The Sagrada Familia is an exceptional place of worship, as much for its beginnings and foundation as for its ambition.
Five generations have already witnessed the temple’s rise in Barcelona. Construction continues today and could be finished in the first third of the 21st century.
The beginnings of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, known as the Sagrada Familia, go back to 1866 when Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer founded the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph, which in 1874 began campaigning for the construction of an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family. In 1881, enabled by various donations, the Association purchased a 12,800m² plot of land, located between the streets of Marina, Provença, Sardenya, and Mallorca, to build the temple on.
The first stone was laid on St Joseph’s day, 19 March, 1882, in a ceremony presided over by the Bishop of Barcelona, Josep Urquinaona. It signalled the start of construction, first in the crypt located under the apse, following the Neo-gothic design drawn up by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, the Sagrada Familia’s first architect. After a short while, due to disagreements with the promotors, he resigned from the post of chief architect and the job fell to Antoni Gaudí.
The facade of the apse completed.
The first bell tower (Saint Barnabus), 100 metres high, finished on the Nativity facade.
After taking over the project in 1883, Gaudí continued work on the crypt, which was finished in 1889. Later he began work on the apse, while donations were received at a steady rate. After receiving a substantial anonymous donation, Gaudí proposed a new and grander design. He proposed abandoning the old Neo-gothic plan in favour of a design that was more monumental and innovative, both in regard to the form and structure as well as the construction. Gaudí’s design consisted of a large church with a floor plan based on a Latin cross and soaring towers. It was to be immensely symbolic, both architecturally and sculpturally, and convey the teachings of the Gospels and the Christian Church.
In 1892 the foundations for the Nativity facade were started. This facade was built first because, as Gaudí himself put it, “If, instead of building this decorated, richly ornamented facade, we had started with the hard, bare and skeletal Passion facade, people would have rejected it.” In 1894 the apse facade was finished, and the Rosary portal, one of the entrances to the cloister on the Nativity side, was finished in 1899.
In 1909 Gaudí built the Sagrada Familia provisional school buildings, for children of Sagrada Familia workers and local children, on the south-west corner of the site. In the following year, 1910, a model of the Nativity facade was displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris in an exhibition featuring Gaudí’s work organised by his friend and patron Eusebi Güell. The Pasion facade was designed in 1911.
In 1914 Gaudí decided to concentrate exclusively on the construction of the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia, a fact which explains why he did not undertake any other major work in the later years of his life. He became so involved that he lived his final months close by his studio workshop; a space located next to the apse used for producing scale models, drawings and designs, sculptures and for taking photographs, amongst other activities.
In 1923 he produced the final design for the naves and roofs. Construction work however progressed slowly. The first bell tower on the Nativity facade, 100 metres high and dedicated to Saint Barnabus, was finished on 30 November 1925. This was the only tower Gaudí saw completed. On 10 June 1926 he died as a result of injuries sustained three days earlier when he was tragically knocked down by a tram. On 12 June he was buried in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, where his mortal remains rest to this day.
Over all these years a sizable group of architects, draughtsmen, sculptors and modellers collaborated with Gaudí on the construction.
After the death of Gaudí, his close collaborator Domènec Sugrañes took over the management of the works until 1938.
In 1930 the bell towers on the Nativity facade were finished, and in 1933 the Faith portal and central cypress tree were also completed.
In July 1936, after the military uprising and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt, burnt down the provisional school of the Sagrada Familia and destroyed the studio workshop. Original plans, drawings and photographs were lost and many large-scale plaster models were broken. It should be pointed out that, from when Gaudí took the helm in 1883 and despite these acts of vandalism, work on the Sagrada Familia, although disrupted, never came to a complete stop, and has always gone ahead according to the architect’s original concept.
After the Spanish Civil War building resumed on the Sagrada Familia and it continued to slowly rise. Between 1939 and 1940 the architect Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal, who had started working with Gaudí in 1919, restored the fire-damaged crypt and repaired many of the broken models, which were then used to continue construction according to Gaudí’s original plan.
The next directors were also men who had known and collaborated with Gaudí, Isidre Puig-Boada and Lluís Bonet i Garí, who were in charge of works until 1983. They were succeeded by Francesc de Paula Cardoner i Blanch, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, and lastly Jordi Faulí i Oller, who has currently been in charge since 2012.
In 1952 the 35th International Eucharistic Congress was held in Barcelona and several events took place in the Sagrada Familia to mark the occasion. In the same year the steps to the Nativity facade were built and the facade was floodlit for the first time. This lighting became a permanent feature in 1964 thanks to the Barcelona City Council.
Work continued at a steady pace and in 1954 the foundations to support the Passion facade were started, based on several studies Gaudí had carried out between 1892 and 1917. After the foundations were laid the Passion facade crypt was built on them, and in 1961 a museum was opened in the crypt to provide visitors with information about the history and technical, artistic and symbolic aspects of the temple. The four bell towers on the Passion facade were completed in 1976.
1955 was a significant year for the Sagrada Familia; it was the year of the first fund-raising drive to raise money to pay for the building works. The initiative was so successful that it has been repeated every year since, and is a way of allowing society as a whole to participate in the construction of the temple.
Numerous sculptors have left their mark of the Nativity facade. On Saint Joseph’s day, 19 March, 1958 the group of statues by Jaume Busquets representing the Holy Family was put in place.
In 1986 the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs was charged with producing the statues and sculpture for the Passion façade, which were executed in accordance with his very personal style for over 25 years.
Central window in the Passion facade with stained-glass representation of the Resurrection.
Work started on the Tower of Jesus and the Towers of the Evangelists.
21st CENTURY 2000 – 2015
In 2000 the vaulting in the central nave and the transepts was built, and the foundations of the Glory facade were started. In the same year, to mark the new millennium, a Mass was held inside the temple which showcased the grandeur of the building.
In 2001 the central window of the Passion facade was finished and stained glass by Joan Vila-Grau representing the Resurrection was installed. The four columns of the crossing were also finished.
Gaudí and his work were celebrated in 2002, with the Barcelona City Council sponsoring International Gaudí Year to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia participated with various initiatives, including the restoration, relocating and opening of the Sagrada Familia schools building.
In 2002 the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs completed the wall of the Patriarchs and Prophets which Gaudí had envisaged for the top of the porch on the Passion facade, and in 2005 the sculpture representing the Ascension was positioned between the towers of this same facade. In the same period the windows in the central nave were installed and the Eucharistic symbols for bread and wine were completed by the Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo.
In 2006 the choir inside the Glory facade was constructed, based on models by Gaudí. The vaulting in the ambulatory around the apse was finished in 2008. The vaulting in the crossing and the apse was finished between 2008 and 2010.
2010 was a milestone in the history of the Sagrada Familia: the temple was consecrated as a place of worship by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
The main projects being undertaken today and over the coming years are the construction of the west sacristy and the central towers. The Tower of Jesus is being built above the vaults of the crossing and the apse and will be crowned with a cross 170 metres above ground level. It will be flanked by the four Towers of the Evangelists. Work on these five towers has already commenced. There will also be a tower dedicated to the Virgin Mary above the apse.
The Sagrada Familia will be completed by the construction of the west front, or Glory facade.