Our Lady of the Pillar, Zaragoza’s 17th-century baroque basilica, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The story behind the name of the church is that of a miraculous apparition: Saint James is said to have received a jasper column supporting a wooden statue of the Virgin by none other than the Mother of God herself, who instructed him to build a church in her honour on the bank of the Ebro River, exactly where she appeared to him. Since then, Catholic pilgrims from all over the world have travelled to Zaragoza to touch or kiss the base of this holy column, now visibly worn from centuries of veneration.
Another Zaragoza landmark, the new CaixaForum cultural centre by Estudio Carme Pinós, also features a very important column at its centre, but resting on this one is a major part of a building rather than a modest religious icon only 38 centimeters tall. The shape of this much larger column varies subtly as it skewers the floors of the building, highlighted by functions such as a large outdoor terrace, a spacious exhibition gallery (at which point the column’s slender elliptical profile forms a sculptural entrance statement) and a top storey that accommodates a restaurant and café with views over the city. Aided by a pair of exterior L-shaped walls in black concrete and a structural stairwell core, the column also supports a one-storey-deep spinelike truss from which two intersecting volumes project above the entrance hall – a space with ‘dancing columns’ that clearly underpin the theme.
For the sake of safety, here’s hoping that CaixaForum’s column does not become an object of veneration.
[Originally published in Mark Magazine #52]