This month one of the most famous churches in the world received a building permit a mere 137 years after construction began. Even though it is still under construction, La Sagrada Familia, designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí has been dropping jaws for a century. Dubbed as one of the greatest modernist architectural feats this Roman Catholic basilica now has a permit….to be built!
La Sagrada from Carrer de Provence showing construction of Virgin Mary’s tower.
I was actually lucky enough to visit La Sagrada earlier this year and let me tell you it does not disappoint. It is some of the most bizarre, beautiful architecture I have experienced to date. While I will be the first to admit I am not an expert on the subject, I do know a few astonishing things about this structure.
Detail of the Tree of Life on the Nativity Façade
Sagarada Familia did not begin in Gaudí’s hands. In 1866 is when this whole process started. After much campaigning and fundraising behind them, the first cornerstone was laid in 1882, beginning the crypt that was then designed by architect Franciso de Paula del Villar y Lozano. Due to some “differences” Francisco stepped away allowing the then 31 year old, Antoni Gaudí, to create his magnum opus.
1882 Corner Stone with Façade of Glory construction beyond.
Gaudí set out to build a unique temple that after combining all Christian symbols would become a universal masterpiece. And that he did! Understanding construction of this magnitude would last for centuries, he only completed detailed drawings for the three most important parts: the central nave, the sacristy and the façade of Glory.
School house built by Gaudi for the worker’s children.
The Nativity Façade symbolizes the birth of Jesus. And is the only façade to almost be completed before Gaudí’s tragic death at the age of 73. (He was run over by a tram) The façade has three entities that represent the virtues of hope, faith and charity. Along with the Door of Jesus and the Tree of Life this façade is complete with four bell towers out of the 18 towers planned. These four were completed in 1930.
Sometime between 1930 and 1939 the crypt was set on fire and Gaudí’s workshop was destroyed including the original drawings and models. That still did not stop construction and in 1954 the foundation began for The Passion Façade. As the name suggests, this façade is dedicated to the Passion of Christ. It is simplistic, bare stone, unadorned and absolutely stunning. These four towers are for St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas and St. Phillip.
The last façade is the Façade of Glory. Because of it’s access into the central nave, this will be the most important and largest of the three facades. Construction for this façade began as recently as 2002. It is dedicated to the glory of Jesus and represents his ascension. This façade too will have four bell towers, dedicated to St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. Paul and Saint James the older. Left to be built are towers for John and Matthew, along with a tower for Mary as well as Jesus. Once all the towers are complete this will become the tallest church in the world!
The interior of this place is ridiculous! To put in perspective, the central nave is the size of a football field. This allows it to hold 14,000 people at one time! Just consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, the design gives a feeling of being under a canopy of trees rather than the typical pillars and arches you experience in large roman churches. Surrounding this stone forest is multicolored stained glass windows, spiral staircases and one magnificent alter.
Inside looking towards the Façade of Glory, currently under construction.
Slated to be completed in 2026, La Sagradia Familia’s 7 year building permit cost a scanty 4.6 million euros ($5.2 million). The now designated World Heritage Site if completed as planned, will mark 100 years since Gaudi’s death. This 150 years of construction will surpass that of the Egyptian pyramids and come in just 50 years shorter than the time it took to build the Great Wall of China.
Detail of the doors of The Passion Façade