Drive for Gaudi's sainthood

By Giles Tremlett

Antoni Gaudi, the eccentric Catalan architect responsible for Barcelona's emblematic basilica, has been known for decades as "God's architect".

Today, as Pope Benedict XVI pays a visit to the city to finally consecrate the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi devotees hope the moniker will soon become more apt: they hope he will be declared a saint.

Since 1992 the Vatican has been trying to decide whether Gaudi deserves to be beatified - a key step on the way to what could eventually become sainthood.

Now, eight decades after he died under the wheels of a Barcelona tram, those who are fighting for his beatification say they have proof he can also produce miracles.

"There are now two examples that are being studied," said Lluis Bonet i Armengol, the parish priest at the Sagrada Familia's underground crypt, and the son of an architect who worked on the church with Gaudi.

Evidence has already been provided that the Sagrada Familia's soaring towers and colourful ceramic adornments have converted some people to Catholicism. But while there is little doubt about Gaudi's devout nature, the Vatican also needs proof that he can intercede with God to bring about the miraculous.

That "proof" may finally have come with the case of Montserrat Barenys, a former lecturer who claims her sight in one eye was miraculously restored after praying to the architect for help.

Barenys said she was diagnosed with a perforated retina and was due to be operated on, but she prayed to Gaudi for help and was suddenly cured.

"For me that was a miracle, even if it has not yet been proved officially," she said.

Architect Jose Manuel Almuzara, who has led the campaign to have Gaudi beatified, warned the Vatican had not yet accepted the miracle. "The medical specialists have yet to come up with their verdict," he explained.

Almuzara said the Pope's visit would increase the numbers who prayed to Gaudi - and so the chances of a miracle happening.

"It is not the same if only 50 people are praying to him for help as when five million are praying."

He said that, just as Gaudi would defend his slowness to complete the Sagrada Familia - remarking "my client is not in a hurry" - so those pushing for his passage to sainthood would have to be patient.

The first stone of the Sagrada Familia, where building work has always been funded by donations, was laid in 1877.

Gaudi, a gaunt, white-bearded vegetarian, ended up living in the building's crypt and would even go out begging for money to help pay for its construction.

Although religious services have long been held in the underground crypt, today will see the first religious service in the building as a consecrated basilica.

"Gaudi always said he wouldn't live to see it finished, but eventually people would come from around the world to see the building or pray there," said Almuzara.

The main entrance and the cloisters that will surround the building still have to be built. Almuzara said it was hoped the building would be finished by 2016, to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Gaudi's death. Devotees hope he will also be beatified that year.

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