If you ever visit one of the biggest Gaudí’s (1852-1926) architectural achievement in the beautiful city of Barcelona, the world-wide known and still under construction Sagrada Família, and you are passionate about maths, you might want to take a closer look at the sculpture of Judas’ betrayal; right by its side you can find embedded on the Sagrada Família’s Facade of Passion a 4×4 matrix, known as the magic square.
Magic squares are square matrices with feature integer numbers, which add up to the same amount in columns, rows and diagonals. That amount is known as the magic constant and the one concealed in Sagrada Família is the number 33. Check it out:
Notice that there are more combinations which add up to 33. For example, sum the red numbers and the green ones in each square:
This magic square is also included as a decoration in one of the main doors of the Passion Façade. Can you find it?
And what does it stand for? While some people argue it might have something to do with the highest degree in the Masonic lodges – and consequently relates the architect to Freemasonry – the truth is that its author is Josep Maria Subirachs (1927-2014) (Catalan sculptor famous for this design) who chose the number 33 since it’s the age at which Jesus died on the Cross. Whether or not there might be other curious legends surrounding it, it’s remarkable how maths has found room in such a masterpiece. For those who never got along with numbers, here they have a whole new and much more artistic rather than scientific perspective that might light up their face whenever they come across a magic square. Thus everyone can fully enjoy the world of maths!
This post has been written by Carles Raich in the subject Història de les Matemàtiques (History of Mathematics, 2014-15).
Location: Sagrada Família in Barcelona (map)