Cross the threshold into the world of Antoni Gaudí where every shape, colour and sculpture bursts with symbolism. For the last 40 years of his life, Gaudí dedicated his time to the construction of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia.
At the centre of Barcelona with peaks that reach the heavens, Sagrada Familia is the perfect combination of nature and Catholicism. The unfinished Roman Catholic church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was even consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010.
The massive basilica will have a total of 18 towers with the highest dedicated to Jesus Christ and surrounded by four towers representing the Gospels. One tower is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the other 12 to the Apostles. These towers exemplify an elevation towards God as the pinnacles fuse with the sky.
The basilica also has three facades that represent crucial events in Christ’s existence: his birth, crucifixion and resurrection, and his present and future glory. The facades are strategically placed as the Nativity Facade (the birth) faces the sunrise and the Passion Facade (the crucifixion and resurrection) faces the sunset.
Within the walls of the crafted structure are branching columns, colourful stained-glass windows and hexagonal figures on the ceiling to represent an enchanted forest. In this forest, Gaudí invites visitors to pray and worship God in a natural setting.
The origins of Sagrada Familia date back to 1866 when Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer founded the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph, which purchased 12,800 m² of land in 1881. The first stone was laid on March 19, 1882, on Saint Joseph’s day. The original architect was Francisco de Paula del Nillar y Lozan, who resigned after a short while due to disagreements with the promotors and Antoni Gaudí replaced him in 1883.
Once Gaudí took over, he abandoned the Neo-gothic plan and developed an innovative structure with immense symbolism that conveys the teachings of the Gospels and the Catholic Church with a hint of naturalism in every corner. Subtle details like a turtle supporting a pillar, lizards sunbathing on the roof and animals supporting religious sculptures depicting Bible passages show Gaudí’s belief that God is in nature.
Since the construction of Sagrada Familia is solely based off of donations, Gaudí decided to construct the Nativity Facade first because it is richly decorated and ornamented; he felt that the Passion Facade would be rejected.
In 1914 Gaudí decided to exclusively work on Sagrada Familia and did not produce any other works. He became so involved in the construction of the Church that he lived his final months near his studio workshop. Gaudí was only able to see the first bell tower completed reaching 100 metres high and dedicated to Saint Barnabus because he died on June 10, 1926. The brilliant architect was hit by a TRAM streetcar and died three days later from injuries. He was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia and his tomb can still be visited today.
Sagrada Familia has endured several periods in Barcelona’s history including the Spanish Civil War in 1936 where revolutionaries set fire to the crypt, burnt down the Provisional School of the Sagrada Familia and destroyed the studio workshop containing Gaudí’s blueprints. Regardless of the setback, construction continued according to Gaudí’s original vision.
Today, 136 years after the first stone was laid, the church is 70 percent completed. The holy masterpiece is set to be completed in 2022.
Gaudí’s masterpiece breathes life within its walls and transforms a simple stone into an elaborate work of art. Sagrada Familia demonstrates Gaudí’s ability to imitate nature and his devotion to God.