Where is he gay today? Still in Barcelona
Unless you live amongst cannibals, the phrase eat me invites a sexual advance. When a human being thinks of blood, the concept goes far beyond a vehicle to deliver nutrients to our organs; blood connects us to strong feelings, for good or ill. Blood nourishes our brain, but short-circuits it. Think hot blooded, blood lust, and bloodthirsty. To have no emotion is to be bloodless.
So what of a church—oh, I dunno, let's say the Catholic one—which makes a fetish of eating its founder and drinking his blood in every service? Well, you try to tone it down a little.
The Russian Orthodox flavour of Catholicism knew this all too well. The church ordered artists to paint religious figures like cartoons, lest worshipppers imagine them as real, breathing humans, rather than an embodiment of holy virtue.
The picture to your left is a detail from an Orthodox church icon from the middle 1800s. Master Right and I picked it up at the Auer Dult, an annual antique market at the Mariahilfkirche in the Au. It appeals to us because the artist, while complying with the rules, managed to convey genuine human emotion. For me, it's the pure, doting smile of a young mother, and her baby's instinctive hunger for intimacy.
Now, Spanish Catholicism doesn't truck with suberfuge. It imagines saints, spirits and the Godhead in the fleshiest terms. These two mimes on La Rambla show some very earthy citizens of the hereafter. Easy to imagine them in a fight, a feast, or a tryst.
This sets the tone for Spanish religious art. Even more for her religious buildings.
Let's talk cathedrals, here. Grand statements, one and all. Think of Riems, Notre Dame, Cologne, The Frauenkirche, the Ulm Minster, Bath Abbey, or even St Pauls. These structures take our minds, literally, heavenward. A reminder that God is not of this earth—an earth full of misery and evil, with a few passing pleasures thrown in, to distract us from His higher purpose.
It should not surprise us that one of the most famous cathedrals of modern times, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California (conveniently located just off the I-5, take exit 107C), literally fixes our gaze on heaven. Founder Robert H. Schuller, that James Earl Jones of the megachurch, started the congregation with services in the open air. He encouraged his followers to look to the pure, bright southwestern sky to find God. Just as well, since looking down would reveal that Schuller was preaching atop the snack bar of the Orange County Drive-In. The telegenic new Cathedral was designed by the greatest (gay) architect of its day, Philip Johnson. Like its older European counterparts, the CC reveals its greatest wonder as you look up.
The theology of the Crystal Cathedral asserts that though Christ became flesh, the rest of divinity most certainly did not. God is, to use a charming phrase, the Wholly Other. Spanish Catholicism, in stark contrast, rather likes the idea that the Godhead is Wholly Us, and we are Wholly It. Reformed Church Calvinists, like Schuller, would be appalled.
EDIT: The Crystal Cathedral, bankrupted by years of family squabble and financial mismanagement, has been sold to the Catholic Church in 2011.
History* does not record whether Schuller ever visited Barcelona's famous Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Church of the Holy Family. Were he so to do, he would find a building which lifts the spirit, as a cathedral must. More than that, he will see a building that celebrates earthly life, in all its messy, pulsating, beautiful diversity.
Canon law defines a cathedral, officially, as the seat of a bishop. Barcelona already has one of those, tucked away in the Gothic Quarter. But it's not very, um, cathedramatic.
Fortifications hide the building, set in a courtyard, and the maze of tiny streets around it means that one cannot get a good look at the spire. They even keep a flock of ducks in the cloister, that's how down-home it is.
Stuck with a pissy little old mediaeval cathedral, a proud city like Barcelona felt miffed. So the burghers planned a grander church; the Sagrada Familia, or the Church of the Holy Family. A cathedral in everything but name, it is an expiatory church, built by public subscription. And it became the life's work of Barcelona's most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.
In the late 1800s, most great cathedrals had taken several hundred years to build. Gaudi assumed the same for his masterpiece, but modern methods mean the completion date may fall within many of our lifetimes.
Current suprvising architect Mark Burry, a New Zealander, introduced computer-aided stone cutting. This will enable many pieces to be fabricated off-site. Current touchdown is estimated for 2026, the centenary of Gaudi's death, but services will begin in 2010.
Franco's goons destroyed Gaudi's plans and models during the Spainish Civil War in 1936, so we know few details of his ultimate vision. His successors preserve the grandeur and scale of Gaudi's original specs, and his love of symbolic ornament. You can feel it as you approach. This, dammit, is a cathedral.
Visitors enter through a side door, under a facade which depicts the Passion. The work of Catalan sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs Sitjar creates an astonishing presence.
For me, it confirmed an observation from my Catholic boyhood. Catholic art and mythology are incredibly homoerotic; specifically, the church has a taste for S&M. That shouldn't surprise anyone who has served time in a Catholic school, or seen Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. No other religion so tightly welds together the words passion and death. Subirachs had a whale of a time riffing on the theme.
The Sagrada Familia greets its visitors with a flogging. Catechists tend to go easy on this aspect of the second station, lest it arouse the clergy inappropriately at Good Friday services. They prefer to say, coyly, that the Son of God assumed the cross and crown of thorns. But make no mistake, the Romans gave Him the Hellfire Club treatment. Today, the second station on the Via Dolorosa is marked by the Flagellation Friary, which sounds like a dungeon that serves chips.
To the left of the flogging, we see a statue of Judas outing Jesus with some hot man-on-man action. Is it just me, or is this image of the famous kiss a little too tender? I mean, Judas kinda plays with His hair. If I had any hair, let me assure you, only a lover would be playing wth it. And while we're on the subject, where's Judas' other hand? Kinky.
Now, what would be attracting the visitors attention overhead? Let's see.
But the main attraction lay front and centre. Either His loincloth has an unfortunate wrinkle, or we can see His dick.
Now, I don't know much about art, but I do know about dick. And that one looks uncircumcised—though since this is modern art, you can never be sure. Odd for a Jewish lad, but perhaps He had turned Catholic at this stage.
That God assumed the body of a man, is the mystery of the Incarnation. Did God assume a human mind, as well? What would have crossed His mind, at this stage? Perhaps He was trying to remember the Safe Word.
The other completed facade of the church faces east. The polar opposite of the Passion, it commemorates the Nativity.
Not sexy, alas. Remember that the Holy Family was a sexless one. (Am I the only ex-Catholic who thinks St Joseph deserves sympathy as Christendom's nicest guy, best sport, or biggest chump?) We see lots of angels and plenty of non-human fecundity. Tress, plants, animals, birds, fishes. No monkeys or dinosaurs, I notice. Sore points for the Church, I guess.
I find this comparatively innocent scene much more satisfying. Many great churches were built in the Gothic style, and many Crystal Cathedrals sit firmly in the school of modern architecture. The Nativity facade is one of the few bits of church architecture done in Art Noveau, of a sort.
By the time you reach the Nativity facade, you're exhausted. All the talk of eating flesh and drinking blood made me hungry for a rare steak. The Sagrada Familia's neighbourhood abounds with places to indulge this carnal hunger. A fitting tribute to what may be the last, real, flesh-and-blood cathedral ever to be built.
* At least, Wikipedia doesn't record it, which is as far as this lazy blogger is about to go.