Sunday, July 4, 2010

Colonia Guell Church

As I mentioned in my last post, I got to see another Antoni Gaudi-designed church during a visit to Colonia Guell near Barcelona.

Industrialist Eusubi Guell developed Colonia Guell as a company town where his workers could have a good life. Part of his dream was to provide cultural opportunities including religious facilities. In 1898, Guell asked Gaudi to design and build a church for Colonia Guell. Gaudi worked on various designs and models until construction began in 1908.

The church was designed to have both a lower and an upper nave. Only the lower nave had been constructed by the time the Guell family informed Gaudi in 1914 that they would no longer be financially supporting the project. This photo shows the entrance area of what is the lower nave:

In subsequent years, an alternative roof covering was added to protect the space. This photo shows what would have been the floor of the upper nave as well as the stones that mark the entry to space:

In this photo, you can see where the walls of the lower space would have extended up to the second level as well as the roof that was added later:

Interestingly enough, the grade school that I attended in Philadelphia had a church that, I was told when I was younger, was never completed..only the "basement" had been finished. I was unable to find any evidence of this while google searching but I know that during the years I was at the school, the roof was famous for leaking and, after all, who intentionally builds a church partially under ground with a flat roof? :-) Here's a photo of the side of the church that I took recently that shows just how unfinished the building looks:

Even though the church at Colonia Guell was left unfinished, it represents almost all of Gaudi's architectural innovations in one building. As with the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi used a system of suspended chains and weights (a [poly] funicular model) to create the catenary arches for which he is famous. As I am in nooooooo way an expert on any of this, from what I can tell, he hung chains from a board, joined them together at various points, and then hung a series of weights from them. The resulting shapes are the curved surfaces that we see when we look at his work. Here's a photo I took of what the church would have looked like (note the bottom half shows the suspended chains and weights):

The inside and the outside of the church are spectacular. Gaudi's use of a wide variety of materials is evident everywhere. This is a photo of the roof that covers the entrance area to the lower nave, which shows some of the cool architecture and materials:

This shot shows the side of the church and bell tower. I love how the windows look (to me) like eyes:

I really like the level of details that you can find. Here's a close-up of one the windows and a vent on the side of the church:

Inside, Gaudi was no slouch either. The arches that he creates with his architectural style are truly a work of art. This photo was taken from the entrance area towards the altar. Note, once again, the wide variety of materials, surfaces, and non-straight lines:

As with the Sagrada Familia, one of my favorite Gaudi features is his non-straight, non-uniform columns:

Seeing this church, along with all the other Gaudi works, is amazing. His obvious genius blows me away. I am in awe at the way that he approached his work, solved problems creatively, and used such a variety of raw materials. It doesn't surprise me that people come from all over the world just to look at these buildings. The church at Colonia Guell is a special treat and should definitely be on your Gaudi list if you find yourself in Catalunya one day.


  1. I also Went to St Bernard's. I also worked there for four years cleaning classrooms everyday. I have witnessed the thwarted attempt at building a second story on the church. If you enter the left vestibule at the back of the church you would find a wire door at the lower right side of the room. I crawled through this door one summer day to find a full flight of stairs leading to a ceiling and some spare bricks left in the rafters.

    1. I'm glad someone else has heard of the mythical second floor! A neighbor from across the street when I lived near St. Bernard's also had heard of something about it but there's nothing online about the plans for a second floor. The mystery continues... (Oh, and thanks for stopping by and reading!)

  2. Darren. Not a mystery at all. The way I found out about this is there is a painting of the proposed saint Bernard's church complete with a second floor hanging in the stairwell in the rectory. When I inquired about it, I was shown the unfinished staircase in the vestibule. There is also another vestibule in the south side back of the church that is not accessible since the only way to get to it is through that small wire grate opening then traversing through the rafters to the right of the defunct staircase. Interestingly when the stained glass windows were replaced in the seventies, the windows in that vestibule were not replaced due to their inaccessibilty from the inside. Not sure if that is still the case currently. I was told that the Archdiocese didn't see the need for such a large church so furthering the construction was halted.


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