A Barcelona landmark
La Sagrada Familia, which translates to Holy Family, is one of the top tourist attractions in Barcelona, Spain. Building of this church began in 1882 and continues today. The church is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Architect Antoni Gaudí was commissioned to the building project in 1883, after the original architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, resigned due to disagreements with the promoters. Gaudí worked on the building until his death in 1926, at which time it was only 20% completed.
When a large, anonymous donation was made to the building project shortly after Gaudí took over, he replaced the original neo-Gothic design with a larger, more innovative one rife with symbolism. The floor plan is modelled after a Latin cross. When the church is finished it will have 18 towers, 12 dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Jesus and another to Mary.
Work continued on the building after Gaudí’s death, following Gaudí’s design. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt, burned the temporary schools Gaudí built for children of workers, and destroyed Gaudí’s workshop. Original plans, drawings, and photographs were lost. Work has continued using copies and remains of models.
In the number puzzle on the Passion Facade, all rows and columns add up to 33, the age Jesus was at the time of crucifixion.
The difference between the ornate Nativity Facade and the sleeker Passion Facade has generated controversy, some saying that builders are straying from Gaudí’s vision. But Gaudí had envisioned the two facades as different, describing the Passion Facade as “hard, bare, and as of made of bone”.
As I crossed over the drawing of the walls of Jerusalem on the floor at the Passion Facade entrance, the tour guide explained that Gaudí meant the inside of the church to represent heaven. In the “garden of new creation”, tall columns branch out to resemble a forest of trees. Light streams in through the tops of the towers and the stained glass windows. The place felt peaceful and bright. The cloister, which runs all around the church, like a protective wall shielding from outside noise, added to the sense of peacefulness in the interior. As did the soft background music, first chants, later organ music.
Gaudí used mathematical concepts in his work, such as catenary arches and Hyperboloids. The interior columns are more than representations of trees in a forest. They bear the main load of the building. Because the exterior walls support only their own weight, they can accommodate large windows to let in light. The use of hyperboloids on the ceiling allows for more natural light.
Current construction continues to adhere to Gaudí’s ideas. Gaudí used geometric forms, and geometry has made it possible to interpret the original project, although new techniques, such as 3D modelling and other computer technologies, have replaced Gaudí’s empirical study of inverted weights. Other changes have occurred over time, some because of modern building regulations, others because of availability of materials.
In November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the church. A choir of 800 filled the choir loft. Our tour guide commented that the choir had a challenge. Because of the size and distances, there was a second delay with the music.
The Eucharist Door at the Glory Facade will be the main entrance when La Sagrada Familia is complete. The relief shows the Lord’s Prayer in Catalan and “Give us this day our daily bread” in dozens of languages.
Sagrada Familia is an expiatory church, funded solely through donations. Proceeds from ticket sales help fund the continued construction. If you visit the church, I recommend purchasing tickets online in advance. On-site ticket line-ups can be very long. I found the process of ordering tickets through the Sagrada Familia site more cumbersome than some I have used, but it was still worth buying in advance. If you have trouble printing the tickets, an issue both I and a friend encountered, tickets can be collected at one of the many La Caixa ticket collection stations throughout the city. I also recommend taking one of the guided tours or ordering an audio tour headset. The information provided will enhance your visit.
La Sagrada Familia is targeted to complete construction in 2026, 100 years after Gaudí’s death, although our tour guide admitted that date was unlikely to be met.
Have you visited Sagrada Familia? What did you consider highlights? If you haven’t visited but would like to, what most intrigues you?