Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia (56)

The Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudí’s star piece, and the one to which he dedicated a good part of his life. But it was not started by him and was obviously not finished by him.

It all began in 1866 when Josep Bocabella, a famous Barcelona printer and devotee to Saint Joseph founded an association for the diffusion of Catholicism. He decided to build a temple dedicated to the Holy Family – the Sagrada Familia, and he bought a large plot of land in the middle of the Eixample.

He commissioned the work to the architect Francesc de Paula de Villar, who drew up a project in the neogothic style included a large crypt. The work began and the first stone was laid in on 19 March 1882, Saint Joseph’s day. 

But due to some discrepancies with another well known architect,  Joan Martorell, who represented the committee and was also involved in the works, Francesc de Paula de Villar, resigned.

That was when, in 1883, Martorell passed the work to a follower of his, the young Gaudí, just 31 years old.

Gaudí totally changed the project, not just aesthetically, but also in terms of its size. His project was much more ambitious, original and daring than the former. And he would work on it until his accidental death at the age of 74 when he was run down by a tram. 

He knew that it would be impossible to finish the temple in a single generation and that it would take several decades. In his words “we will leave a vigorous demonstration of our mark, so that future generations feel motivated to continue and we will not be tied down by the rest of the work” That is why he planned the construction in different areas, and while the crypt was being competed the apse was started. While this was being completed the nativity façade was begun. 

Many of the aspects were defined as a result of the progress of the construction. That is why the personal presence of Gaudí at the site was so important. Gaudí lived both for the church and even, from 1914, in a rehabilitated room on the site.  

His deep religious convictions marked the entire project. It is above all a symbolic work in which the architect used all of his imagination.

Gaudí was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia on 12 June 1926 in a ceremony attended by crowds of people.

The Sagrada Familia is like the bible in stone – it can almost be read thanks to the large number of Christian symbols that Gaudí placed on the façades, in which there are, or will be, Adam and Eve, the 12 apostles, the main stories in the life of Jesus Christ and the great symbols of the Old Testament.

However, the importance of this building is not exclusively religious and it is also a masterpiece of construction – a kind of legacy in which Gaudí applied all the different structural solutions that he had studied and experimented with in his other projects and where again he was inspired by nature, which he referred to as “the best builder”, and which he always tried to imitate.  

The Sagrada Familia is a basilica style temple in the form of a Latin cross where the central part has one central and four lateral naves. The total length of the temple, including the nave and the apse is 95 metres.

Outside, the building will have a pyramid-shape, topped by a 170 metre tower which will represent Christ. It will be flanked by four towers representing the four evangelists. A parallel tower will be built with a star on the top to symbolise the Virgin Mary.  

The temple will have three monumental façades, each one dedicated to a different scene in the life of Jesus Christ. The Nativity façade is the only one to be made by Gaudí and corresponds to the birth of Christ. The Passion façade, which was started in the 1970s, was recently finished. And the Glory façade is the most important of all, and has not yet been built. It will be where the main entrance to the temple is, and will represent the resurrection.

In each of the façades there are four tall towers, the interior towers measuring 107 metres and the exterior ones 98.4, which together represent the twelve apostles. These bell towers contain a spiral staircase and are where the tubular bells, which Gaudí studied for years and which will function using compressed air and percussion, will be situated. It is thought that these will be the last elements to be placed. 

The apse is oval shaped and made up of seven chapels which have a polygonal staircase on each end and are dedicated to the Seven Pains and Beatitudes of Saint Joseph.

The Cloister almost completely surrounds the temple and was conceived as an element of isolation from the exterior. In the central area of the apse the cloister will be divided in half by the Chapel of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and on each side there will be a sacristy. 

Of the whole project, the only part of the temple built by Gaudí himself is the part made up of the apse and most of the Nativity façade. Of its four bell towers, only that of Saint Barnabus has been completely finished. 

On Gaudí’s death, his architectural assistant, Domènech Sugranyes, took over the direction of the work along with other architects such as Francesc Quintana. The works were interrupted however by the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, and with disastrous consequences since the crypt and Gaudí’s workshop were burnt out, with the loss of most of the drawings and models. 

Work recommenced in 1950 and the architects Lluís Bonet i Garí and Isidre Puig i Boada were chosen by the Gaudí chair for the arduous task of putting together all the remains of the models and collecting as much material as possible, in order to continue building of the temple according to the wishes of Gaudí. 

This is where the arguments about the continuation of the work were at their height, due to the lack of original plans by Gaudí.

In 1986, sculptured figures for the main collection of the Passion façade were commissioned to Josep María Subirachs. This work has also been polemical since he created sculptures which were completely contemporary in style and a far cry from the realist style which Gaudí included in the Nativity façade. 

In 2005 the Nativity façade was declared a World Heritage monument by UNESCO.

Since the temple is permanently undergoing building work, there are certain areas which may not be visited. But you can visit: the nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. On both you can go up 70 metres in a lift and even higher on foot, from where you will get an incredible view of the temple and the whole of the city. Inside the church you can visit the central nave, the transept and some areas of the cloister. In the basement you can visit the crypt where Gaudí is buried, and the museum. 

So when will it be finished? Well nobody knows exactly. Gaudí answered that question by saying “The church is dedicated to the glory of God and the master of the work is in no hurry”.

And even though Barcelona is still divided today with those who would see the work finally completed and those who would have rather left it just as Gaudí had. What is sure is that the Sagrada Familia will be one of the biggest and most splendid churches in the world.  

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