La Sagrada Familia

September 4, 2013
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La Sagrada Família, designed by architect Antoni Gaudí, is a landmark and top attraction in Barcelona, Spain

(Last updated May 2021)

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.

La Sagrada Família in Barcelona Spain

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.

Construction work on La Sagrada Família ia Barcelona, Spain
Construction work on La Sagrada in August 2013

Construction continues on La Sagrada Família. It had been targeted to be completed in 2026, 100 years after Gaudí’s death, but that date has now been delayed because the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted construction. Whether that date would have been met had the pandemic not occurred is up for discussion. When I toured the building in 2013, our tour guide suggested the date was unlikely to be met.

The ornate carving on the Nativity Facade of La Sagrada Família
Nativity Facade

Sculpture on the Nativity Facade show Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus, the Magi, shepherds, and angels looking down.

La Sagrada Família Passion Facade
Passion Facade

The Passion Facade represents the Passion of Christ. Sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs show the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the crucifixion, and Peter’s denial of Jesus. The difference between the ornate Nativity Facade and the sleeker Passion Facade has generated controversy with some saying 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”.

Sculpture on La Sagrada Família Passion Facade showing Peter's betrayal of Jesus and a number puzzle
In the number puzzle beside the sculpture showing Peter’s betrayal, all rows and columns add up to 33, the age Jesus was at the time of crucifixion
Stone sculpture of Gaudi on La Sagrada Família Passion Facade
Gaudi appears in the sculptures as the man looking on at the lower left of the crucifixion scene
Eucharist Door of La Sagrada Família with raised lettering in a variety of languages
Eucharist Door of Glory Facade

The Eucharist Door at the Glory Facade is the main entrance. The relief lettering shows the Lord’s Prayer in Catalan and “Give us this day our daily bread” in dozens of languages.

Markings on the floor of La Sagrada Família at the Passion Facade entrance symbolize the entrance to Jerusalem
Floor inside Passion Facade entrance

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.

La Sagrada Família sanctuary amid tall stone pillars and light streaming through stained glass windows
La Sagrada Família choir loft
Choir loft

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.

Interior tree-like pillars of La Sagrada Família
Decorated ceiling at the top of tall pillars inside La Sagrada Família

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.

Hanging model of La Sagrada Família
The inverted model of the Sagrada Familia created by Gaudi. Gaudí designed many of his structures upside down by hanging various weights on interconnected strings or chains, using gravity to calculate curves and ensure structural soundness

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.

Virtual tours of La Sagrada Família on available on its website. When I looked through this recently, I was delighted to see how many more of the stained glass windows had been installed since my 2013 visit.

Sagrada Familia is an expiatory church, funded solely through donations. Proceeds from ticket sales help fund the continued construction. If you visit the church in person (in non-pandemic times), 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. That was several years ago now and the process may have improved. I also recommend taking one of the guided tours or ordering an audio tour headset. The information provided will enhance your visit.

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La Sagrada Família: the famous cathedral designed by architect Antoni Gaudí is a landmark in Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Família: the famous cathedral designed by architect Antoni Gaudí is a landmark in Barcelona, Spain

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    Gaudí: Madman or Genius? | Destinations Detours and Dreams
    April 2, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    […] Gaudí was a religious man. Religious symbolism appears in many of his works. In 1883, he began work on La Sagrada Familia. From 1914 on, he concentrated exclusively on that project. Construction of the church continues today. For more information, see my blog entry La Sagrada Familia. […]

  • Reply
    pmaghamfar
    June 28, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    We were in Barcelona in May and the main reason we visited Barcelona was to see La Sagrada. It is stunning. We spent nearly 3 1/2 hours in the basilica just trying to take it all in and making the most of our time. It’s one of those “must see” places in this vast world of ours.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 29, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I always bristle a little when I am told something is a must see because there is so much in the world to see and my choices may not be the same was someone else’s, but I do agree La Sagrada Familia is a must-see. In addition to being stunning, I found the interior to be a very peaceful space.

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