The Crypt in Güell´s Colony

The Crypt in Güell´s Colony

1909

This church is part of an ambitious industrial complex, in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervello (Barcelona). A large textile factory that Eusebi Güell, the great patron of Gaudí, launched in 1890. Mr. Güell´s goal with Colonia Güell was he wanted to be away from the city, where trade union movement was growing and build workers’ houses beside the factory and integrate them into the same property, resulting in a village with its own personality that join social and economic life. As a distinctive feature of this colony, Güell wanted to give it cultural and sports facilities and, although initially not regarding building a church, a small existing chapel was used. When this chapel became too small for the growing population of the colony, Güell decided to instruct Gaudí to build a new church that could accommodate all the inhabitants. However, little did Güell imagine that Gaudí would make a proposal as sober, stern and radical. The architecture was based on the task of making Güell a place of worship, that harmonized with the unconventional architecture of the workers homes in Güell´s Colony, and with the nearby forest and the slope of the hill where it would be projected.

Although it is commonly called “Crypt Güell” actually there is none of the church that goes underground, since all the windows are facing the street. It is therefore the lower nave of the church, which remained unfinished, as reflected in the side porch stairs, that although currently do not lead anywhere, if the project had been completed, they would allow access to the upper part of the church. In 1909, ten years after the project began and the first stone of the church was put in place, they continued to build despite constant interruptions. Until various economic problems stalked Mr. Güell and the construction of the Güell´s Crypt was paralyzed. In 1915, when the tempo was consecrated, they had only built the “crypt” or lower part of the church and the porch. Unfortunately we cannot get an idea of how the church would be if it had been completed, because in the sketches of his work Gaudí had only presented a general idea and he frequently changed and matured his ideas during construction.

The lower church, the starry polygonal floor, features a large central dome and it is supported by four hewn basalt columns. The ambulatory, where the altar is located, has the Catalan vaults on columns of brick and stone, from a quarry owned by Güell in the region near Garraf. A very rustic and monochrome interior that is only interrupted by the colours of the large windows that are in the shape of flower petals or butterfly wings. This is the evocative and colourful stained glass work of Josep M. Jujol and it allows light to enter, very subdue into the dark interior. The inside of Güell´s Crypt seems more like a natural grotto than a construction of the fruit of human hands. This effect is achieved by having dark colours on the floor and walls that evoke the darkness of the woods, either by fallen leaves or by the shadow cast by the trees. Walls are interrupted by small polychromatic clearings of light, that would be represented by the windows. In the church on the top floor, the idea was that it was to be painted blue, gold and white, symbolizing the sun and sky above the trees. To set it all off nicely, the towers would be topped with white doves, alluding to the name of the town (Coloma = dove in Catalan). With this complete symbology, Gaudí shows the attendees the way of salvation from the darkness of hell at the bottom, to the golden, white and blue glory of the upper part of the church.
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Apart from the natural look that Gaudí reflected in Güell´s Crypt, respect is also perceived by nature from the entrance porch, with stairs to the upper floor diverted to respect the presence of pine that, sources say Gaudí said “a ladder is made in a short time, but a pine take a long time to grow.” Merging this work with its wooded setting is complete, harmonious presence, complete with porch columns at the entrance that visually seem like an extension of the nearby pine forest, not only for the texture but also because each column is different one from another just like trees are in nature. Gaudí did not forget the incorporation of Christian elements in the porch by the trencadís technique, some fish, the alpha and omega, the crosses and the monograms of Christ in Greek (XP) were ordered to be included.

One of the most characteristic features of this construction is undoubtedly its structure. A way that comes from a study model that retains, called “stereotactic model or polifunicular model” by which Gaudí calculated the structure of the future church. A model of the church at 1:10 that grew to more than 4.5 meters high and hung by string from the ceiling by two points and the suspending weights were bags of pellets. In this way he could draw an inverted bow in the air and Gaudí spent time photographing and he then put his drawings of the future arches onto paper, forming the profile of the church. Again the modernist genius, whose rule was “with two rulers and a ball of string all the architecture is generated”, demonstrated in Güell´s colony’s own physical knowledge of gravity and pressure, along with his intuition and experience, helped to create a unique structure which was formed as an “experiment” of architectural solutions that were then also incorporated into the Sagrada Familia.

Güell´s Crypt was declared of high Cultural-Historical Interest in 1990 and incorporated in 2005 as a World Heritage by UNESCO, highlighting without a shadow of a doubt the constructive and poetic talent that Gaudí made clear in this work, becoming an example of original architecture, expressive and risky that defined much of its subsequent history.

Güell´s Colony, went into decline when the crisis began in the textile industry, bringing a halt to its activity in 1973. Gradually the various land and equipment of Güell´s Colony were sold to public institutions.

Images: courtesy David Cardelús.