LIFESTYLE

Spanish skaters and street artist turn decaying church into 'Sistine Chapel' of skateboarding

A church in northern Spain is giving a whole new meaning to the skateboard trick called a Christ Air.

From the exterior, the church of Santa Barbara right outside the city of Oviedo looks like many other 100-year-old houses of worship from around the region: brick exterior, vaulted apse in the rear, soaring steeple above an arched entryway out front. But pushing open the church's two large, wooden doors reveals something much more unique inside.

Gone are the rows of pews, the altar, and any semblance of religious iconography. Instead, the church is lined front to back with a series of skate ramps ranging from a smaller u-shaped mini-ramp to a long, transition-filled halfpipe in place of the pews that reaches up to the balcony — and all this sits under a soaring, Romanesque ceiling painted in a kaleidoscope of colorful geometric patterns, faces and designs.

"[After the 70s] the church was abandoned," Ernesto Fernandez Rey, the 36-year-old skater who along with a group of friends turned the church into one of the world's most unique skate spots, told Fox News Latino. "I passed by it and felt sad when I saw it in those circumstances, a space unused. I wanted to rescue it and give it a use, and the first thing that came to mind was a skateboard ramp."

The church, which was built in 1912 and was frequented by the region's munitions workers and their families, fell into disrepair during Spain's civil war in the late 1930s and had lain decaying until Fernandez's family purchased it from a private firm in 2007.

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Calling themselves the Church Brigade, Fernandez and his pack of local skaters pulled resources and used their wide network of friends to put together the indoor skate park that was necessary in a region that receives over 200 days of rain a year.

"A group of friends of mine we came together and each put of their own money, a monthly amount — we were financing it ourselves, that was the idea," Fernandez told FNL on the phone from Oviedo.

He added: "The glass for the windows we got through a friend who works installing windows. He got them from a job, he kept the old one he had replaced and gave it to us. One of the guys from the Church Brigade is a professional draftsman and he knows about design so he is the one who designed the ramp."

As word spread of the church – now dubbed the Kaos Temple – the brigade began to get funds from online fundraisers and the energy drink giant Red Bull. It also attracted the attention of famed Madrid street artist Okuda San Miguel, who was eventually commissioned to turn the church's sparse, white walls into an explosion of color that mirrors the energy of the skaters below.

Channeling his inner Michelangelo, Okuda painted almost every free area of wall and ceiling space in a rainbow of colorful geometric designs, psychedelic animals and even a few tasteful nudes.

"I have many things that make me feel good but specifically this one will be the most important of my career; mainly because it is the most classic stand within art history," Okuda said in an interview. "It's like my personal Sistine Chapel."

There have been some concerns among the skaters that turning a 100-year old church in Spain – a notoriously conservative Catholic country – could upset some in the clergy, but so far the Church Brigade says all the news has been positive about their project.

"We haven't spoken with any member of the Church, but the relationship with the neighbors and with the press is good," Fernandez said. "Everybody loves the project."

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