The Long and Difficult History of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Spain
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, more commonly known as the Sagrada Familia, is an unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica located in Barcelona, Spain. The basilica was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, though its construction had begun a year before Gaudi took over the Sagrada Familia project from a fellow architect.
Consequently, the basilica’s design was radically changed. In the decades that followed, the construction of the Sagrada Familia progressed slowly, and till this day, is yet to be completed. Nevertheless, it is expected that the Sagrada Familia will be completed in 2026, in time to mark the 100 th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
The Beginnings of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The Sagrada Familia is located Eixample district of Barcelona and was originally intended to be a typical Neo-Gothic church . As a matter of fact, the man who conceived the idea of the Sagrada Familia, a bookseller by the name of Josep Maria Bocabella, found his inspiration in the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy when he made a trip to Rome in 1872.
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Ten years later, the first stone of the Sagrada Familia building was laid. At that time, the architect in charge of the project was Francisco de Paula del Villar. In the following year, however, he resigned, due to disagreements with Joan Martorell, Bocabella’s architectural adviser.
The Sagrada Familia will look like this model (based on sketches and materials left behind by Antoni Gaudi) when it is finally completed around 2026. (Maxim Karpinskiy / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Following del Villar’s resignation, Antoni Gaudi was appointed as the new chief architect of the Sagrada Familia, and the design of the building was radically altered. Two years after Gaudi’s appointment, the Chapel of Saint Joseph was inaugurated in the crypt, and the first mass was held there.
When Gaudi took over from del Villar, he was still working on other projects. From 1914 onwards, however, the architect worked exclusively on the Sagrada Familia.
Interestingly, as Gaudi was building the Sagrada Familia, his own faith was being shaped by the project. Gaudi is said to have not been a practicing Catholic before working on the Sagrada Familia, but as the project went on, he became increasingly devout.
Gaudi’s Sudden Accidental Death in 1926 Changed Everything
In 1926, Gaudi was struck down by a tram, and died. It is estimated that at the time of Gaudi’s death, only 15 to 25% of the Sagrada Familia was completed. This consisted of the crypt, the apse walls, a portal, and a tower.
Ten years after Gaudi’s death, the Nativity façade was completed.
Gaudi himself seems to have been aware that he would not live to see the completion of the Sagrada Familia. The architect is alleged to have said, in response to questions as to why the project was taking so long, that “My client is not in a hurry.”
Due to this “premonition,” Gaudi prepared extensive drawings and models of the Sagrada Familia, so that his successor(s) could continue his work.
The nativity facade of the Sagrada Familia church designed by Antoni Gaudi. (Brianza2008 / CC0)
Nevertheless, some of the material was saved from his workshop, which, in addition to published plans and photographs, enabled the project to continue. In the decades that followed, however, the Sagrada Familia faced another problem.
Since the construction of the building relied entirely on private donations, there were long periods of time when work was slowed down, or stopped altogether, as a consequence of insufficient funds .
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Things began to change at the beginning of the 21st century. As a result of the modern tourism industry, Barcelona became a tourist hotspot , attracting millions of visitors each year. The Sagrada Familia too became a tourist destination, visited by roughly four million people annually. As tickets are required to enter the building, this means that the Sagrada Familia has been receiving a steady flow of funds over the last two decades.
The status of the Sagrada Familia was also boosted during the new century. In 2005, the building was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site , as part of the “Works of Antoni Gaudi.”
Five years later, the nave was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI , who also proclaimed the Sagrada Familia a minor basilica.
Continued work on the basilica can be seen in this photo with new work on the left and old work on the right. (Syniq / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Sagrada Familia Will Be Completed by 2026 or so . . .
In an article published by Time in 2019, it was reported that the Sagrada Familia was expected to be completed in 2026 to coincide with the 100 th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The construction of the Sagrada Familia has progressed steadily, and the goal of completing the basilica by 2026 seems achievable.
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The COVID-19 pandemic, however, seems to have thrown a spanner in the works. In March 2020, construction was halted by the Junta Constructora de la Sagrada Familia.
Work was resumed in October 2020, and it is hoped that by the end of 2021, the Tower of the Virgin Mary would be completed, topped with a twelve-pointed star that will illuminate the city of Barcelona.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sagrada Familia is currently closed to the public. Nevertheless, virtual tours can be found on the website of the Sagrada Familia, which would allow people to experience the basilica without having to leave their homes.
Top image: The Sagrada Familia in 2017, a work in progress (since 1882) that is slated for final completion, nearly 144 years later, in 2026. Source: TTstudio / Adobe Stock
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Available at: https://sagradafamilia.org/en/history-of-the-temple
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Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/320/
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Available at: http://www.gaudiclub.com/ingles/i_vida/i_sagr.html