The magic square is one of the greatest mysteries behind Gaudi’s Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.
Its grid is made up of a series of numbers, the sum of which is always 33 whether they are totalled horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Generally in this type of grid, the result tends to be 34, not 33. The square, like other sculptures in the atrium, are not Gaudi’s own work but that of Josep María Subirachs, the sculptor who made the church his home for seventeen years (1987-2004) in order to carry out his own ambitious artistic project. Subirachs’ magic square, which is in the porch next to the Kiss of Judas, together with a series of statues representing various scenes from the life of Christ, has inspired many interpretations.
The first theory links it to Christ, who died at the age of 33.
The second explanation relates the grid to the masonic lodges because 33 corresponds to the number of grades (degrees of initiation) that a freemason can acquire.
The number is derived from giving the Greek capital letter gamma a value of 3, and lambda the value of 30. The characteristic symbols of the lodges are the set square, represented by gamma, and the compass, represented by lambda: total 33.
Subirachs, with his magic square, may have wanted to hint at Gaudi’s supposed masonic affiliation, although this has never actually been confirmed. Further, Gaudi’s life was so geared towards work and religion, that few believe he even had the time to become a member of any kind of masonic lodge.
A third explanation of the square holds that it is a tribute to Albrecht Dürer and his engraving Melancolia, which dates from 1514. However, while the engraving has a magic square, the numbers add up to 34.