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ANTONIO BARLUZZI and the PILGRIMAGE CHURCHES

 

 

Introduction
 

The guide books praise his work and his buildings are visited by thousands each year. They are concentrated in a small area, and most people visit several. Architects visit them. But he is the most neglected of early twentieth century architects.

The buildings are the pilgrimage churches of the Holy Land at places like Gethsemane, Galilee and Mount Tabor -  and Antonio Barluzzi was their architect.

Each church is specific to its site, historic context, and the event it commemorates. Each building is formally simple, often iconic, and makes a clear statement even without the integral works of art that put the message into words and pictures.

But not entirely forgotten. So many pilgrims were asking McCabe Pilgrimages for more information on him that they did some research. The biographical section below is based on McCabe's article by Canon Peter C Nicholson, itself based on the following sources; primarily a book published by Hawthorn in 1964 Monuments to Glory by Daniel M Madden. Other information came from Father Pacifico Gori of the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem, and Gerard Bushell OFM who described some of the churches.

Barluzzi "would meditate for hours on the mystery his next church was to commemorate."

He lived the simple holy life of a Franciscan monk, and lived with them.

"He did all to the glory of God, and was never concerned about personal acclaim or recognition. He had been showered with high honours but never talked about them…. As Father Pacifico Gori has written: ‘he renounced the advantages which his profession could have brought him and wanted only to live and die poor in the company of the Franciscans of the Holy Land.’ "

                                                                                                                                                      McCabe

 

Contents
 

BIOGRAPHY

BACKGROUND TO THE PILGRIMAGE CHURCHES

BASILICA OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

CHURCH OF ALL NATIONS

CHAPEL OF FLAGELLATION, VIA DOLOROSA

CHURCH OF THE VISITATION

CHURCH OF ST LAZARUS, BETHANY

CHURCH OF THE BEATITUDES, GALILEE

DOMINUS FLEVIT, MOUNT OF OLIVES

CHURCH OF THE ANGELS, SHEPHERDS’ FIELDS

CONCLUSION

 
Biography
 

Antonio Barluzzi was born in Rome on 26 September 1884 and lived with his parents close to the Vatican. Camillo Barluzzi had married Maria Anna Busiri-Vici, whose father, Andrea, was the architect responsible for maintaining St Peters, in 1868. Antonio, their thirteenth child, was the last of their sons. From the age of five he produced remarkable sketches of churches. On Sunday afternoons Camillo would take the younger children to a different part of the city explaining the sites they saw.

When he left school in 1902 Barluzzi wanted to become a priest. However he took the advice of Father  Corrado his confessor (spiritual mentor) to complete his education first. Hence he went to Rome University’s Engineering School, and trained as an architect as his elder brother Guilio had. After graduating in 1907 and completing his national service he worked with  his brother on various commissions including the Zoological Gardens, and a 100 bed hospital in Jerusalem for the Italian Missionary Society.

 In 1913 on their way to Jerusalem they visited Cairo where Antonio was fascinated by the bright whiteness of the buildings and the slender minarets. Antonio was to run the hospital project under Guilio's supervision. Then while in Jerusalem they were asked by Father Razzoli, head of the Franciscans in the Holy Land and responsible for the holy sites to submit plans for a basilica on Mount Tabor.

However in 1914, after the outbreak of war, they were evacuated from Palestine. Antonio was still uncertain of the career he wanted to follow, and considered foreign missions and working in the most deprived areas of Italy. In 1915 on his confessor’s recommendation he entered the Catholic seminary adjacent to St John Lateran to study for the priesthood; but he never attended any lectures and left after a few weeks.

Then he joined the army, and began his military service with the Fortifications Office overseeing archaeological excavations at Castel S Angelo, and attended mass daily. In 1918 Barluzzi joined the Palestine Detachment and took part in the Allied entry into Jerusalem. He inspected the nearly complete hospital which was not badly damaged.

Then he met Father Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi, the new head of the Franciscans, who had the plans Barluzzi had previously made for Mount Tabor during his first visit to the Holy Land.  He requested Barluzzi to go ahead with these and simultaneously for a church at Gethsemane. The Custos gave Barluzzi time to consider the proposition.

Antonio returned to Rome and visited Father Corrado;  he recorded in his diary "I go to Father Corrado the confessor of my youth, I explain my circumstances and ask what I must do. ’Go and build the Sanctuaries and then we’ll talk again.’ It is like liberation. I return to Jerusalem with my plans, in order to demobilize. The great honour of the task entrusted to me is matched by adversities, difficulties, misunderstandings, bitterness and sorrows."

The two church designs were approved and went ahead, and after many difficulties were consecrated in 1924. Thus began his life long work in the Holy Land, the difficulties including the Second World War when again he returned to Italy. He remained there until 1947 working on plans for the Shrine of the Incarnation at Nazareth; this was to have been his swan song, but his plans were rejected in 1948, leaving him very disappointed.

In spite of continuing difficulties, including the division of Palestine, his initial enthusiasm lasted throughout his career, and he dedicated the whole of his life to the shrines of the Holy Land "which had captured my mind, my heart and my entire soul."

Barluzzi wrote to the Rev P Bello "I am not looking for remuneration… I am more interested in an eternal reward. Ultimately the works themselves declare that the Lord can use even such as myself to render Him glory. Understand, Most Reverend Father, that for me it is not a question of bread (which is never lacking for someone who works seriously), but rather soul, which seeks to interpret the Will of God."

Antonio Barluzzi was 70 and in poor health when he was commissioned to design the pilgrimage churches in the Shepherds’ Fields and on the Mount of Olives.

From 1958 he lived in Rome, first staying with his sister, but later moving into the Franciscan monastery which also served as the office in Rome for the Friars of the Holy Land. There he died on 14 Dec 1960.

H V Morton, author of In the Steps of the Master, published in 1962, met Barluzzi a few weeks before his death and found him "a magnificent old man, tall, gaunt and grey-haired, but suffering had transformed him into a dying saint by El Greco or Ribera. His memory had gone and he was blind. Conversation was impossible."

Of Barluzzi’s churches Morton wrote,

"They are remarkable for their originality and the variety of their design, which owe less to any architectural style or tradition than to the piety of their creator. All Barluzzi’s shrines attempt to create an emotional response to the Gospel story. For example, one should compare the majestic gloom of his basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane with the joyful little Christmas carol of a church in the Shepherds’ Fields at Bethlehem. The same contrast may be seen in his Church of the Visitation at Ain Karem and his basilica on Mount Tabor. Barluzzi will be recognised as a genius in years to come."

And Father Pacifico Gori has written of Barluzzi’s churches;

"In order to obtain the grandest, most solemn, and most moving artistic effects, care has been taken to achieve maximum simplicity of line; those profound and universal qualities have been sought that would produce maximum results with a minimum of fuss. Almost an attempt to translate into architecture the majesty and simplicity of the bible: these works have been carried out more with the heart than with science, seeking out the soul of things and cutting out the inessential."

Barluzzi wanted to achieve harmony between the old and the new, between tradition and originality in such a way that each building would emerge with characteristics appropriate to the place and to the mystery recalled there. He wanted most of all that his architecture should be a factor in awakening religious devotion that is a perennial reminder of a visit to the Holy Places.

As far as possible he lived with religious communities as a religious himself; he took part gladly in the community life; he never drew attention to himself. He never spoke of his many distinguished decorations, and he was never seen wearing them.

Antonio was above all a man of faith, of prayer, of profound interior life. He meditated at length on the Gospel so as to discover its divine secrets and to draw from it inspiration for his artistic designs.

 
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