La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

It is reasonable to consider the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família to be the most iconic building in all of Spain. It is a privately-funded Catholic Church built on a scale unheard of in modern times. Work began in 1882, current estimates give 2026 as an expected completion date, although worship will finally begin in part of the Church in 2010.

La Sagrada Familia is the masterwork of the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, although he was the second choice to work on the church. The first, Francesc del Villar was commissioned in 1882 but resigned a year later and so Gaudí was employed. He devoted the rest of his life to the building – in fact it would be fair to say he became obsessed with it. Gaudí intended his work to be “the last great sanctuary of Christendom” and the scale of his designs reflect this. When asked about the time it was taking to build the church he replied “my client is in no hurry”.

Over the last few years of his life Gaudí became increasingly eccentric and was frequently mistaken for a vagrant. Indeed, when he was killed by a tram in 1926 it was a few hours before anyone realised just who was laying dead in the roadway.

Since Gaudí’s death a number of different architects have become involved with the project. Some work follows Gaudí’s concepts closely, others have been bolder in moving from the plans. Parts of the church were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and many of Gaudí’s original plans were lost.

The plans call for a total of 18 towers to be completed. The four main towers are completed as are some of the minor ones. The huge central tower will be one of the very last parts to finish. It will rise to 170 metres in height, one metre less than Montjuic hill as Gaudí believed his work should not be taller than the work of God.

There will be three great carved facades to the church – the Nativity, the Glory and the Passion. The Nativity Façade was constructed between 1894 and 1930 and is the one that is mostly to Gaudí’s own designs (pictured in the main photo). It is highly and intricately decorated with hardly a space left unadorned. At the opposite end is the Passion Façade, largely completed to the designs of Josep Maria Subirachs between 1954 and 1976. Gaudí had intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker and, although controversial, Subirachs harsh angular lines and brutal statuary does convey this. Work on the Glory Façade – eventually to be the largest – finally began in 2002. Here we will see depictions of Heaven and Hell, Judgment Day, the Sins and the Glory of Jesus. Gaudí left only preliminary sketches for this façade, happy in the knowledge that others would complete his work for him.

The building is currently scheduled to be finished on the 100th Anniversary of Gaudí’s death in 2026, although no one would be particularly shocked if that target is also not met.

The church will be opened for worship in September 2010 and the Pope is due to consecrate the temple in November.

Without a doubt this is one of the most spectacular modern buildings in the world and anyone who has visited it during it’s construction should definitely return to keep an eye on its progress as Gaudí’s astonishing vision gets closer to reality.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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