ground, to worship God. They said,
      Amen. Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honour, power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen!”

      From this passage:
      The great crowd dressed in white are represented on the dome by the Macael white marble shaft covers (7 x 3 on each of the 12 sections = a crowd).
      The palm branches in their hands can also be seen on the dome, two on each spur (6 x 12).
      The words of praise: glory, wisdom, thanks, honour, power and strength are written over each window.
      The Bible citation (Rev 7: 9-12) is just below the central inscription (Acció de gràcies – thanks) on the lantern at the corner.
      The Amen and the lamb are also on the tip.
      Quotes from other sections of the same book (Rev. 2: 19 and Rev 4: 4) are also found on the crown of life on the pinnacle, at the very top.
      Best regards,

      1. Dear Sir, Madam,

        Many thanks for your extensive reply.
        Below the words Acció de Gràcias there are three ornaments.
        Left which looks like a crozier with character E in the middle grapes en on the right an armour with a lion and character F.
        What is the symbolism of these three items.
        Many tanks in advance,
        I would like to include the explaination in my audiovisual show about the Sagrada Família.

        Regards, Henk
        P.S. What a great blog is this, my compliments.

        1. Hello,
          The obelisk features relief sculptures of the cardinal virtue of strength, represented by its traditional symbol the classical shield –with a lion- and helmet; the Bishop, represented by the crook and the Episcopal initials; and autumn, represented by grape leaves and bunches.
          Regards!

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