Tibidabo Church, the best view of Barcelona

We stood at the top of the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar and looked over the city, “what’s that” someone pointed in distance.

“Oh that is Tibidabo Church,” said the church guide, “the best view of the city comes from there.”

The name Tibidabo did not sound very Spanish or Catalan, and that’s because it isn’t. It comes from two verses in the Latin bible:

“…et dixit illi haec tibi omnia dabo si cadens adoraveris me” – “And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9)

“…et ait ei tibi dabo potestatem hanc universam et gloriam illorum quia mihi tradita sunt et cui volo do illa” – “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:6).

Tibidabo therefore means, “I will give to you”, a line that was said to Jesus as the devil stood with him on a high mountain, overlooking Jerusalem attempting to tempt Jesus away from his fate of crucifixion.

Tibidabo mountain overlooks Barcelona, the tallest mountain across the mountain range at a height of 512 metres, this being an extremely high mountain and a very Catholic country, it therefore made sense for the name Tibidabo to be representative of an important narrative of the Christian faith.

But the first time anyone saw the potential of the mountain beyond that of a natural peak however was in 1899 when an entrepreneur Salvador Andreu decided to construct an amusement park in the area to become the first amusement park in Spain and only the fourth amusement park in all Europe (after Bakken and Tivoli in Copenhagen (Denmark), and Prater in Vienna (Austria).

The park took barely 6 years to construct and opened to an excited crowd in 1905, it still continues to do so today.

The idea of building an amusement park led to suggestions that a hotel-casino would be built to capitalise on the traffic, which was seen as a morally ambiguous but good business idea, then came a suggestions that an alternative idea to the hotel-casino was the building of a Protestant Church. The building of a protestant church on the tallest hill in Barcelona, overlooking the whole city was seen as something that could not be tolerated by a Catholic majority country. In response, a group of individuals called the “Board of Catholic Knights” acquired the land and transferred ownership of the land to a well known priest the Italian John Bosco, known today as Saint John Bosco, founder of the Salesian of Don Bosco.

John Bosco was particularly popular in Europe at the time for setting up this religious institute dedicated to helping the poor, disenfranchised children of the Age of Industrialisation. The receipt of the land marked the time that a small church was decided to be constructed on the hill. All churches need a name, and Catholic Churches tend to be named after either Saints, Therological Concepts or Popular Devotions.

The location of the hill, its name representing Jesus temptation by the devil and his overcoming of it with his Passion for mankind must have been an inspiration to the priest as he took inspiration and named the hermitage that was to be built, after the then-popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (focused on the long-suffering love and compassion of the heart of Christ towards humanity). A church named after Jesus’ love to mankind built on top a hill named after the devil’s temptation would represent a religious triumph of the Church over Satan. It was certainly a poetic choice when you think about it.

The small hermitage was completed a few years before Don Bosco’s death, and a decision was taken to built a proper church on the site. While a project funded by an entrepreneur took 6 years, the construction and completion of this, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor took 60 years.

My eyes were unable to take in the whole structure at a single glance, here I stood a relatively tall human being dwarfed by a towering structure made of a disjointed combination of architecture – the lower church was Romanesque in design, while the upper church was built in a neo-Gothic style. Romanesque designs tend to look large (massive, might be a more appropriate term), low and strong. Gothic architecture emerged from this by being taller, lighter and architecturally more sound (if not a building cannot rise so high up). Neo-Gothic design used more modern technical tools to recreate grander versions of the Gothic design.

Most apparent perhaps was at the top of the church, instead of a cross or crucifix at the apex of the church, the architects decided to go ahead with a giant Jesus in the pose of the Sacred Heart.

The lower and upper church was a comparison in the different architectural tastes, the lower deck more grand and powerful,

the upper deck flight more soft and loving.

Perhaps what draws more people to the church today is not Christ, but the views of and from the church. And for good reason, nowhere in Barcelona can you get a higher view of the city.

The guide was right, this certainly was one of the best views of the city.



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