Let Them Deem Us Mad
In a piece about St. John the Divine as an accretive building on The Prepared, this amazing quote from the resolution to construct the cathedral of Seville in 1401 appears:
Build a church so great that those who come after will deem us mad to have attempted it.
I love it. What an inspiring goal, to astonish the future with our aspirations!
So I’ve been hunting down the providence of this expression. Unfortunately, the part that inspires me seems to be the result of accretion itself.
According to the archdiocese itself, during proceedings of Seville’s cabildo (city council) planning the new cathedral, a prebend (salaried priest) reportedly declared “Hagamos una Iglesia tal y tan grande que los que la vieren labrada nos tomen por locos.” (Let us make a church so grand that those who see it built will find us crazy.)
I hoped maybe the original was more about the attempt than the desired outcome, but the oldest citation I can find is in Gabriel de Aranda’s 1692 biography of Fernando de Contreras with essentially similar wording: “Hagamos una Iglesia tal, que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos.”
By 1845 this was being remembered and translated to English as “Let us build such a church, that those who come after us may take us to have been mad.”
This brilliant call, to reach so far that your boldness resonates through time, seems to be a modern elaboration. It may have come from Buckminster Fuller, which has a poetry of its own.