Parabolic wonders. The sanctuary of Montferri, a Modernist jewel

In Montferri, a small town in Tarragona, in the Alt Camp region, there’s one of the most unique works of Modernism: Our Lady of Montserrat sanctuary.

In the end of the 19th century, there was this tradition that every year, in autumn, the inhabitants of the Montferri would pilgrim to the mountains of Montserrat, to give thanks to the Virgin of Montserrat for the harvest of the year. A local Jesuit priest, Daniel Vives, suggested building a sanctuary on one of the hills of the village that belonged to his family. Vives was a distant relative of the architect Josep Maria Jujol and commissioned him the design.

Jujol was already one of the most sought-after professionals of his generation. Professor at the School of Architecture, auxiliary municipal architect of Sant Joan Despí, and having already completed works such as Torre de la Creu (1916) or the Planells house (1924), he was also famous for the wrought-iron balconies of Casa Milà or the ceramic design of the façade of Casa Batlló.

In 1926, the first stone of the Montferri sanctuary was laid. Daniel Vives bought the cement, and the locals brought sand and gravel from the banks of the nearby Gaià River, acting as masons. The building progressed at a good pace until 1928, when funds began to run low, and in 1931 the construction was abandoned. The building was partially destroyed during the Civil War, and it wasn’t until 1984 when the construction started again, under the supervision of the historian and architect Joan Bassegoda. The sanctuary was inaugurated in 1999, in an updated version but consistent with the original conception of Jujol.

The structure features 120 catenary (parabolic) arches with no walls involved. The building’s polygonal base is made up of several triangles of different sizes, which creates an uneven perimeter comprised of 24 sections. The central spire, topped with the cross, is 27 m high.

Inside, the light is filtered by heart-shaped colored crystals, in blue, light yellow and red.

Some of the details, like the metal handrail above, were added later, and were inspired by other works of the architect.

The predominant elements of the construction – the parabolic arches, made of modular bricks of 30 by 15 by 10 cm, and the grilles of the windows – are all made of Portland cement and sand. The were all built on site, following the shape of wooden formworks.

The sanctuary has the shape of a boat with the bow facing towards the iconic mountain that houses the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, to which the Montferri church is dedicated.

Also, the 33 exterior domes which surround the spire of the sanctuary mimic the image of the Montserrat rocks.

Architect Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert (Tarragona, 1879-Barcelona, ​​1949) was not only a disciple of Gaudí, with whom he collaborated in the Casa Batlló, the Casa Milà, the Park Güell or the Sagrada Família. He is the author of Teatre Metropol in Tarragona, of the church of Vistabella, near Montferri, or the sculptural fountain in Plaza Espanya, in Barcelona. He excelled in the field of ornamentation, using metals, plasters and paintings with imagination. “The colors of the Park Güell bench are from Jujol”, discovers Montserrat Duran (Josep M. Jujol: the hidden architecture).

Other sources: arquitecturacatalana | | |

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