The Sagrada Familia Magic Square Designed by Josep Subirachs
Dedicated to the Passion, the façade facing the setting sun of the Sagrada Familia consists of numerous scenes. The Passion façade, which is opposite of the Nativity façade (on the Northeast side), shares the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Each scene, along with its surrounds, display details and symbols which provide the viewer with an overabundance of information to notice.
One of these symbolic details involves an altered magic square. In the scene, portraying the kiss of Judas, a 4×4 grid of numbers is positioned on the wall behind the two embraced figures. Although not a true magic square because the grid contains the duplicate numbers of 10 and 14, it does consist of a magic constant. The number 33, representing the years of Christ’s life, can be found by adding any row, column, or diagonal from the square.
Magic squares have long been known to hold a mystical and magical significance. Since the earliest recognized 3×3 Lo Shu Magic Square (dating back to ancient China), magic squares have captured the interest of many. The balance, represented by odd and even numbers arranged in numerical tables, illustrates the timeless value and unity of opposites. Certain properties of the squares are then used to create amulets or talismans, and are believed to divulge deeper meanings.
One of the first magic squares depicted in art was the 4×4 square of Albrecht Durer in his Melencolia I. Many note similarities of Subirachs’ square to Durer’s square. Filled with numbers 1 through 16, the Durer Square demonstrates the magic constant, 34, thirteen different ways. Even though, row, column, and diagonal are the only necessary sums for considering it a magic square, Durer’s square continues to amuse with corners, quadrants, central, top centers with bottom centers, and so on.
Subirachs’ square consists of many of these same features. However, Subirachs chose to create a square with the magic sum of 33. To fashion such a square, four of Durer’s cell numbers are reduced by one and rotated 180 degrees. The numbers 12 and 16 become 11 and 15, while 11 and 15 become 10 and 14. Numbers 12 and 16 are therefore missing from the square, while 10 and 14 have become duplicated.
One of the reasons given for this alteration is to symbolize the age of Jesus at the time of the Passion; 33. Interestingly, the first scene of the Passion facade, which also involves Judas, includes a verse from John- 13:27; ‘what you are about to do, do quickly’. This verse refers to Judas. Could the duplicating numbers of the magic square suggest the verse John 10:14? Could a secret message to be hidden here? Jesus says in John 10:14; “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”
Jesus knew Judas would betray him. He knew who his followers were and were not. Considering the balance characterized by Magic Squares, one may also want to keep in mind the Nativity façade on the opposite side. The scene in the opposite position of the kiss of Judas scene (displaying the square) depicts shepherds and sheep. Does this support the existence of a deeper meaning for the magic square?The magic square is also included on the central door of the Passion facade. If the message is intended, one may wonder if a connection to the scenes and the verse to the door is to be found. Could it imply something similar to the story told about Alexander the Great coming to the gates of Paradise?
Luke 13: 24-25 shares the story of the Narrow door; “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”
As John 10:14 speaks of, I know my sheep, the similarity is worth pondering.
The Sagrada Familia is an absolute amazing structure. Construction began in 1883 and is planned on not being completed until 2025. With the amount of time dedicated to the immense building, one can only imagine, more than just a few secrets, are being represented in its design.