Antonio Gaudi began design work on a building in 1883, which he initially called the “church of the poor”.
After disagreements between the founding association and the original architect, Gaudi was appointed to lead the project in 1884 and thus produced a completely new and innovative design.
Already an architect famous for his unique designs in Barcelona, Gaudi had something spectacular in mind, which he would eventually achieve.
In his last years, Gaudi abandoned all other projects and devoted his life to the basilica called La Sagrada Familia or “The Holy Family”.
Gaudi dedicated the last years of his life to the Sagrada Familia church: he died in a hospital for the poor
He worked on the project for over 40 years, dedicating the last 15 years of his life entirely to this endeavour. When asked about the extremely long construction time, he is rumored to have jokingly said, “My client is in no rush.”
The original project design for the Sagrada Familia was made by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, following the lines of the time, combining neo-Gothic elements.
Along with other artists, he oversaw the work until his death on June 7, 1926, when the eminent architect was hit by a streetcar in the city. Because of his ragged clothing and empty pockets, several drivers refused to help him, fearing that he would not be able to pay for the help given.
He was eventually taken to a hospital for the poor in Barcelona. Nobody recognized Gaudi until the next day, when he was found by a friend.
When they tried to move him to a better hospital, Gaudi refused, apparently saying, “I belong here, among the poor.” He died two days later and was buried in the crypt beneath his unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.
The church was originally conceived by Josep Maria Bocabella, the founder of the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of Saint Joseph, out of a desire to promote Catholic values at a time of social and religious instability in Spain.
Antonio Gaudi achieved this goal by designing a church dedicated to the Holy Family. He wanted the Sagrada Familia to establish a religious link between ordinary people and God.
Every detail, from the colors used, to the rich carvings, contains deep religious symbolism.
Regarding the conceptualization of the church, he was initially inspired by Montserrat, the famous pilgrimage destination located on top of a rocky mountain. The three facades of the church represent birth, death and resurrection.
Every part of the design is rich in mystical Christian symbolism, as Gaudi intended the church to be “the last great sanctuary of Christendom”.
Perhaps the most stunning details are in the spindle-shaped towers. A total of 18 tall towers are featured in the finished design, representing, in ascending order of height, the 12 apostles, the four evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ.
The construction of the Sagrada Familia church is progressing slowly
The construction of the Sagrada Familia progressed slowly, being interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and broke into the workshop, partially destroying Gaudi’s original plans, drawings and plaster models, leading to 16 years of work to piece together the fragments of the original model.
The Sagrada Familia is still under construction and will remain so for some time. The enormous structure is to be financed entirely by private donations, as stipulated in the original concept.
The ongoing construction of the Sagrada Familia is paid for almost exclusively by the millions of people who visit it each year.
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, which has not yet been completed. The Nativity facade was built before the work was stopped in 1935, and it fully respects Gaudi’s plans.
The facade of the Passion was built according to the design created by Gaudi in 1917. Construction began in 1954, and the towers, built on an elliptical plan, were finished in 1976.
The images are complemented by the peculiar, weak, tormented characters, including a suffering figure of Christ impaled and Christ on the cross. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs.
The Glory Façade, for which construction began in 2002, will be the largest and most impressive of the three and will represent the ascension to God.
It will also depict various scenes such as Hell and Purgatory and include elements such as the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues.
The themes shown throughout the decoration include words from the liturgy. The towers are decorated with words such as “Hosanna”, “Excelsis” and “Sanctus”, while the large doors of the Passion facade reproduce fragments of the Passion of Jesus from the New Testament in various languages, mainly Catalan.
The facade of Gloria is dedicated to its glory period. The facade of the Passion is a symbol of suffering. The apse tower quotes the Latin text Ave Maria. All in all, the Sagrada Familia is a symbol of the life of Christ.
Historic photos of the Sagrada Familia show us, as far as can be seen, Gaudi’s church as it evolved over time.
Sagrada Familia, considered by some to be in bad taste
Obviously, there were also those voices who said that this construction would be in bad taste, built not necessarily in the Christian, classical spirit.
The design of the building itself is polarizing. Reviews of Gaudi’s fellow architects were generally positive.
Louis Sullivan, for example, greatly admired the building, describing the Sagrada Familia as “the most important piece of creative architecture of the last twenty-five years. It is the spirit symbolized in the stone!”
Walter Gropius, in turn, praised the Sagrada Familia, describing the building’s walls as “a marvel of technical perfection”. Time magazine called the building “sensual, spiritual, whimsical, exuberant.”
However, author and critic George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”, author James A. Michener “one of the strangest buildings in the world”, and British historian Gerald Brenan stated the following: ” Nothing more vulgar or pretentious can be found in the European architecture of the period.”
The building’s distinctive silhouette has, however, become a landmark for Barcelona itself, with the city attracting around 3 million visitors annually.
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