The basilica of the Sagrada Familia was one of the first places I visited in Spain way back in 1969. It was and still is, a ‘must see’ on any excursion to Barcelona. It’s easily the most unusual church you’ll ever see and, despite the fact that it’s STILL unfinished, it’s a fantastic sight.
Rumour has it that it’s due for completion in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death – a more realistic estimation, according to some, is 2028.
Most people know at least two facts about Antoni Gaudí, the catalán architect – 1) that the Sagrada Familia is his magnum opus and 2) that he was killed by a tram. He was, of course, responsible for many other great constructions, most of them in Barcelona – like the Casa Batlló in the beautiful thoroughfare of El Paseo de Gracia, or Parc Güell, inspired, as are all his works, by his love of natural forms.
León boasts two of his creations – the Casa Botines and the Palacio Episcopal de Astorga and in Comillas, Cantabria, stands El Capricho. a summer house of oriental design, commissioned by Máximo Díaz de Quijano and just as wacky and beautiful as all Gaudí’s other designs.
At the time of Gaudí’s death the construction of the Sagrada Familia had really only just got underway. His plans were complicated, inspired and ambitious, but it seems his disciples were more than willing to continue his work, although controversy has always surrounded their interpretation of his designs. Vociferous critics claim that what we now see deviates from his ideas and, as the original plans seem to have been lost or destroyed, it’s difficult to know if that’s right.
Personally, I prefer the original art nouveau, free, organic style, with its naturalistic forms to the stark and angular style of, say, the Passion Façade.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself staring up at this magnificent building take a few minutes to study it – the more you look the more you see: figures, animals, plants all interwoven to create a masterpiece of such incredible detail and workmanship.
Some of the colours used in the interior are more gaudy than Gaudí – but whatever you think of it you won’t forget it!
In 2010 the nave of the church, which had been open to the elements, was covered and a magnificent organ installed. This allowed it’s consecration by Pope Benedict XV1 at a ceremony on November 7th, attended by thousands. Religious ceremonies could now be conducted. Ignoring the ever present cranes and scaffolding, the most striking thing about the church are the many spires – they dominate the skyline and from inside afford an unrivalled view across the city. Gaudí wanted 18 spires – 12 to represent the Apostles, 1 for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the Evangelists and the tallest for Jesus Christ. The spires are also bell towers and Gaudí had done some very specific studies of the acoustics to get the sound of the bells just right – he thought of everything, didn’t he?
He didn’t think of the AVE, though. Around 2009, much to the consternation of those responsible for the Sagrada Familia, it was revealed that the engineers developing the expansion of the AVE network (Spain’s high speed train) planned to construct an underground tunnel at the Barcelona end of the line between Madrid and Barcelona, very close to the Sagrada Familia, or even right underneath it! Now, wouldn’t that be ironic? After spending more than a century trying to finish the building, that it should be undermined – quite literally – by a machine not unlike the one that had finished poor old Gaudí off all those years ago! ! Would the Sagrada Familia disappear in a cloud of dust – reduced to a pile of rubble by the AVE as it whistled by at 350 kilometres an hour on it’s way to France!!
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen! To see how the church will eventually look go to :