In the middle of the 19th Century the booksellers José María Boca Bella, Chairman of the Holy Brotherhood, planned to build a church in Barcelona and to devote it to the Holy Family (“Sagrada Familia“). The planning of the church began with the architect of the Diocese Francisco del Villar. Because of fundamental disagreements with Boca Bella he had to resign from his job. A few months later in 1883, the young architect Antoni Gaudí took over his work.
The Sagrada Familia became Gaudí’s life work. He worked on it until his death on 10th June 1926 and less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sadly, Gaudi died after getting hit by a trolley car. He was assumed to be a beggar because of his lack of identity documents and shabby clothing, and thus, the unconscious Gaudí did not receive immediate aid.
While never intended to be a cathedral (seat of a bishop), the Sagrada Família was planned from the outset to be a cathedral-sized building. Gaudí’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.
The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed). You enter the church at the Nativity façade and the audioguide ends at the Passion façade. The Nativity façade highlights the birth of Jesus while the Passion façade details Jesus’s death. Both are pretty spectacular, as you can see from some of the pictures.
As beautiful as the exterior is, the interior of the church steals the show. The church of the Sagrada Familia is a five-naved basilica. The central nave rises above the others significantly. To each nave a door is assigned to the unfinished glory facade. There are also two side portals that lead to the penance chapel and baptistery. Behind the nave, in the apse, is the altar, in the light of the many windows of the apse.
In the same way that the façades carry a rich symbology, the layout of the church is also full of symbols. Every door, every column, and almost every area has its own concrete or symbolic significance. This symbolism refers to the individual Catalan dioceses and Spanish dioceses, to every church in Latin America, on each of the five continents, to the apostles, to the great religious founders and most revered saints, the theological virtues, the sacraments, and more.
In the Sagrada Familia Museum located below the church there are a number of models showing Gaudi’s models for building this complex structure. There are a number of upside-down models where Gaudi hung weights to help determine the force on the different points of the structure. The result of his research is a tree-like column structure. The columns are inclined and branched-like trees. The weight will be routed directly over the pillars in the ground – all this without bearing facade or exterior buttresses. The result of this ingenious solution is spectacular: the pillars and arches supported by them transform the interior of the temple into a stone forest of palm trees, lots of light streaming in through large windows and the vault.
I cannot fully describe in words or pictures how beautiful the interior of this building is. Please make sure you make a trip to Barcelona to visit sometime in your life. If you wait 10 more years you may be able to see the actual completed church. Currently, the projected completion date is 2026.