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Gaudí: His Last Breath

Part 4

By Ana María Férrin

Doctor Prim wasn’t wrong in supposing that the public would arrive massively to become interested about the architect. Even when he had predicted that the journalists would come asking for information he was right. For until the two previous days, anybody would have imagined that any other piece of news which could displace the boxing combat, which was celebrated the 18th May in the Monumental bullring of Barcelona. Paulino Uzcúdum was proclaimed the European heavy weight champion had monopolised all the information during several weeks. Even more, Since the 9th June, the natural movement of that quarter it was to be added an unusual agglomeration of military men, unquiet by the Royal Decree of general Primo de Rivera annulling the extraordinary promotions of the Artillery arm. This was a theme only concerning the Army, but very badly managed, which ended mixing things and arising violent reactions, quartering and detentions. The informative relief to those themes was being conceived in a headline, this time with the seal of sensibility and feeling to impact in such a way all the classes of the city, which erased for a long time anything not referring to Gaudí.

The Ramblas were crowded with soldiers. Among them, the poet and journalist Melchor Font who, being summoned by the army and wearing the uniform, would discover for the journal “La Publicitat” the irreversible state of Gaudí. He had become familiar with that the morning consult had assembled in the patient’s room the doctors covering all the scope of lesions and that, unfortunately, all the diagnoses coincided in a general pessimism. There came, among others, the specialists in respiratory ways and cardiology, the doctors Freixas and Esquerdo. A neurologist from the dispensary, doctor Barraquer; the doctors in surgery Corachán and Ribas i Ribas and doctor Gallard, of internal medicine. Not only them passed to visit the ill, though; the entire medical staff of the hospital including the internal students challenged with their cares to the patient.

Relative humidity: 60 percent. There was a cloudless sky. The temperature: 22° C. Thursday, 10 June 1926. An irrigation tank traced a silver ribbon over the Hospital street stone paving. Among the accumulation of remarkable buildings, stone hospitals and golden convents, the rising Sun entered through the window and the Gaudí ‘s tenuous groans escaped:

— Déu meu! Déu meu! (My God, My God!)

At that time, his nephew Francesc Bonet and the priest Gil Pares accompanied him. Being alarmed by the growing agitation of the patient they warned the doctor on duty, the very doctor Prim who had examined him the ingress night. He examined him confirming the impression he was entering the agony. It is adventurous to assert whether Gaudí was conscious or not of the ache he suffered in his last hours, but in being added to them a renal failure to his bony fractures, asphyxia and nausea came to join to the whole tableau being derived from the accident. The physicians helped him breathing by applying him oxygen. He rejected it and said «Leave me!» when his suffocation crisis ended. Everybody presented that his end was imminent.

The bishop, doctor Miralles, arrived at mid morning. His purpose was to share his prayers with the patient, but an agony hiccup had attacked Gaudí, prevented him to speak any word, so that the prelate limited himself to give him his blessing and he abandoned then the room. All people being present there started the prayers for the good death. Despite that he seemed to be alien to any stimulation, after the exhausting spasms ended, there should still exist in Gaudí any remain of lucidity, for at the end of the first prayer he surprised them in whispering:

— Amen!

The prayers ended and the patient returned to his peaceful periods, which he alternated with some suffocation ones. At early afternoon his heart started failing and the physicians checked his constants with pessimism. The accompanying people assembled in the antechamber coincided in the very theme, they agreed the more the city owed to the architect. Some of them proposed diverse initiatives. Erecting a monument to perpetuate his memory? The manufacturer Pere Mañach, related with Gaudí and Jujol and the first agent of Pablo Picasso, gave the young architects being present there the idea of collecting all the available documentation, materials for studio, etc., to create the nucleus of a Gaudinist school. In that hard time for his friends, other professionals weren’t distracted and did their task. The journalist Melchor Font gathered anecdotes and commissioned César Martinell an article for the last edition of the journal “La Publicitat”. Martinell approached to the bed to farewell the master for the last time. Despite being him was aware that his death was imminent and what he was pretending to do —to write a necrological note —. It was to honour his memory, in checking that Gaudí was still alive, with his fixed blue eyes and his breast followed the intermittent rhythm of his breathing, he felt himself speechless by that doubt. Wouldn’t he advance to the events with that mortuory gloss?

At about five o’clock p.m. and for a short while, the Gaudí’s face turned from an extreme paleness to a vital blush, which gladdened his cheeks. He seemed to be reacting at the proximity of death smiling and gazing at the ones surrounding him, as if recognising them. These were such instants, which preceded the definitive farewell in which Antonio Gaudí left this world whispering:

— Déu meu! Déu meu! (My God, My God!)

It was 17.05 from Thursday 10 June 1926. The accompanying people crowded the small room and the adjoining hall. They were, among others, doctor Alfons Trías, one of the three inhabitants of the Park Güell, together with Eusebio Güell and the very Gaudí, and the architects Lluís Bonet Garí, Josep Francesc Ráfols Fontanals, Isidre Puig Boada, Pelayo Martínez Paricio, Ángel Truñó, César Martinell Brunet, Bonaventura Conill and Domènech Sugranyes. Gaudí had died being surrounded by all those who had been really his friends. Once that death was communicated to the authorities several mechanisms were started around his remains.

Joan Matamala got the commission from the Sagrada Familia Building Committee to get his death mask. The sculptor was a 29 year old grown up man, he had grown at the Antonio Gaudí’s side and his hard agony was producing him a bitter sensation he had to overcome. At the same time that the doctor was redacting the certification of death, brother Ríu was dressing the body of the dead with the black habit of Our Lady of the Sorrows. He placed in his hands two rosaries, one of them being the one he had prayed in his whole life. In the meanwhile, the small group of architects we have previously referred to, were being distributed the different tasks to help in the moulding. Some of them unfolded a white linen cloth, wrapping the top part of the mortise so as to prevent it from getting soiled, some others were lighting with lamps. Gaudí was a devout of Our Lady of the Sorrows, this very name was also given to the Saint Thomas’ hall, where he had been brought at first after the accident.

César Martinell held a cup containing an oily solution, with which Matamala painted the Gaudí’s head so as to prevent the plaster to adhere there. The order was merely to get the death mask, but the sculptor, once he had placed a support in the back of the deceased to prevent his neck from bending. He thought then he was facing the chance of achieving a perfect bust and he extended the casting to the whole head, by means of two half moulds of the right and left sides. Martinell was holding the Gaudí’s shoulders when Joan Matamala proceeded to remove the mould from the left part of his head. In doing so, the Gaudí’s right eyelid was adhered to the plaster pellet of the mask, it was then raised and the master’s blue pupil was uncovered, as if he intended to send his collaborators that last accomplice wink from the other dimension. The moulding task lasted until one o’clock a.m. of the Friday 11th, which was the feast of Saint Barnabas, the dedication of the only belfry in the Temple, which Gaudí could have seen finished.

To be continued...

Top Gaudí: his last breath.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4