Co-authored with Cardinal José Tolentino, the architect launches a book on the spirituality and theological transcendence of the arts.
“The question about God is not knowing how to explain” and is also the title of the book written by four hands, those of Álvaro Siza Vieira and those of D. José Tolentino de Mendonça, about the 45 drawings by the architect, on display in Clérigos, in Porto, and on the subject of the interpellations with the cardinal about the spirituality raised by art and architecture.
Detained for health reasons, Bishop Tolentino – Portuguese poet and theologian, archivist of the Vatican Apostolic Archive and librarian of the Vatican Apostolic Library, at the Roman Curia – was unable to attend the launch of the book he co-authored with the dean of the architects (Matosinhos, June 25, 1933) nor at the opening, which took place this Tuesday, of the exhibition of Siza’s drawings on the Passion of Christ.
In the “pietàs” exhibited at the Torre dos Clérigos, the “free time designer”, as he defines himself, finds in each trait the paths of meditation suggested in the book edited by “Letras e Coisas”, directed by Nuno Higino, who was , in 1996, parish priest of Marco, at the same time that one of the most outstanding projects of Siza’s work was inaugurated, that of the church of Santa Maria.
Álvaro Siza summarizes all these encounters and reunions: “Since I was a boy, I’ve had a mania for drawing. It gives me pleasure. It helps a lot in Architecture. But the greatest inspiration is always the dialogue with the people who develop any project. That’s why inspiration is nothing that falls from the sky. It is the result of a research work, in which there are many participants, today more than ever, due to the complexity of the problems that involve architecture”.
From the first moment he began to think of architecture as an expression of spirituality, he does not even have a precise memory. And from the inspiration for the 47 drawings about “The Passion of Christ”, Álvaro Siza says that he collected it in the social isolation forced by the pandemic, “in order not to go into depression, in a sad time”.
To one of the questions formulated in the book by D. Tolentino – “How did you arrive at the representation of Christ?” -, Álvaro Siza always found an answer in a more remote time. “Since I was little, I attended catechesis and there I had contact with the figure of Jesus, although pedagogy was perhaps not the best […] The figure of Christ is present with all the variety of situations that everyone’s life has. There are suffering christs, serenity christs, movement or rest christs. And the Christs of Death […]”, observes the architect, unveiling the designs that will be open to the public until September 30th.
It has been three decades since this spiritual approach took shape in the drawing boards of Siza, since, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Diocese of Porto commissioned the design of the church of Santa Maria, in Marco de Canaveses, to the architect already at that time distinguished as the highest awards, including the “Nobel” in the art of projection, the Pritzker Prize, 1992.
The Church of Santa Maria was inaugurated in 1996 and also materialized the “aggiornamento”, the updating of the Church’s action, determined by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, which decreed the new course of openness and clarity. Precisely, it was up to the “sculptor of light”, as his peers and specialists call him, to overcome this shadow/light duality and also to overcome a certain blessed idea of confinement, which is the very antithesis of projection.
In this new wave of transcendent and spiritual significance, a certain geometry of stripping immediately emerges, which the church of Santa Maria also came to symbolize. With simple and sober features, this Marian church has become an ex-libris of religious architecture and the intended spatial purity in a liturgy space. “It is an unavoidable work, in Portugal and in the world”, says Nuno Higino.
The same aspiration for spirituality and detachment mark the work of Álvaro Siza in two other “liturgical” projects: the one inaugurated, in 2018, of the church of Saint-Jacques de la Land (Rennes, France), which another white concrete temple, bathed in natural lighting; and another one still in the pipeline, equally full of all the spiritual symbology, and which will take shape in Afurada, in Vila Nova de Gaia.
“I have a few more chapels, but I’m still at risk of being considered a museum expert”, summarizes Álvaro Siza.