Antoni Gaudi was one of Spain’s greatest architects and at turn of the twentieth century, Barcelona was the Catalan’s canvas. On that canvas, the Sagrada Familia is the centrepiece, and the crowning jewel.
The Sagrada Familia is a massive Catholic church, inspired by the grandeur of the Vatican. Construction began in 1882, and today it is still not finished. Many things seemed to get in the way of completing the project. Funding has all been from private donations, which were sometimes scarce. Then there was the Spanish Civil War.
Gaudi was famously not worried about the slow pace of construction, commenting once that “My client is not in a hurry”. The target date (as of now) is 2026, which will be the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s passing. Gaudi didn’t actually become involved in the project until 1883, and he worked on it until his death in 1926, by which time the building was still less than a quarter complete.
A Church unlike any other
The Sagrada Familia is in the east end of Barcelona, and there is simply no mistaking it for any other building in the world. First of all, it is immense. When it is finally finished, it will be able to hold nearly 13,000 pilgrims at any given time.
Its features and design are in the typical of Gaudi’s modernist design, all based on shapes found in nature, and trust me, and it is unlike any other basilica that you have ever seen.
Visiting the church is almost a surreal experience. The Sagrada Familia is identifiable from anywhere in Barcelona. It looks almost post-apocalyptic, or like it may be melting, or like a massive gingerbread house. Or all of the above. When you look closely, the entire building is covered with religious symbolism and meaning.
Gaudi’s designs call for a total of 18 towers, which represent the 12 apostles, the four evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the tallest tower represents Jesus Christ. At 170 metres, the central Spire of Jesus Christ will make the building the tallest church in the world. Eventually.
Take an elevator and a long walk to the top of the towers, and you are rewarded with a breath-taking view of Barcelona.
The famous façades
When you walk around the Sagrada Familia, you can see the distinct differences between parts built at different times. The Nativity Façade was the first to be completed. It was finished by Gaudi himself and is decorated with animals and plants.
On the other side of the Nativity Façade is the Passion Façade. Construction began in 1954, but it was only in 1987 that sculptures of the crucified Christ were added. Once installed, the abstract statues drew criticism, as the style was very different from Gaudi’s.
The Glory Façade is the last to be built. Work began in 2002 and it will be the main Façade with access to the central nave. It is supposed to represent the path to Heaven starting with death, then judgement and then finally Glory. Gaudi knew that he would not live to see this Façade completed, so he made a general sketch for its design, understanding that it would be completed by other architects.
You can also visit Gaudi himself here at the Sagrada Familia. He is laid to reset in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, under the gravestone which says (in Latin); from the ashes of such a man, the resurrection of the dead are waiting.
The Sagrada Familia is such an immense, ornate and stunning church to visit, and I just can’t imagine the vision that went into its design, knowing that it might take a century to finish. Do you have the kind of imagination to plan out a project that lasts your entire lifetime and beyond? I sure don’t.