St. Gaudi? Vatican mulls canonising Sagrada Familia architect

The vast unfinished basilica of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has been under construction for more than 130 years, but it looks as though its creator, Antoni Gaudí, may be canonised before his most famous creation is complete.

The Catholic church beatified the Catalan architect in 2000, and is now considering whether this should be upgraded to "venerable", which is another stop on the road sainthood.

I think the Catholic Church would like to canonise a layman who is also an artist and a craftsman, an engineer and a kind of mystic in his prayer life– Michael Witczak, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America

However, the Devil’s advocate – the Vatican official who presents objections to the process – does have some arguments on his side.

For one thing, sceptics question why other creators of sacred works, such as Michelangelo, should not be similarly honoured. It is also true that Gaudí did not die a martyr’s death, but was knocked down by a tram in June 1926, after which he left untended because passers-by assumed him to be a beggar. This means that his divine status rests on proof that he was able to work miracles.

Quite miraculous

So far, a number of cases have been put forward in the medical realm. For example, five years ago an artist with a perforated retina from Gaudí’s hometown of Reus said she regained her sight after praying to him for help. Her ophthalmologist confirmed that the recovery was exceptional.

Construction timeline of the basilica of the Sagrada Familia (

Another man in similar circumstances recovered in hospital from a tumour in his leg without surgery.

Other arguments have been put forward which, although commendable on health and safety grounds, are not actual miracles. For example, Lluis Martinez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, has said that no worker or visitor has been injured during the basilica’s lengthy construction time.

It is also claimed that many labourers on the site have unexpectedly converted to Christianity.

Despite the somewhat slender nature of the evidence for Gaudí’s divinity, the church may press on with the process if there is sufficient support for it among believers. Michael Witczak, the associate professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, told the BBC: "The speedy beatification processes for Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Kolkata indicate to me that popular desire on the part of the ordinary faithful is a key element.

"I think the Catholic Church would like to canonise a layman who is also an artist and a craftsman, an engineer and a kind of mystic in his prayer life."

God’s architect

Gaudí, who became known as "God’s Architect", was born into a wealthy Catalan family in June 1852. His Roman Catholic faith grew in intensity during his life and led to an increasingly ascetic lifestyle. This manifested itself in extreme frugality, the wearing of ragged clothes and lengthy fasts, which eventually undermined his health.

Gaudí in 1878 (Pau Audouard)

It has been said that during one of these fasts Gaudí only began to eat again after a priest reminded him of his mission to finish La Sagrada Familia.

Towards the end of his life he lived next to his workshop inside the Sagrada and devoted himself entirely to the project. The common impression that he was a beggar was partly explained by his habit of begging for money on the streets to fund work on the basilica, which was paid for entirely by public donations.

Gaudí was also concerned with social issues, and the church shares its site with a school designed by the architect in 1909 for the children of the construction workers. The building now houses an exhibition.

Less than a quarter of the building was completed by the time of his death, and only one of its spires had been erected. There are currently eight with another  planned over the next 10 to 20 years.

Given the basilica’s claim to be the slowest building project in history, many would regard its simple completion as something of a miracle – by which time the concept architect may be known to the world as Saint Antoni.

Top image: The west side of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain (Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons)

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