Thursday, November 11, 2010



The Sagrada Família in Barcelona is quite extraordinary and, when completed may be one of the miracles of our times!

SAGRADA FAMILIA (photo courtesey of Wikipedia)

I have to say that whenever I find it difficult to get things done in Spain I think of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona.  This fabulous building was started in 1882 and is still not finished – with the projected completion estimated to be sometime in 2026.  This means that if this date is actually met(!) the Sagrada Família will have taken some 144 years to build!

Obviously, somthing important is going on – but what, you may ask?

Well, the idea behind the Sagrada Família, can still best be summarised by its genius Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, who said that it would be ‘the last great sanctuary of Christendom’.  That was his visionary aim – but it is hard not to come to the conclusion that this building may actually transcend any religious importance and simply be acknowledged as one of the world’s finest constructions.  In a way, once finished, it will probably be something of a miracle in its own right.

The concept of the Sagrada Familía came from a devout bookseller called Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer, who was concerned by the irreligiosity of the people of Barcelona at the time.  In 1866 he established ‘The Spiritual Association of Saint Joseph’ and then, in 1872, returning from a trip to Rome, he was inspired to build an expiatory church.

Expiatory, in case you wondered, (as I did!) means atonement.  So, the idea behind the Sagrada Família was that the church was to be a place of atonement or purification of sins.  These, no doubt, Bocabella imagined as being the increasingly radical secularism of the Catalans in the late 1800s.

In any event, after some six years of planning and fund raising, the Sagrada Família was finally started in 1882, under plans drawn up by an architect called Francisco de Paula del Villar.  However, del Pillar was not to last long after construction started, as he resigned the following year, ironically, over a costings issue.  I say ‘ironically’, as I wonder what he would have done – had he had any idea of future costings and the time the Sagrada Família would take to be completed!

Del Villar was replaced by Antoni Gaudí, who was 31 and a deeply religious Catholic.  He started work straight away and immediately altered del Villar’s plans to match his own ideas.  These were visionary, radical and nothing if not original – combining the Spanish Art Nouveau style with Gothic architecture to produce a structure that was to be somewhat surreal – albeit on a very grand scale.

However, Antoni Gaudí was under no illusions that he would live to see the Sagrada Família finished.  He recognised that completing the building would mean working on an almost medieval time scale.  This, evidently, worried him not at all and his response was that ‘My Client is not in a hurry’.  Just as well, as it turned out…

Not the least of the problems preventing speedy completion of the Sagrada Família has been that the Sagrada Família has not been funded by the Spanish government nor, officially, by the Catholic church.  This makes the project all the more amazing – given that the vast sums of money needed to build the Sagrada Família have come from private funds!

Of course, privately funding a project over the past hundred plus years has been fraught.  The 1930s were a volatile time in Spain that lead to the ferocious Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) – which ripped Spain apart economically, as well as in human terms.  Indeed, Spain did not reach meaningful North European levels of economic progress until well after the death of General Franco.

Unfortunately for the Sagrada Família, Barcelona was firmly Republican during the Spanish Civil War and many Republicans were violently atheistic or anarchists who loathed the Catholic church.  As a consequence, they turned their fury upon not just the clergy but also church property.

Needless to say, the Sagrada Família was damaged together with Gaudí’s workshop, which, with its blueprints and models, was destroyed.  This was a tragedy, as Gaudí had died in 1926 at the age of 73, having been hit by a tram.  So, all further work on the Sagrada Família has largely been based upon what Gaudí probably intended.

After the Spanish Civil War, work on the Sagrada Familía did not start in earnest again until the 1950’s and even then significant funding was absent until its profile was raised during the Olympic Games held at Barcelona in 1992. Since then, work has continued but it has always been dogged by lack of money and the sheer complexity and intricacy of the work itself.

Certainly, the Sagrada Familía is set to be a marvel!  It will have three facades (the Nativity, The Passion and the Glory) – all of which are completely different and all of which are extraordinary works of art on their own account.

Meanwhile, of course, the Sagrada Família will always be known for its 18 fabulous spires representing, at different heights: Christ, the 12 Apostles, the 4 Evangelists and the Virgin Mary.  The highest spire will stand 170m (560’) and be the tallest spire on any church in the world.  Rather wonderfully, it will be, deliberately, one metre lower than a nearby hill called Montjuic – because Gaudi thought that his work should not surpass that of God!

Is the Sagrada Família worth seeing, now?


The Sagrada Família may be some sixteen years away from being finished but already it is one of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions and, by going, you may even feel driven to give something towards its completion.  Religious or otherwise, I think you would be contributing to something truly exceptional – for all mankind to wonder at for generations to come…

RELEVANT INFO. Homage to Catalonia

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