DuPage County, Illinois, may not discriminate against Muslims, said a federal court last week. Muslims who sought to build a mosque, complete with a dome and minarets, were denied a building permit because the area where they wanted to locate was already saturated with churches. Obviously, if the Christian community is well-served in a specific area, there is no need to have other religions present. Christians can take care of everyone’s spiritual needs adequately. The county board pointed out that the Muslims had been using space in a local church to meet, so clearly they did not need their own, separate space. The board also said the domes and minarets were too tall, so the mosque itself had to be redesigned to be smaller and set back further from the street.
Islam and its attendant issues aside, I think domes and minarets look awesome.
Churches other than St. Basil’s in Moscow have minarets. For instance, those towering spires on Sagrada Família in Barcelona look an awful lot like minarets to me.
I have personal experience with Sagrada Família and its minaret-like spires, and first-hand experience with why it is the exception that proves the Good Minaret Rule.
In 1983, my friend Mishy and I talked our parents into letting us spend the summer backpacking through Europe. Armed with Eurail passes and Fodor’s, we crossed the pond almost as soon as we had finished our spring finals. The ink was not yet dry on Mish’s diploma.
We made our way from England to Ireland, where we had our hair permed thinking it wouldn’t show as much if we couldn’t wash it very often. Then we crossed to the Continent, visited Paris and the Louvre, then decided to head south to Spain. I really wanted to see southern Spain, because at the time James Michener’s novel The Drifters was one of my favorite books. (My hippie chickness has deep roots.) The protagonists of that book were my age, and traveled all over Europe and Africa in an amazing adventure that set my imagination on fire. I wanted to see every place they had been. In their footsteps, I was making my pilgrimage to the beach at Torremolinos. Of course, we stopped along the way at major places on interest. First, as we crossed the Pyrenees mountains, we learned that the train tracks were a different gauge in Spain than elsewhere in Europe. We would have to change trains at the border, high in the mountains. At the Catalan border town of Portbou, we disembarked and climbed the nearby cliffs to take in a multi-country view, socializing with other backpacking college students from all over the world.
That photo above is one of the last surviving ones taken in Spain with the really awesome 35mm camera my grandfather had given me a few years before. Oh, I tried to take another. That’s where Sagrada Família comes in.
Anyone who has ever been to Europe has experienced the de rigueur cathedral tours. Europe is chock full of cathedrals, because the church has always had a metric shit-ton of money to spend on making awesome places to worship the god who said “there’s really no need to worship me in a building.” After buying some awesome leather in the street market at Portbou, including a pair of fringed moccasin boots made of the softest leather I have ever felt, we boarded the train for Barcelona.
We spent only one day in Barcelona. I’m sure there was plenty more to see, but we felt compelled to leave after only a few hours. We experienced an Omen, and felt it best to get out of town.
Upon arriving in Barcelina, we made our way to Sagrada Família, which Fodor’s compelled us to visit, claiming that no trip to Barcelona was complete without it. At the time of our visit, construction of Sagrada Família had been ongoing for a hundred and one years, and even with modern technological advances, it was woefully incomplete. Its primary architect, Antoni Gaudí, had been tragically killed in a traffic accident in 1926 – a mere 43 years into the project. The cathedral was less than 25% complete at the time, by most estimates.
This is what Gaudí wanted the cathedral to look like:
Yes, those are some serious spires. Minarets. Whatever. But despite Gaudí’s golden image of a well-balanced, elaborately detailed work of art, which looked fussy and over-blown to begin with, we have instead a lavishly detailed, clusterfuck of an unfinished building:
The cranes in this image were digitally removed. Despite being under construction for more than 130 years now, this cathedral is still not complete, and no one apparently has any vision as to how it should look when it is done. They just keep building and building and building, and adding more and more overwhelming detail.
There’s more. Lots more. I haven’t even mentioned the Moorish or serpentine gargoyles, or the magic square next to a homoerotic depiction of Judas’s kiss on the Passion facade, or the weirdly bumpy exterior that clashes with the smooth, Gothic arches. I haven’t talked about the kaleidoscope effect of looking up inside the building because of those crazy cubist-deco stained glass windows, nor have I said a thing about the interior supports that look like neural connections. I haven’t mentioned the flying buttresses, necessary in early medieval times but completely superfluous in 20th century construction. The main thing I thought when I saw the cathedral was, “What the hell is going on here?” Come to find out, no one really knew. Nor, apparently, do they yet know.
In the grassy area near the cathedral, I struck up a conversation with an elderly man sitting on a park bench. He was Italian. I didn’t speak Italian, and he didn’t speak English, but I did speak a little Spanish. We understood each other just fine. As we chatted in our fractured way, I stood to take a photo of the awe-inspiring mess of a monstrous structure that is Sagrada Família.
I put my eye to the viewfinder. As I was about to snap the picture, my camera fell apart in my hands.
The lens came out, exposing the film within. The case would not open, so I couldn’t extract the film to save what photos I had taken. The flash fell off.
I am not lying. Sagrada Família, with its excessive detail and its bizarre spires that look like minarets, is so ugly it broke my camera.
So, there you have it. Minarets are gorgeous.
Except in Barcelona.