The Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (English: Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family; Spanish: Basilica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia), commonly known as the Sagrada Familia, is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.
Though construction of Sagrada Familia had commenced in 1882, Gaudi became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style-combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.
Gaudi devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War-only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026-the centennial of Gaudi’s death. The basilica has a long history of dividing the citizens of Barcelona-over the initial possibility it might compete with Barcelona’s cathedral, over Gaudi’s design itself, over the possibility that work after Gaudi’s death disregarded his design, and the recent possibility that an underground tunnel of Spain’s high-speed train could disturb its stability.
Describing Sagrada Familia, art critic Rainer Zerbst said “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art” and Paul Goldberger called it ‘the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages’.
The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia was the inspiration of a Catalan bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Asociacion Espiritual de Devotos de San Jose (Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph). After a visit to the Vatican in 1872, Bocabella returned from Italy with the intention of building a church inspired by that at Loreto. The crypt of the church, funded by donations, was begun 19 March 1882, on the festival of St. Joseph, to the design of the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, whose plan was for a Gothic revival church of a standard form. Antoni Gaudi began work on the project in 1883. On 18 March 1883 Villar retired from the project, and Gaudi assumed responsibility for its design, which he changed radically.
On the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudi is said to have remarked: “My client is not in a hurry.” When Gaudi died in 1926, the basilica was between 15 and 25 percent complete. After Gaudi’s death, work continued under the direction of Domenec Sugranes i Gras until interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Parts of the unfinished basilica and Gaudi’s models and workshop were destroyed during the war by Catalan anarchists. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the plans that were burned in a fire as well as on modern adaptations. Since 1940 the architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluis Bonet i Gari and Francesc Cardoner have carried on the work. The illumination was designed by Carles Buigas. The current director and son of Lluis Bonet, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has been introducing computers into the design and construction process since the 1980s. Mark Burry of New Zealand serves as Executive Architect and Researcher. Sculptures by J. Busquets, Etsuro Sotoo and the controversial Josep Subirachs decorate the fantastical facades.
The central nave vaulting was completed in 2000 and the main tasks since then have been the construction of the transept vaults and apse. As of 2006, work concentrated on the crossing and supporting structure for the main tower of Jesus Christ as well as the southern enclosure of the central nave, which will become the Glory facade.
On 19 April 2011, an arsonist started a small fire in the sacristy which forced the evacuation of tourists and construction workers, but caused minimal damage. The sacristy itself, however, was destroyed by the fire, which took 45 minutes to contain.
The style of la Sagrada Familia is variously likened to Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernism and to Art Nouveau or Catalan Noucentisme. While the Sagrada Familia falls within the Art Nouveau period, Nikolaus Pevsner points out that, along with Charles Rennie Macintosh in Glasgow, Gaudi carried the Art Nouveau style far beyond its usual application as a surface decoration.
While never intended to be a cathedral (seat of a bishop), the Sagrada Familia was planned from the outset to be a cathedral-sized building. Its ground-plan has obvious links to earlier Spanish cathedrals such as Burgos Cathedral, Leon Cathedral and Seville Cathedral. In common with Catalan and many other European Gothic cathedrals, the Sagrada Familia is short in comparison to its width, and has a great complexity of parts, which include double aisles, an ambulatory with a chevet of seven apsidal chapels, a multitude of towers and three portals, each widely different in structure as well as ornament. Where it is common for cathedrals in Spain to be surrounded by numerous chapels and ecclesiastical buildings, the plan of this church has an unusual feature: a covered passage or cloister which forms a rectangle enclosing the church and passing through the narthex of each of its three portals. With this peculiarity aside, the plan, influenced by Villar’s crypt, barely hints at the complexity of Gaudi’s design or its deviations from traditional church architecture.
Gaudi’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Eight spires have been built as of 2010, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity facade and four apostles at the Passion facade.
According to the 2005 Works Report of the project’s official website, drawings signed by Gaudi and recently found in the Municipal Archives, indicate that the spire of the Virgin was in fact intended by Gaudi to be shorter than those of the evangelists. The spire height will follow Gaudi’s intention, which according to the Works Report will work with the existing foundation.
The Evangelists’ spires will be surmounted by sculptures of their traditional symbols: a bull (Saint Luke), a winged man (Saint Matthew), an eagle (Saint John), and a lion (Saint Mark). The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be surmounted by a giant cross; the spire’s total height (170 metres (560 ft)) will be one metre less than that of Montjuic hill in Barcelona as Gaudi believed that his creation should not surpass God’s. The lower spires are surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, representing the Eucharist.
The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Familia the tallest church building in the world.
The Church will have three grand facades: the Nativity facade to the East, the Passion facade to the West, and the Glory facade to the South (yet to be completed). The Nativity Facade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears the most direct Gaudi influence. The Passion facade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ being scourged at the pillar; and Christ on the Cross. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory facade, on which construction began in 2002, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will represent one’s ascension to God. It will also depict various scenes such as Hell, Purgatory, and will include elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.
Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity facade was the first facade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. Characteristic of Gaudi’s naturalistic style, the sculptures are ornately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature, each a symbol in their own manner. For instance, the three porticos are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable). In contrast to the figures of turtles and their symbolism, two chameleons can be found at either side of the facade, and are symbolic of change.
The facade faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol for the birth of Christ. It is divided into three porticos, each of which represents a theological virtue (Hope, Faith and Charity). The Tree of Life rises above the door of Jesus in the portico of Charity. Four towers complete the facade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot).
