A basilica like no other and an architectural icon that can stun any first timer in Barcelona, the Basilica and Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia is one not to be missed while you are in Barcelona. Gaudi’s most celebrated work is now approaching its 133rd year in construction with the anticipated completion set after 11 or 10 years from now.
Antoni Gaudi once said that his client, God, is in no hurry. He knew someone else would finish his ambitious work so he left a series of drawings and instructions for guidance. His original design shows a total of eighteen spires, representing the Twelve Apostles, Virgin Mary, and four Evangelists. The tallest of all spires will be dedicated to Jesus Christ. Eight spires have been built as of 2010: four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade.
Sagrada Família is set to be the tallest church building in the world upon its completion.
I first learned about Sagrada Familia in a newspaper when I was young. It was an accidental discovery while I was cleaning my room. What interested me about it was the length of its construction. I actually thought the structure was very odd looking and likened it to a large termite nest. Years later, I went to Barcelona and decided to visit it. At first, I was actually planning to skip it because I thought it was an over-hyped “tourist trap”. When I arrived there, I could not be more wrong. I was not only mesmerized by it, I was blown away.
Imagine a tourist with that awestruck look and a gaping mouth. Yes, that was me when I saw Sagrada Familia.
If you view it from afar, it is certainly a peculiar building but once you see it up close, you will surely be impressed of how intricate the details are.
Gaudi combined many complex geometrical forms to represent each element of the church. He used helicoids and created the double twisted column while used hyperboloids for the windows and vaults. Paraboloids were used for the surfaces of the vaults, roofs and columns of the Passion façade. The knots of the main columns are created with ellipsoids.
The construction of La Sagrada Família has been a challenge because of eccentric form and complex design. Back then, the standards of its constructions are considered complex and far-fetched from the standard methods of construction. The exterior and interior of the facades were made out of stone and pinnacles were made out of reinforced concrete coated with Venetian glass. . Another trademark of Gaudi, the trencadís is also present in several areas.
The Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed with the construction starting in 1894 and ending sometime around 1930. The Nativity façade depicts the birth of Jesus and is also called as the façade of Life, of Joy, or of Christmas. It is it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of Jesus’ childhood.
The façade faces the sun to the east, as a symbol for the birth of the messiah. There are three porticos which can be found in this façade: the portal of faith dedicated to Mary and the theological virtue of faith; the portal of charity which represents the virtue of charity and love to Jesus and finally, the portal of hope which is devoted to hope and to Joseph. These porticos are separated by two large columns, wherein a turtle or a tortoise lies in each base. These are said to symbolize time. On the other hand, the two chameleons found at either side of the façade represent change.
There are four towers in the façade with each dedicated to a saint namely Matthias the Apostle, Jude the Apostle, Simon the Zealot and Saint Barnabas. Gaudi chose this façade to be first one constructed and considered it as the embodiment of the whole church’s decoration.
The Passion Façade is simpler compared to the Nativity Façade. The design of the façade represents the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion as staged in austere sculpture formations. Gaudi wanted to invoke a dark effect that shows the brutality of the crucifixion and the portrayal of the sins of man. This was accomplished through using techniques that provoke “chiaroscuro”, or dark angular shadows complemented by harsh lights. The construction began in 1954 and was finished in 1976. The team responsible for the constructions used the drawings left by Gaudi as a reference in building. In 1987, a team of sculptors headed by Josep Maria Subirachs began sculpting details of the façade.
The façade is supported by six columns resembling sequoia trunks. A pyramidal pediment crowns the façade and is made up of bone-shaped columns which join together in a large cross and a crown of thorns. The four towers in this façade is dedicated to apostles Saint James, Saint Thomas, Saint Philip and Saint Bartholomew. The façade faces west and receives the last rays of the sun before dusk which heightens the symbolic effect of darkness. Similar to other facades, it also has three porticos which symbolizes the theological virtues
Glory Façade will be the main entrance to the church once it is finished. The façade represents life and death; depicting the man’s road to God. A large staircase decked in sculptures depicting demons and other decors representing Hell will be built to reach the entrance. There will be three entrances present with the main door dedicated to charity and two side doors to hope and faith as well as seven columns that represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The base of the columns will represent the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues on the upper part. The bell towers will be dedicated to apostles Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint James the Great.
The façade faces south, gathering the most light and harmonizes with its significance which is to represent joy and happiness of spirit.
The apse is dedicated to Virgin Mary, where it will feature seven apsidal chapels with pointed arches. Scupltures representing the founders of religious orders will deck the exterior. The pediments of the apse will have the initials of Our Lady, St. Joseph and Jesus in its pinnacles. There will be pyramidal towers which of which upper part will be decorated with scenes reminiscent to the last week of Advent.
CLOISTER Gaudi envisioned that the cloister will be made for praying the rosary in procession. The cloister has a wall that acts as barrier to the outside noise. Each intersection leads to an ornamented door while there are three obelisks in each corner of the cloister.
THE FIVE NAVES Sagrada Familia has a basilica ground plan with the layout of the church resembling the shape of a Latin cross. The central nave and side naves are supported by a series of columns which resemble trees, their branches and cluster of leaves. As sunlight floods through the church, one can compare the interior to that of a forest.
There will be five parabolic shields, placed on either side, will have “Amen” and “Al”, “le”, “lu”, “ia”, broken up into syllables, written on them.
STAINED GLASS Sagrada Familia features an impressive array of stained glass on windows and entrances. The multicolored stained glass are were made by glass maker Joan Vila-Grau where Vila-Grau uses color to symbolize each theme. The stained glass in the main window of the Passion façade symbolizes resurrection. The upper windows of the side naves will depict Jesus words “I am the way, the truth and the life”. In contrast, the stained glass found in the central nave will be translucent to symbolize purity.
The interior is even more impressive. Once you set your foot inside, you will literally spend the time walking around and musing how wonderful the sunlight engulfs the whole building. I’m not religious but I wonder… Gaudi, may he be up in the heaven or somewhere over in another dimension of this universe, is he satisfied with how his work turned out? In my opinion, La Sagrada Familia is a work of art and has a distinct charm that sets it apart from other cathedrals. Gaudi is remarkable for envisioning this masterpiece and even more admirable is the team who made it all possible: the architects, engineers, artisans and workers who devoted part of their lives to build La Sagrada Familia. I cannot wait to finally see the basilica in 10 years time. I reckon it will not only be the people but also the Catalan architect himself who anticipates the end of the construction. At long last, Antoni Gaudi’s legacy has been completed.