The New Sanctuary
The new Sanctuary of Meritxell has a very special meaning for the Andorran people. It is nowadays the see of the religiosity of the country
As it could not be any other way, this contemporary building is one of the most important exponents of the Andorran architecture during the end of the 20th century. Since the inauguration in 1976, the artistic and patrimonial culture of the territory has been enriched in a remarkable way.
To understand the sanctuary, we need to keep in mind that Meritxell is more than a sanctuary. It is a place of peace and contemplation. For that reason, is a place opened to scenery and the natural environment that surrounds it. It is a stage for meditation and withdrawal.
The Historical Complex of Meritxell, formed by the old Sanctuary and the new Sanctuary, has been declared ‘wealth of cultural interest’ by the Government of Andorra. The presence of both buildings perpetuates the continuity and constant renewal of the religious fact of the Church as an institution.
The of architecture firms of Moragues, Bohigas-Martorell-Mackay and Ricardo Bofill participated in the first conversations to outline the design of the new Sanctuary of Meritxell. When the first two gave up for diverse reasons, finally the one in charge of the direction of the construction project was Ricardo Bofill.
Ricard Bofill's sketch presented a colossal Sanctuary of Meritxell with a viaduct connecting the mountains of the valley, an artificial lake with a bridge and a street with shops and restaurants, a great perron with terraces, small shelters and huge sculptures as well as amphitheaters for popular gatherings and cultural events.
Without a doubt, it was a quite ambitious project that had the risk of not being understood by the local population, as they were very influenced by the Romanesque style of the old sanctuary. In fact, in the beginning it was quite hard, as the new temple did not have the approval of the people.
Only a small part of this dream of Ricard Bofill has become a reality. This building was begun on 8 September 1974 when the first stone was laid although building was not yet completed when the Sanctuary of Meritxell was inaugurated on 8 September 1976.
The New Sanctuary of Meritxell rest on three bases: faith, identity and culture, which are called upon to support an architectural complex which attempts to meld into nature so as to create a cultural landscape as well as to visually strike the spectator.
Only a small part of this dream or initial wish of Ricardo Bofill became a reality. The construction began on September 8th 1974 when the first stone was placed. Even though the works were not finished totally, on September 8th the same year the Sanctuary of Meritxell was inaugurated.
The monumental eclecticism used by Ricardo Bofill in this construction has enriched the architectural culture of the country. The result is a monument so representative that it has established a precedent in regards to contemporary architecture.
Architect Bofill designed a building of varied and very noticeable geometric volumes, forming a monumental expression that gathers several artistic styles (eclecticism) in an clear avant-garde line. These styles are very different from one another. The central building is shaped as a distorted Greek cross, with barrel vault and a square floor plant apse. Surrounding the cross shaped area are distributed the different spaces of the sanctuary maintaining the proportions that reminds the divine section of the Greco-Roman temples and that was used later on by the churches of the Renaissance.
The Romanesque inspiration we observed it in the set of arches and towers that work together as if they were unfinished, remind us of the Romanesque structure of the old sanctuary. The South cloister, covered by a groin vault, is conceived to remind the medieval monastery cloisters. There are also characteristics of other Romanesque monuments of neighboring regions, melting nicely with the black & white that brings up the Italian Renaissance.
The landscape that surrounds the building is always present in the atmosphere and penetrates inside the temple through the large open areas. We find here a certain connection with the Islamic art. This art is also present in the central water fountain of the cloister. In the North side we find a patio with certain similarities to the ones built under the lines of the Islamic architecture.
The architectonic complex is completed with a large squared floor plant bell tower. This tower was inspired by the bell towers of the Romanesque Catalan monasteries.
But without a doubt, despite of the different styles and influences that we can observe in this temple, the main point of reference in the design was the burned ruins of the chapel of Santa Maria de Meritxell. Therefore, it is a tribute that the architect does by placing enormous white round arches that are both, part of the main structure of the building and decoration.
This new sanctuary has a very obvious particularity: the austerity and the absence of ornamentation. The materials used are another example of the integration of the building in the natural environment. These materials symbolize the different natural elements that surround the sanctuary:
- The slate stone, extracted of the same mountain
- The whiteness of the ceiling and floor, that symbolize the snow, connects with the winter scenery of Meritxell when is covered with snow
- The copper coverings in roofs and tower. They are placed with the idea that they will become green due to the humidity and the pass of time. This tries to reflect the meadows that surround to the sanctuary (the climate of valleys has not allowed the vision of this green copper fusion)
- The large stained glass window that separates the church from the cloister is a source of light, throwing a cascade of sun to the interior of the temple