Originally, Gaudi intended for this facade to be polychromed, for each archivolt to be painted with a wide array of colours. He wanted every statue and figure to be painted. In this way the figures of humans would appear as much alive as the figures of plants and animals.
Gaudi chose this facade to embody the structure and decoration of the whole church. He was well aware that he would not finish the church and that he would need to set an artistic and architectural example for others to follow. He also chose for this facade to be the first on which to begin construction and for it to be, in his opinion, the most attractive and accessible to the public. He believed that if he had begun construction with the Passion Facade, one that would be hard and bare (as if made of bones), before the Nativity Facade, people would have withdrawn at the sight of it.
In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade is austere, plain and simple, with ample bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble a skeleton if it were reduced to only bone. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the facade was intended to portray the sins of man. Construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudi for future architects and sculptors. The towers were completed in 1976, and in 1987 a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs, began work sculpting the various scenes and details of the facade. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudi intended for this facade to strike fear into the onlooker. He wanted to “break” arcs and “cut” columns, and to use the effect of chiaroscuro (dark angular shadows contrasted by harsh rigid light) to further show the severity and brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.
Facing the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ, the Passion Facade is supported by six large and inclined columns, designed to resemble sequoia trunks. Above there is a pyramidal pediment, made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which culminate in a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle (James, Thomas, Philip, or Bartholomew) and, like the Nativity Facade, there are three porticos, each representing the theological virtues, though in a much different light.
The scenes sculpted into the facade may be divided into three levels, which ascend in an ‘S’ form and reproduce the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ. The lowest level depicts scenes from Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, including The Last Supper, Kiss of Judas, Ecce Homo, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus. The middle level portrays the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ, and includes The Three Marys, Saint Veronica, Saint Longinus, and a hollow-face illusion of Christ. In the third and final level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ can be seen. A bronze figure situated on a bridge creating a link between the towers of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thomas represents the Ascension of Jesus.
The largest and most striking of the facades will be the Glory Facade, on which construction began in 2002. It will be the principal facade and will offer access to the central nave. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while Hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will. Aware that he would not live long enough to see this facade completed, Gaudi made only a general sketch of what the facade would look like. He intended for the temple, like many cathedrals and facades throughout history, not only to be completed by other architects but also to incorporate other architectural and artistic styles.
To reach the Glory Portico, there will be a large staircase, which will create an underground passage beneath Carrer Mallorca, representing Hell and vice. It will be decorated with demons, idols, false gods, heresy and schisms, etc. Purgatory and death will also be depicted, the latter using tombs along the ground. The portico will have seven large columns dedicated to spiritual gifts. At the base of the columns there will be representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and at the top, The Seven Heavenly Virtues.
The church plan is that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults reach forty-five metres while the side nave vaults reach thirty metres. The transept has three aisles. The columns are on a 7.5 metre grid. However, the columns of the apse, resting on del Villar’s foundation, do not adhere to the grid, requiring 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 rests on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of twelve hyperboloids (currently under construction). The central vault reaches sixty metres. The apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching seventy-five metres. Gaudi intended that a visitor standing at the main entrance be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse, thus the graduated increase in vault loftiness.
There are gaps in the floor of the apse, providing a view down into the crypt below.
The columns of the interior are a unique Gaudi design. Besides branching to support their load, their ever-changing surfaces are the result of the intersection of various geometric forms. The simplest example is that of a square base evolving into an octagon as the column rises, then a sixteen-sided form, and eventually to a circle. This effect is the result of a three-dimensional intersection of helicoidal columns (for example a square cross-section column twisting clockwise and a similar one twisting counter-clockwise).
Essentially none of the interior surfaces are flat; the ornamentation is comprehensive and rich, consisting in large part of abstract shapes which combine smooth curves and jagged points. Even detail-level work such as the iron railings for balconies and stairways are full of curvaceous elaboration.
The towers on the Nativity facade are crowned with geometrically shaped tops that are reminiscent of Cubism (they were finished around 1930), and the intricate decoration is contemporary to the style of Art Nouveau, but Gaudi’s unique style drew primarily from nature, not other artists or architects, and resists categorization.
Gaudi used hyperboloid structures in later designs of the Sagrada Familia (more obviously after 1914), however there are a few places on the nativity facade-a design not equated with Gaudi’s ruled-surface design-where the hyperboloid crops up. For example, all around the scene with the pelican there are numerous examples (including the basket held by one of the figures). There is a hyperboloid adding structural stability to the cypress tree (by connecting it to the bridge). And finally, the “bishop’s mitre” spires are capped with hyperboloid structures. In his later designs, ruled surfaces are prominent in the nave’s vaults and windows and the surfaces of the Passion facade.
Themes throughout the decoration include words from the liturgy. The towers are decorated with words such as “Hosanna”, “Excelsis”, and “Sanctus”; the great doors of the Passion facade reproduce words from the Bible in various languages including Catalan; and the Glory facade is to be decorated with the words from the Apostles’ Creed. The three entrances symbolize the three virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. Each of them is also dedicated to a part of Christ’s life. The Nativity Facade is dedicated to his birth; it also has a cypress tree which symbolizes the tree of life. The Glory facade is dedicated to his glory period. The Passion facade is symbolic of his suffering. All in all, the Sagrada Familia is symbolic of the lifetime of Christ.
Areas of the sanctuary will be designated to represent various concepts, such as saints, virtues and sins, and secular concepts such as regions, presumably with decoration to match.