Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt by Antoni Gaudí Photo: Maria Rosa Ferre
Antoni Gaudí is one of the most well known architects of our time, with a body of work which transcends age and defies any rigorous classification in terms of style or influence. His religious buildings are marked by the architect’s capacity to observe nature and find inspiration for simple and functional design solutions. Firmly believing that architects should strive to create functional rather than beautiful designs, he produced an architecture removed from the traditional use of platonic forms and inclined towards the logic irregularity of the natural world.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló was intended as a church serving a community of workers on the textile estate of Gaudí’s main patron, Eusebi Güell. However, due to lack of finances, all that was built for this project was only the crypt which was to serve as a foundation for the great edifice. Even so, we can see in this building the development of key architectural ideas which Gaudí would bring to full accomplishment in his magnum opus, Sagrada Familia. It represents the greatest achievements in his investigations towards finding ingenious solutions to understanding the stresses and learning how to reinterpret established gothic composition.
The building is a complex and perfectly engineered skeleton embracing the irregularity of the terrain while harmoniously blending itself in the surrounding landscape. Made out of brick, stone and basalt, the crypt hugs a small hill close to a pine forest. So careful was the architect in choosing the materials and construction methods that from the distance it is hard to distinguish the columns of the portico from the trunks of the pine trees. But perhaps the first striking feature of the building is the angle of these columns, inclined along the profile of catenary arches highly characteristic of Gaudí’s architecture.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt portico Photo: Jacqueline Poggi
Once inside the crypt, one becomes aware of two dynamics at work, both complementing each other and highlighting the sanctuary. First, the visitor enters a U shaped aisle surrounding the main nave, dimly lit by 22 stained glass windows which take various forms of patterns found in nature. The subdued and mysterious lighting adds to the primeval atmosphere the building creates. The outer walls are made out of brickwork while the columns separating the aisle from the nave are constructed of stone and specially made circular bricks.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt aisle Poto: Jorge Franganillo
Emphasising the processional movement towards the sanctuary and framing the altar are four inclined columns formed of roughly carved blocks of basalt. They support a low vault composed of numerous brick arches radiating from two central points above the nave. Moving forward inside the centralised, eliptical plan, we arrive at the sanctuary which is sadly not executed to the original design and has a somewhat plain, unfinished appearance. The tabernacle was initially placed in a deep, cavernous ambulatory behind the altar, 18 steps higher than the sanctuary but subsequently brought forward. The architect took inspiration for this element from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which he greatly admired.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt altar Poto: Steve Silverman
The entire building seems like a living body which moves, grows and prays with the faithful. In the harmony and totality of the design, the expressive richness, the evocative atmosphere of a primeval yet Christian religiousness the crypt of Santa Coloma de Cervelló is the best paradigmatic example of Gaudí’s creativity and poetic sensibility. It speaks of his belief that God continued creation through man and that originality is returning to the origin, to nature and to the Word.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt nave Poto: Joan Grifols
For more information on the history of the crypt and sketches of the intended church building, you can visit Colonia Güell website.