Gaudí’s Ever-Evolving Masterpiece
Barcelona’s Sagrada Família is equally renowned for its long-standing construction challenges as for the visionary design by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Even 140 years after its inception, the Roman Catholic Basilica remains a work in progress. The goal is to finish the basilica by 2026, marking 100 years since Gaudí’s passing.
The Sagrada Família, July 2022
The idea for the Sagrada Família took root in 1881 when philanthropist and bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella envisioned it as a temple to atone for sins against God and the Church. During the decline of the Spanish empire in the 19th century, Spain saw ideological and political turbulence. Amidst the rise of left-wing and anarchist ideologies in the late 1870s, Bocabella decided to counteract this by establishing a new basilica.
In 1882, Bocabella acquired land just outside Barcelona’s Eixample district and set up a foundation to oversee the construction. He initially hired the architect Francisco de Paula Villar y Lozano, envisioning a Gothic revival structure. However, Lozano only managed to construct the building’s foundations and crypt. Differences regarding the construction method and financing prompted the foundation to assign the project to Gaudí. Diverging from Lozano’s neo-Gothic blueprint, Gaudí introduced a fusion of Catalan Modernism, Spanish Late Gothic, and Art Nouveau.
Project of the Sagrada Família by Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, 1882
Gaudí’s design is intricate: it features double aisles, seven apsidal chapels, numerous steeples, and three grand façades. Gaudí envisioned 18 spires for the church, symbolizing the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and the tallest spire for Jesus Christ. He ensured that even the highest spire wouldn’t exceed Montjuïc hill’s height, emphasizing that no man-made structure should eclipse God’s creation.
The church is set to feature three grand facades: the East-facing Nativity façade, the West-facing Passion façade, and the yet-to-be-completed South-facing Glory façade. Gaudí’s most direct influence is evident in the Nativity façade, completed before construction halted in 1935.
Passion façade (left) and Nativity façade (right) of the Sagrada Família
Inside, the Sagrada Família is breathtaking. Gaudí meticulously planned the acoustics to optimize the sound from the tubular bells in the spires. The church’s layout is a Latin cross with five aisles. Its columns, resembling trees, branch out at the top, providing both support and aesthetic appeal. The play of light and shapes makes the interior feel like a colossal, living structure.
The columns of the Sagrada Família
The crossing and dome of the Sagrada Família
Originally, Gaudí balanced his work on the Sagrada Família with other architectural projects. However, starting in 1914, he focused exclusively on this monumental church. At one point, he even took up residence at the construction site and established a school for the children of the workers.
In a twist of irony, Gaudí was struck by a tram in 1926, not far from the construction site he so dearly loved. Mistaken for a beggar, his body went unrecognized. During the last 12 years of his life, he had committed himself entirely to prayer, fasting, and the development of the Sagrada Família. His primary vision was for it to stand as “a cathedral for the poor.”
During the Spanish Civil War in 1936-9, the church faced adversity as revolutionaries vandalized the crypt and workshop, destroying Gaudí’s invaluable plans and models. It took 16 years to reconstruct fragments of Gaudí’s master model. Since then, the construction has been subject to debate, with efforts made to align with Gaudí’s original vision, but modern construction techniques have inevitably left their imprint.
The Sagrada Família, 1930
When Gaudí passed away, only a quarter of the Sagrada Família was complete. His protégé, Domènec Sugranyes, took over the project. Laid to rest beneath the cathedral, Gaudí was aware he wouldn’t witness the fulfillment of his dream, estimating it might take up to 200 years to finish. Yet, he remarked, “My client is not in a hurry.” He was, of course, referring to God.
The Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain, originally envisioned in 1881 as a temple to atone for sins, remains a work in progress 140 years after its inception. Antoni Gaudí took over the project in 1882, introducing a fusion of architectural styles. The basilica features intricate designs like 18 envisioned spires and three grand façades. Gaudí, who died in 1926, focused solely on the project from 1914, even living on-site. The Spanish Civil War saw the destruction of many original plans, but efforts continue to align the construction with Gaudí’s vision. Completion is aimed for 2026, marking 100 years since Gaudí’s passing.
Words of wisdom
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” —Mahatma Gandhi
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” —Albert Camus
“It’s not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong.” —Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden