The Wonder of Sagrada Familia

Art Wise

It has been called everything from a “termites nest” to “spirit symbolized in stone” and “the most hideous building in the world” to “a marvel of technical perfection”. 133 years in the making and still incomplete, Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia is one of the most fervently debated places of worship in the world by architects and tourists alike, both for its beauty and garishness.

(View of the Sagrada Familia from the Western Side (called Passion Facade) in 2009)

Once complete, this Basilica, often described as a “shrine to art” rather than a work of art, will be the world’s tallest church soaring 560-ft above the Catalan capital. With an annual construction budget of €25 million funded entirely by private donations and sales of tickets (the site receives over 3 million visitors a year), the construction is set to be completed by 2026.


La Sagrada is a vision of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi who spent 43 years of his life designing and building the church, up until he died in a tragic accident. The original idea was conceived by Josep Maria Bocabella, a printer of religious books, who wanted a great church dedicated to the Holy Family that could be completed in 10 years!

(Antoni Gaudi, Architect, 1852-1926)

Construction for the church started in 1882 and Gaudi became involved in 1883 when the original architect resigned. He radically transformed the original Gothic design by applying Art Nouveau forms. What resulted is a unique style that combines Gothic characteristics like height, arches, ornate spires, and rose windows with Modernista elements.

(The interiors of La Sagrada Familia)

Gaudi famously said that his client – God – “was in no hurry” when asked about the prolonged time of construction. He knew that the church would not be completed in his lifetime and built the church in modules so that his work could be continued by others.

A geometrical wonder inspired by nature

For many a tourist, La Sagrada may seem like a maze of cranes, workers and busy facades. But on closer inspection, it reveals itself as rich in detail and rife with Gaudi’s religious fervor inspired by nature. Sculpted birds, animals, biblical scenes, saints and inscriptions populate the church.

(Biblical references are found in abundance throughout the monument)

The building has no right angles or straight lines and instead applies curvilinear forms abstracted from nature. Gaudi also adapted a sense of verticality into the structure as a symbol of elevation towards God. Using simple ratios and complex forms, he aimed to createbalanced and self-supporting structures.

Sunlight and colour have been channeled to lend grandeur and expression to the various symbolic features. As the sun rises and sets, different aspects of the façade are accentuated and suppressed in a play of light and colour.

(Play of natural light in the awe-inspiring structure)

The final structure is supposed to have eighteen spires representing the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and Jesus Christ, and three ornate facades dedicated to the Nativity, Passion and Glory.

The Digital Influence

Today, the complex, sophisticated calculations are executed by computers and the pace of construction is expedited by using machine cut stones. With original designs lost during the Spanish revolution, Gaudi’s designs have been interpreted by the various architects helming the project over the years. With 70% of the structure currently complete, there is constant argument that the Basilica is no longer Gaudi’s work and that by following the exact design it deviates from the ephemeral character of Gaudi’s design.

(Ongoing construction at La Sagrada Familia)

As the construction reaches its’ final stages, the contentions are many – architectural, religious, and one of aesthetics. But whether one marvels at La Sagrada with revulsion or admiration, marvel one definitely does!

An incredible video released by The Sagrada Familia Foundation shows what the final project will look like when it’s finished. Click here to watch it.

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