Symbols At the Gates to Heaven: The Doors of Sagrada Familia


Antoni Gaudi built a church. The Sagrada Familia is almost alien in its approach to a house of God. Unlike any other temple or centre of worship that I have entered while on my travels, the church under construction is perhaps the most encoded place I have laid eyes upon. It is not a holy place, insofar as other places clearly are [Valencia Cathedral, Wat Phra Kaew, Angkor Wat, Koyasan, Abu Simbel]. Rather it is a monument to the borderline insanity of a brilliant man; a man willing to dare to dream of a space human engineering could not build within his lifetime.


The feature that resonated most with me: the panels at the entrance to the church on the side featuring the passion of Christ. I am often taken in my bas-relief sculpture on ancient buildings. It is this type of carving that I mimic in the tattoos I put upon my own body; symbols of a deeper place that few others, with their Disney characters, tribal designs or popular motifs recognize. I seek out such symbols on my travels, and they are often found in magical places such as Abu Simbel, Tenryuji Temple or an old book.

The actual symbols on the panels are Christian, but they also harken back to a pagan reference point. The circles, shells and textures take one to a nightmarish dream state; they are the symbols connected to our human unconscious floating in solid bronze.

The door panels hint that there is a deeper relevance within them; like a DaVinci code, the symbols force you to attempt to read them, but offer no way to do so. Ironically, most people walk quickly past the doors and the passion of Christ into the cathedral, but I suppose that is the way of things: the flock go to the corral in the hope that the meaning is at the centre instead of at the periphery. I would assert that with Gaudi the meaning is always in the details on the exterior. While the centre is also beautiful, I felt like it was an afterthought in a mind muddled with textures, metaphors and connections.

San Francisco

While in Barcelona, I was using my Hasselblad 501 C/M camera with whatever film I had left from last year’s mass purchase. The first four photographs were shot on Ilford Delta 100 with an 80mm CFe lens. I decided to leave the cranes in the silhouette shot of the Sagrada Famila – I should still be around when the cranes have long left for another photograph. The technique I used to silhouette the building was to meter for the sky, move so that the sun just peeks on the edges of the building, and the architecture is backlit. The final photograph was taken with the Hasselblad SWC on the Golden Gate Park pier. What I love about the SWC camera is that I can put it onto the ground, use a wide aperture, focus to infinity and always get an expansive photograph that begins with bokeh and extends toward sharp focus. While I shot the image in colour, I think I prefer the emptiness and questioning created by a monochromatic treatment.

My day seems to be starting out slowly. I finished a shot of a compost bin for Paderno last night, but then needed more time to consider how to treat the potato cutter and wine implements. I should be able to shoot those before noon, and then head to meet up with V. at Union Station. On my stereo: Sarah Jackson-Holman [Do I Make It Look Easy?], Azealia Banks [212] and Matchbox Twenty [She’s So Mean].


2 responses to “Symbols At the Gates to Heaven: The Doors of Sagrada Familia

  1. Hi Mr. Chandler,

    I am Dion Vandijck of the Netherlands.
    After standing more than an hour glaring at the doors of the Sagrada Familia together with my son, I became obsessed to make a map of al the symbols on the door. Do you have pictures which cover the complete doors this father and his son?
    If so did you do some research of the meaning of it?
    Do you know someone who did?
    can you please help me,
    take care, Dion

    • Sadly…no. I was unable to capture the entire door cycle due to tourists, and the symbols themselves did not appear to be explained by curators. From my art history knowledge, many seem to be older Christian symbols and then a mixing of more obscure, esoteric symbols in various stages of reliefs. Gaudi was far from simple to understand at the best of times.

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