Since I published this piece about four and a half years ago, the cause for the Beatification of architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926) continues to be reviewed by the Vatican, but movement is glacially slow. Gaudí was named a “Servant of God” in 2003, a preliminary step on the road to possible sainthood, and interest in his cause has been expressed by Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. For much of his life, Gaudí was decidedly secular: a lapsed Catholic, a dandy, and a bon vivant, who loved challenging established rules as well as having a grand old time. By the end of his life, he was wearing nothing but rags, attending daily mass, fasting, and performing acts of penance, while working exclusively on the Sagrada Familia.
When Gaudí came back to the Church, he was said to have a strong but childlike faith, much like other mendicant saints such as Francis of Assisi or Benedict Labre. Once, when someone on the street asked him where he was off to, he explained that he was going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy, located down on Barcelona’s waterfront, “to tell the Virgin some things.” Whether he becomes a canonized saint or not, this is someone whom I “get”, both from an artistic perspective and a spiritual one.
Is Gaudí Getting Closer to Sainthood?
NOVEMBER 13, 2014
Regular readers know of my admiration for the great Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), most famous for his Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The hugely original and innovative Gaudí was a deeply devout man, and spent the last decades of his life working exclusively on this structure which, when it is completed around 2026, will be the tallest church in the world. With a new Vatican-approved graduate studies program being named after him, and Gaudí’s cause for beatification now in the review stage in Rome, one wonders whether this is a sign that the Vatican is moving in the direction of his canonization.
Located in Barcelona, the Antoni Gaudí School offers graduate studies in Church history, Christian art, and now archaeological studies, in conjunction with programs approved by the Vatican. The architect himself loved archaeology, not only as part of his research and design process, but also as a reason to go out into the countryside at the weekends with fellow enthusiasts. Groups of these thinkers and creative individuals would explore ancient ruins and crumbling castles to get a better sense of their own history, as well as to understand design concepts and building methods.
Pope Benedict XVI admired the Catalan architect a great deal. He not only traveled to Barcelona to dedicate the church and raise it to the level of a Minor Basilica, but he also used a photograph of the sculpture of the Holy Family on the Nativity Facade of the building for his official Christmas cards that year. An exhibition celebrating Gaudí’s work was mounted at the Vatican at the same time. And recently, Pope Francis accepted a gift of a portrait bust of Gaudí from the group promoting his cause for beatification, a work based on an original carved shortly after the architect’s death.
The current expectation is that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will complete their investigation sometime in the spring of 2015, and will make their recommendations to the Holy Father at that time. Despite some earlier rumors that beatification was going to be announced for certain, so far there has been no official word from the Congregation on that point. It would seem to me more likely that he would first be made a “Venerable”, if the cause is moving forward, but Catalan sources insist that Rome will be skipping straight to beatification. To my knowledge, Pope Francis has never spoken about Gaudí publicly in the way that Pope Benedict has, so we can’t assume anything one way or the other with respect to his urging the work of the Congregation forward.
That being said, the fact that the Vatican seems to be encouraging naming things after “God’s Architect”, as he is often called, seems to me to be a good sign.