La Segrada Familia Feed

Why You Should Always 'Keep Looking Up'

Palau looking up

 After battling jet lag and a formidable language barrier, conquering a few annoying ailments, getting scammed at an ATM, being yelled at by an indignant Catalan waiter, and finding ourselves in the middle of a street protest, we could have called our honeymoon a disaster. We could have moped around like a couple of Mericans, wanting our money back or cutting our trip short. But we didn't.

Instead, we kept looking up.

It's a valuable and simple message, "keep looking up." PBS' Jack Horkheimer, AKA "the star hustler," used to sign off every episode of his show with that mantra. The man could rock a Members Only jacket AND knows his Betelgeuse from his Van Allen Belt, so he's worth paying attention to, even posthumously.


It's a good thing we took ol' Jack's advice, or we would have missed the Palace of Catalan Music. Or in the local tongue: Palau de la Musica Orfeo Catalan.

I was twice moved to tears by sights in Barcelona, and this was one of them.

Especially for a structure as old as the Palau, which was finished in 1908, it's full of whimsy, as if a pastry chef dancing to the music of "Fantasia" were let loose in a concert hall with a bag of icing. Life-sized pegasus horses emerge from the corners. Chandeliers tilt at jaunty angles. A row of musicians are rendered half in bas relief and half in 2D on stage, as if the drawings have somehow come to life. Those who perform here describe hearing these musicians behind them.

Palau X rosettes

Palau pegassus

Palau X chandelier

Palau X musicians

And above it all, a globe of stained glass, like a giant sun, illuminates everything, allowing natural light and color to make the theater glow.

Palau X dome and sweep

Like La Segrada Familia, the Palau exists solely on private donations, and also like Segrada, it is an example of the cultural pride and passion for the arts that exemplifies Catalonia. The grand choirs of the turn of the last century were the inspiration for its creation, and a roster of world-class performances continues to fill the space with sound befitting its visuals.

I'd go back to Barcelona just to see a concert there.

By the way, I once saw Jack Horkheimer, the star hustler himself, in person. I lived in Miami at the time, and he was the director of the planetarium there. I'd noticed his Member's Only jacket in front of me in line at the Winn-Dixie, and when I walked outside, there he was. It was nighttime, and you know what he was doing?

Standing there in the parking lot, looking up.


Inside La Segrada Familia

Previously on the blog, I mentioned that you really shouldn't miss the inside of La Segrada Familia, no matter what guidebooks might tell you. Gaudi's amazing feat of spiritual architecture alone is worth a trip to Barcelona.

The view inside moved me to tears. Unashamed, streaming tears of joy and gratitude.


Gaudi captured the soaring splendor and exalted grandeur of the medieval cathedral, but he removed the hierarchy, judgment, and darkness of Catholicism's past. Rather than a commanding crucifix placed at the apex of the church, Gaudi dangles Christ as if from a whimiscal umbrella over worshipper's heads, close enough that you feel you can reach up and touch his feet.

  Segrada umbrella closeup

Segrada umbrella

And he put nature at the center of the house of God. You know that feeling you get when you're in the middle of an old growth forest alone, and the trees sweep up into the sky, and you feel part of something grander than yourself? That's it. He brought it into the church, saying nature's place is here, where we worship divine spirit. 

Segrada oculus

There's a fantastic little exhibit off to the side of the church that shows how Gaudi took direct inspiration from nature, from the fruit and flower shapes that adorn La Segrada to the hive and honeycomb imagery. Divine spirit isn't somewhere out in space, removed from us; it's right here, in the trees and the flowers and the food we eat. It's in us. It is us. 

But he didn't just take aesthetic inspiration from nature but structural as well: He studied the way trees brace themselves into the ground and designed columns just like them. 

Segrada altar and window

For fans of stained glass, La Segrada represents the pinnacle of the art form.

Segrada stained glass

Perhaps we missed something amazing by entering too late to gain access to the tower, but it was lovely enough just to gaze up the swirling spiral of the staircase from below.

Segrada tower spiral

What really struck me about La Segrada is that it's this grand expression of spirit done at great expense and effort. It serves no utilitarian purpose. It's not a commercial venture. It's a venture of the heart, paid for entirely by private donations, one that trandscends the ambitions of one man or even one generation. It's been under construction for a century, since before Gaudi died in 1926, and its sheer scope guarantees that it will take many more years to complete.

All for art's sake, and for the sake of humanity's soul. And that's a rare and beautiful thing indeed.