Other interesting articles about...

Gaudí: His Last Breath

Part 2

By Ana María Férrin

For the second time, the fate of Antonio Gaudí was crossed with king Martín el Humano's one. In his youth, over the ruins of Bellesguard, the medieval castle of this monarch in the quarter of San Gervasio, the architect had built a slender palace there. And then, when everything seemed to lead him towards the end of his life, he lay in another construction which ordered to be built the last monarch of Catalonia, who donated 10.000 sueldos for the manpower and the sand collected facing the Atarazanas. And also a site in the Montjuïc quarry, with the stone he had formerly destined to build a palace for himself. It was a legacy of the overlord of Catalonia and Aragon, so that Barcelona would possess a hospital institution according to the greatness of the pioneering city of the Mediterranean:

...in the seventeenth day of the month of April of the year of the Nativity of Our Lord, 1401 [as witnesses the Royal Decree kept in the archives of the centre], it was built ant started the Saint Cross hospital, and the building of which the most high and most excellent Prince and powerful Lord the Lord Martin, by God's grace King of Aragon, now luckily reigning, laid the foundation stone...

Until the definitive moving of its services to the Hospital de San Pablo in 1930, the old centre went on changing the most original financing ways. Among other measures, it was created the collectors corps, the baciners de la Creu, sent to travel the villages collecting the donations which were given in a plate, being it replaced afterwards by an alms-box. They were also helped through the organisation of lotteries and with the taxes over the companies of actors, which were given spaces to act. It ended finally with the getting of the property and the administering of the Principal Theatre in the Barcelonese Ramblas. Its benefits went to provide the functioning of the hospital, which was always helped by the testamentary legacies, of which the Saint Cross Hospital had been traditionally one of the most preferred destinies.

The morning of the 8th of June came, brooms and water hoses swept the flowers and leaves discarded by the florists in the Rambla. The immense octopus of the Boquería market spread its vitality along the 56 adjacent lanes and approached the back square of la Garduña. The uproar of muleteers and traders was replied by the seagulls, which threw their smell to the scent of the near-by hospital kitchens. The Summer sonata spread its notes across the Raval quarter.

Behind the half-open window, as meticulously attended as the most important of the patients, a semi-unconscious Gaudí was being examined by the specialists in traumatology of the centre, doctors Trenchs and José Homs Mogas. The rigorous recognition went on confirming the first impression. Once his breast was being palpated the patient complained, the tact confirmed the fracture of several ribs. The face, legs and feet had injures, and he was diagnosed cerebral commotion with a possible fracture of the skull base. The overall of the lesions neared a prognostic of utmost seriousness.

The evening newspapers of the Tuesday 8 reflected the event and spread the piece of news. A lot of public came to the centre and crowded in the entrance and corridors. The carts entered and left the Carmen and Hospital streets carrying and picking up the authorities. Bishop Miralles, the mayor Baron of Viver, the presidents of the Deputation and the Provincial Corporation changed impressions with Francesc Cambó in his double role of politician and friend of the patient. Gaudí's relatives, coming from Reus, chatted with the Gaudí's cousins from the Gracia quarter.

All the social scale of architecture defiled along the old building. Every of those members had his own reasons to assist to this meeting. The students and admirers which had accompanied the master's loneliness in the long time of abandonment found themselves in the very space with the consecrated figures and the secondary ones which always aspire for a good contact. The market traders, the craftsmen, the townsfolk, joined to the court of visitors, forming a mosaic of people interested about Gaudí, a fact that did not remain unnoticed for the politicians. The popular appeal of the Sagrada Familia hermit became evident and shortly afterwards there appeared the mayor in the hospital, followed by a very special envoy, the Town Hall head of ceremony, very interested to know whether the Antonio Gaudí's death was imminent.

