Antoni Gaudí had two passions in his life – architecture and religion. At the age of 31, in 1883 he took over as chief architect of the construction of Templo Expiotoria de la Sagrada Familia (Bascilia and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) when the original architect Francisco de Paula del Villar resigned. He immediately put the mark of his creative genius on the project. Work has been ongoing since 1882 and the building is not expected to be completed until about 2030. The construction is completely funded by donations and ticket sales. The annual budget when we were there in 2012 was $20 million (16 million Euros at the time). 25% is covered by private donations and 75% comes from the 3,000,000 tourists that visit each year.
Gaudí’s original design called for 18 spires, one for each of the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and the tallest of all for Jesus Christ. There are still 10 of the spires yet to be constructed. All the carvings on the exterior facades of the building have a theme: The Nativity, The Passion, and The Glory. At the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 only 20-25% of the church had been built. He used to say, “My client is not in a hurry.” The eight completed spires represent four of the Apostles on the Nativity side and four more Apostles on the Passion side. The Nativity side was finished between 1894 and 1930.
In his latter years Gaudí became completely obsessed with the building. He designed and re-designed elements of it over and over and made copious sketches and notes because he was very aware that he would never live long enough to see the church finished. The building inside and outside is full of imagery and symbolism.
He spent all of his personal fortune on the church and ended up living in the basement when he had nothing left for housing. He was hit by a tram at age 74 and taken to a hospital for the homeless because no one recognized him. Three days later he died and would have been buried in potter’s field except someone who knew him discovered his whereabouts.
Construction began on the Passion carvings in 1954 and today (2018) it is near completion. Contrasting with the softer, smoother lines of the sculptures on the Nativity side, those on the Passion – which portray Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion – are very sharp and angular, with much less detail.
With the advent of computer imaging and laser technology the construction project has sped up considerably. Remarkably, the half-way point wasn’t reached until 2010! During construction in the 20th century all the carving had to be done by hand; on site. Today many of the sculptures are made off-site with computer guided equipment. Work began on the Glory facade in 2002. It will be the principal facade offering access to the central nave. It is scheduled to be finished about 2026. Four additional years will be needed to add all the remaining design elements. The interior is absolutely stunning. I loved the white branched pillars and the way the light reflected through the ‘branches’. Here too, there is much symbolism and many interpretive design elements – by far, the majority of which, I do not know. The church may be the size of a cathedral (the seat of a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church) but it was never intended to be one. In 2010, on November 7, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated it and proclaimed it a minor basilica in front of a congregation of 6,500 people. An additional 50,000 people followed the consecration Mass from outside the basilica, where more than 100 bishops and 300 priests were on hand to offer Holy Communion. Beginning last year (2017) an International Mass is celebrated at 9 am every Sunday; open to the public, until the church is full.
Sagrada Familia is a place you could visit many, many times and see something new and wondrous every time. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Then, once again, it was back on the bus and back to the ship.