Construction began on La Sagrada Família in 1882.
Designed by Barcelona’s famed architect Antoni Gaudí, this Roman-Catholic church, under construction since 1882, is arguably the most famed tourist site in Spain. For years, people have been drawn to its intricate design elements, religious symbolism and the controversial nature of the construction process. A must-see while in Barcelona, the architectural components of this spiritual marvel are widely celebrated. Although the project remains unfinished—it’s not expected to be completed until 2026—worship began in fall 2010. In addition, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church, while proclaiming it a Basilica, in November. Let us examine the specific features of this complex cathedral that makes it unique.
The design of La Sagrada Família features several spires, tapering structures commonly found on the top of church towers. There are 18 total spires in the design, representing importance in ascending order of height. The shortest 12 spires represent the Twelve Apostles. The next four represent the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The second-tallest spire signifies the Virgin Mary, while the loftiest symbolizes Jesus Christ. Sculptures of the respective traditional symbols will be adorned on the top of each spire. The spire representing Jesus Christ, mounted with a large cross, will stand at 170 meters, making La Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world upon completion.
The church will feature three large, intricate façades. The Nativity Façade, built between 1894 and 1930, was the first of the three to be completed. Facing east, this façade contains the most direct Gaudí influence. This is due to it being the only one completed in his lifetime. A side entrance to the church, this façade depicts the birth and childhood of Jesus. This façade is separated into three doorways, each dedicated to the three theological virtues: hope, charity and faith. Gaudí’s intention for this façade was to represent the decoration and structure of the church as a whole.
The Passion Façade represents the Passion of Jesus expressed through highly dramatic—and dark—sculptures. This façade faces west in order to receive the last sunlight before night falls, thus symbolically showing the effect of darkness on the details of the façade. Construction began in 1954 and the towers were completed in 1976. Begun in 1987, the images and scenes depict Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, as well as His Death, Burial and Resurrection.
The third façade is the Glory Façade, which faces south. The construction on this façade, which will be the primary façade providing access to the church, began in 2000. Like the other two, the Glory Façade will have three entrances dedicated to charity, hope and faith. It will also contain a porch with seven columns, symbolizing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Seven Deadly Sins will be depicted at the base of these columns, with The Seven Virtues portrayed at the top. This façade will symbolically face the south in order for the sun to shine on it most of the day, representing joyous spirit.
The main factors used in deciding which stones to use for this project were resistance, durability and color. In all, 22 kinds of stone were used in the construction. However, when Gaudí began work on the building in 1882, six different kinds of stone were used. The rock that best characterizes the Gaudinain period, and used primarily for the exterior of the building, is from Montjuïc, a hill in Barcelona. This rock was the first used on the construction of the church and remains the most emblematic of the look Gaudí intended. This stone was used extensively on La Sagrada Família’s exterior, from the crib on the Nativity Façade to the columns of the Passion Façade.
Knowing that he would be unable to finish this massive endeavor in his lifetime, Gaudí envisioned the construction of the church to take place in parts. This way, each generation would be able to focus on accomplishing one of these portions. As his life was coming to an end, Gaudí explained the project to his associates and other young architects, leaving behind plans and models as to how the church should be finished. A 1936 fire destroyed many of these plans, but enough was salvaged to recreate Gaudí’s vision. As it stands today, construction is estimated to finish by 2026, a century after Gaudí’s death. Modern advances in architectural planning, such as 3D modeling and computerized design programs, have been used in recent years. While the delay in its completion has become a storyline for the monumental La Sagrada Família, it seems that the end is near and Gaudí’s vision is nearly fulfilled.