A few hours before, after the visit of mossèn (father) Parés at dawn, doctor Prim hurried to communicate the piece of news to the direction. Many pieces had been moved under the venerable medieval stones between the departure of the architect's friends, which had found him and their trip back to the precinct around nine o'clock in the morning. Being its consequence, when the internal physician Josep María Goñi arrived before eight o'clock Gaudí had already been diagnosed of cerebral commotion and several fractures, and doctor Trenchs was curing the grave injuries of his top right part.

Doctor Josep Trueta i Raspall, who was only 29 years old, had already been charged by doctor Manuel Corachán García -the director of surgery of the hospital- from the department of the Immaculate or the Distinguished. It bore such a name because, by paying a small sum, the patients occupied a bed which head was leaning against the both edges of the hall, a more spacious place, as it lacked the further two rows of adjoined beds, which was the traditional arrangement of the general halls.

Beside the Immaculate hall there existed a small room with an unique bed which served as a sort of an elementary Unity of Intensive Watching. There were located the patients needing a great attention and care, either because of their relevance, gravity, or after some especially complicated interventions. That very day this room was occupied by a certain Mr. Pubill, a gipsy man from Mataró who spent in that individual room the post-operative of an advanced thermal colostomy intervention carried out by Manuel Corachán, following an own technique which improved hygiene and, also, the final aesthetics of the operation. It consisted in applying a soft tweezers, not directly over the colon, but over a cutaneous revetment made on the purpose, with the practical result of de being able to regulate the expelling of the intestinal content. What happened afterwards is remembered in Josep Trueta's Fragments of a life:

...when I arrived the hospital around eight o'clock in the morning it was already known that the patient was Antonio Gaudí and visits started to repeat... (we only had an individual little room) the only way to place (privately) the architect was to move to the general hall the "good old gipsy man", who was already in quite good conditions and who occupied the room by doctor Corachán's command. We Installed Gaudí in the little hall... (Two remarkable physicians, Corachán and Trueta, which in the middle of the Spanish Civil War were forced to exile to save their lives. Manuel Corachán had just been appointed in 1936 the first minister of Health, which the Generalitat ever had. This mere political reason caused him to live some years in Venezuela and other Hispanic countries, where he exerted several charges, and a mastery, which has left the still existing Spanish term "corachanear", converted into the synonym of suture. The chief reason of Josep Trueta's exile sprang in the Congress of Brussels. He made there to discover the international community, by means of his photographs, the witness of the severe wounds caused by grapeshot, which were suffered by the inhabitants of Barcelona just at the time when Franco denied the reality of the bombings over the city. During his long exile in Oxford, his contributions to Medicine, with his revolutionary treatment of the open fractures which were about him to be granted with the Nobel Prize).

It wasn't the first time that Gaudí's life was intermingled with the gipsy people, a curious matter if we keep in mind that among the professions of the architect's paternal branch there are plenty of coppersmiths and ambulant traders, two traditional gipsy activities. At the beginnings of the XXth century, when it was decided to compose the sculpture group The flight to Egypt for the Nativity Façade, Gaudí bought the donkey to an old woman, who travelled daily the Sant Martí dels Provençals quarter. It carried the saddlebags loaded with terra d'escudella, which she sold, it was a kind of sand, which was traditionally used to rub the earthen cooking pans so as to clean them. When Gaudí had decided to take a cast of the animal, he called a sheepshearer, who also lived in the quarter. He was a gipsy man whose name remains ignored, although he surely belonged to any of the ten families of this ethnic group, which already appears in the census of 1866 in Sant Martí, all them registered with the profession of sheepshearers. The names Batiste, Berengué, Cortés, Flores, Giménez, Malla, Penitoya and Pubill, all them being relatives, they had credited their adscription to the quarter, availed, when the authorities requested so, by tradesmen and neighbours. Yet in 1988 60 gipsy families still remained in that place, of which 16 were of de Hungarian origin, the kalderash, devoted to the profession of coppersmiths.


Part 3 >>   

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