Holy Incomplete: Remarkable Unfinished Churches

La Sagrada Familia

A clueless 20-something, wondering through Europe with a few dollars and a train pass,  I had come to Barcelona completely unaware that I was entering one of the most architecturally fascinating cities of the world.  But there’s an upside to being young and ignorant.  I had that wide open, beginners mind, waiting to be blown.  And blown it was.

Sarah Ackerman's photo of the Sagrada Familia

Facade of the Sagrada Familia. Photo by Sarah Ackerman.

I wandered through the delightful city, to a church the guidebook said not to miss.  I didn’t know who Gaudí was, nor anything about surrealist architecture.  But standing before the La Sagrada Familia, I knew I was looking at something starkly original, unlike anything I had ever seen before (or have seen since).

That was twenty-odd years ago.  The Sagrada Familia was unfinished then, as it is unfinished now.  One-hundred-thirty years in the making.  Gaudí knew he was in for the long haul.   “My client’s not in a hurry,” he used to say, referring to the patience of the Almighty.

Recuerdos de Pandora -  Construction of the Sagrada Familia in 1915

Recuerdos de Pandora – Construction of the Sagrada Familia in 1915

I’m not a religious person, but Gaudí’s vision, that art must take it’s lead from nature, does strike a chord.  It is not only it’s originality that makes the Sagrada Familia special, it’s the reverence it shows for Creation (and creation).

Estimates say that the Sagrada Familia may be finished in 2026 (the centennial of Gaudí’s death).  I haven’t been back to Europe in all these years.  Seeing Gaudí’s masterpiece completed sounds like a good excuse.

Leandro Neumann Ciuffo's photo inside the Sagrada Familia.

Inside. Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the Sagrada Familia symbolizes heavenly patience and the divinity of man and nature, than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre captures the pettiness of human beings in their daily life down here on earth.

Situated in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be located on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried.  As such, it is a very important site for Christians – many different kinds of Christians.

Chris Yunker's photo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Chris Yunker.

Multiple factions vie for control of the building.  The Greek Orthodox seem to hold most of the power, but they are not alone.  Roman Catholic, Armenain Apostolic, Coptic (Egyptian) and Syrian Orthodox also share responsibilities.  Then there’s the Ethiopian Orthodox who have set up camp on the roof.

Sadly, these groups do not play together nicely in a spirit of brotherly love.  Worship times have to be carefully allotted for each community.  Squabbles between sects erupt regularly. Wikipedia lists five incidents since 2002, including injuries, hospitalizations and arrests. (What would Jesus think?)

Seetheholyland.net's photo of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ethiopian monks live on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Seetheholyland.net

Under a system known as “status quo” parts of the building which are designated as common cannot be altered in any way without the agreement of all six groups.  Cooperation doesn’t seem to be their strong point.  Needed repairs go undone, to a point that threatens the building.

A small ladder rests on a ledge outside of a window.  My tour guide said that it was put there at a time when one group wouldn’t allow another group to use the door.  Hence they had to come and go via the window.  Today doors and window are defined as common under the “status quo” and cannot be changed (including putting away a ladder) without the consent of all the communities.  The victims of that earlier snubbing will not agree and the ladder remains.  How long has this been going on?  There is evidence that the ladder has  been there since the 1830’s.

Seetheholyland.net's photo of the immovable ladder.

The “immovable ladder”. Photo by Seetheholyland.net.

So one church unfinished, and another coming undone.  I’m glad to have seen them both, but I know which one I want to go back to.

 

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Jennifer Choban

Editor & Author at Gear Up & Play
Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker, nascent piano player and wannabe Spanish-speaker.
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2 thoughts on “Holy Incomplete: Remarkable Unfinished Churches

  1. Louisa

    All right! I’ll get me to Barcelona! Gotta check out all those unfinished churches. But will the Almighty wait for me?

  2. Pingback: Surrealist Architecture - Boston Commons High Tech Network

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