Building La Sagrada Familia

The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, or Sagrada Família, as it is commonly known, is a large Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí.

In November 2010, La Sagrada Famili was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in the presence of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain, attended by a congregation of 6,500 people, inside and about 50,000 people outside the basilica.

Reports state that when the spires are completed, Sagrada Família will be the tallest church building in the world.

Designing La Sagrada Familia

It was the inspiration and dream of a Catalan bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José to build a magnificent church in Spain after visiting the Vatican in 1872.

The construction of the crypt of La Sagrada Familia began in March 1882 under the guidance of architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. Its ground-plan had obvious resemblance to earlier Spanish cathedrals such as Leon Cathedral, Burgos Cathedral, and Seville Cathedral.

Antoni Gaudí’s design is filled with Roman Catholic symbolizations throughout the entire structure. His plan to have a total of 18 spires had a deeper meaning. In ascending order of height, the spires were to represent the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the tallest one being, Jesus Christ.

Gaudi knew that La Sagrada Familia would not be completed in his lifetime due to constraints of money and manual labor. He wanted to ensure that in the future the Church will continue to have formal, structural, luminous, acoustic and constructive qualities; hence most of his designs combined geometrical forms (hyperboloids, paraboloids, helicoids, conoids and ellipsoids) keeping these qualities in mind.

The Structure of La Sagrada Familia

The radical and spectacular structure of the Sagrada Familia is known for its complexity of parts, which include an ambulatory with a chevet of seven apsidal chapels, double aisles, 18 spires, four façades with three portals each, all uniquely different in structure as well as ornaments.

Another complex feature is the covered passage or cloister, which forms a rectangle enclosing the church and passing through the narthex of each of its three portals.

The Nativity façade is dedicated to the Birth of Jesus Christ, and is designed with three portals. The Portal of Hope is devoted to the theological virtue of hope and to Joseph. The Portal of Faith is devoted to the theological virtue of faith and to Mary. The Portal of Charity is devoted to the theological virtue of charity or love and to Jesus.

The Passion façade was the work of Josep Maria Subirachs with the grand stained glass designed by Joan Vila-Grau. It is dedicated to the death of Christ, and hence this façade is designed to face the west so that it receives the last rays of the sun before night falls, which adds to the serene and sombre theme of this part of the church. Gaudí intended the sculptures on the Passion façade to be free of ornaments and composed of simple forms, thereby symbolizing the desolation, the pain and the death of Jesus Christ. It has three portals as well, and four bell towers that are devoted to the apostles St. James the Less, St Bartholomew, St Thomas and St Philip.

The Glory façade is the main façade and the entrance to the church. On completion, it will have three portals, and a porch with seven columns to symbolize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The bell towers are dedicated to the apostles St Andrew, St Peter, St Paul and St James the Great. The Glory façade faces south so that the sun shines on it for most of the day. The sculptures on the Glory façade will showcase Man in the general order of creation, showing his origin, his purpose and the roads he must take to accomplish it.

The Apse façade is dedicated to Our Lady/ Mother Mary. It is built on top of the crypt. There are seven apsidal chapels with slender windows and pointed arches between the walls. Sculptures on the Apse façade are dedicated to the founders of religious orders, such as St Antony, St Benedict, St Scholastica, St Bruno, St Francis, St Elias and St Clare. The pediments of the apse are stylised and elongated, and end in pinnacles with the initials of Our Lady, St Joseph and Christ.

On the upper part of the Apse façade are depictions of different natural elements such as the palm frond and even ears of wheat or wild grass to indicate the greenery that grew on the land where the church was built. On either side of the apse are the side steps,

The towers of the chapels will be pyramidal and topped by a symbolic figuration of the invocations to the Messiah.

Aesthetic Components of La Sagrada Familia

The Evangelists' spires will be surmounted by sculptures based on their traditional symbols: a bull for St.Luke, a winged man for St. Matthew, an eagle for St.John, and a lion for St. Mark. The central spire of Jesus Christ will be surmounted by a giant cross, and it will measure 170 m (560 ft). The lower spires will be surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, to represent the Eucharist.

The decorations at La Sagrada Familia include words from the liturgy. For example, the spires are decorated with words such as "Hosanna", "Excelsis", and "Sanctus", while the great doors of the Passion façade reproduce words from the Bible in various languages, and the Glory façade is to be decorated with the words from the Apostles' Creed.

The entire structure of the Sagrada Família is symbolic of the lifetime of Christ.

Interior Design of La Sagrada Familia

The church plan resembles a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults measure 45 m while the side nave vaults measure 30 m. The transept has three aisles. The columns are placed on a 7.5 m grid. The columns of the apse, however, do not adhere to the grid, and requires a section of columns of the ambulatory to transition to the grid, thus creating a horseshoe pattern to the layout of those columns. The crossing lies on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of 12 hyperboloids. The apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault measuring 75 m. Gaudí envisioned that a visitor standing at the main entrance should be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse. There are gaps in the floor of the apse to provide a view of the crypt below.

Gaudi’s columns are masterpieces by themselves incorporating numerous geometric patterns. For example, the columns of the interior have ever-changing surfaces, which are the result of the intersection of various geometric forms - a square base evolves into an octagon as the column rises, then a 16-sided form, and finally to a circle.

Most of the interior surfaces are filled with comprehensive and rich ornamentation consisting of abstract shapes, which combine smooth curves and jagged points. The iron railings for balconies and stairways are full of curvaceous elaboration.

Today, a total of eight spires have been built at La Sagrada Família, four on each facade. The facades are not connected and therefore have independent entrances. The visit to the spires is only by lift, one on each façade.

The layout of the cloister of the church is completely original in the history of Christian architecture.

Construction of La Sagrada Familia

The construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882. Gaudí became involved only in 1883. He transformed the structural plan into his architectural and engineering style, which is a combination of gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.

Gaudí devoted most of his time to this project until his untimely death in 1926. However, only less than a quarter of the project was complete. After Gaudí's death, the project continued under the guidance of Domènec Sugrañes i Gras until the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The project resumed in 1940 under the joint leadership of architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Gari and Francesc Cardoner.

To speed things up, computer-aided design technology has been used. Modern technology enabled stones to be machine sculpted off-site by a CNC milling machine, whereas in the 20th century, the stone was carved by hand. As the construction spanned more than a hundred years, nearly 22 kinds of stone have been used for the construction of the church.

By 2010, the project had passed midpoint and the anticipated completion date is set to be in 2026, which marks the centennial of Gaudí's death. However, the main nave has been completed and an organ has been installed, allowing the unfinished building to be used for religious services.

Construction on the Sagrada Família was not supported by any government or official church sources, and relies solely on private donations and money from ticket sales. Private donations are accepted through the Friends of the Sagrada Família.

Interesting Facts about La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia’s distinctive silhouette has become symbolic of Barcelona. The church attracts more than 2.5 million visitors annually. Visitors can access the Nave, Crypt, Museum, Shop, and the Passion and Nativity towers. The rule to enjoying this spectacular church is –‘the closer you scrutinize the decorative details, the more you will see’.

Although La Sagrada Família is still incomplete today, the church has been selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Sagrada Família is also referred to as Temple Expiatiori de la Sagrada Familia, Basilica de la Sagrada Familia; Basilica of the Holy Family

Antoní Gaudí dedicated more than 40 years of his life to its construction. He was buried in the Sagrada Familia crypt. La Sagrada Família is currently one of Spain’s most visited tourist attractions.


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