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 19th of March 2017 was the 135th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Temple. Currently, 70% of the Basilica is finished and we are working on building the six central towers.
In 2017, construction kept up a good pace on the towers of the evangelists and the Virgin Mary, which began in December 2016, with post-tensioned stone panels pre-assembled in the Galera workshop. The towers follow the architectural model of the sacristy, which Gaudí left a plaster model of.
In 2018, works will focus on continuing construction of the towers of the evangelists and the Virgin Mary, and beginning work on the tower of Jesus Christ. Over the course of the year, the Passion façade will also be completed, executing and putting in place the final symbolic elements on the upper narthex. Also on this façade, work will begin on restoring the last of the pinnacles, on the bell tower of James the Less. Inside the Basilica, work will continue with climate control and the final flooring in the central nave.
Tower of the Virgin Mary
It is located over the apse and stands 138 metres tall, surrounding the large hyperboloid that lights the altar, drawing sunlight from outside into the presbytery. The inside of the tower will be an empty monumental space full of light.
To date, 100 panels have been put in place on the tower of the Virgin Mary. We are now on the eighth of the nineteen levels it will have when finished. With these, the tower stands at 87.5 m. It is expected to reach 102.31 m by the end of the year.
From the street, it is clear how this tower is progressing, as it is being built without exterior scaffolding. You can see the parabolic stone sections, with arrises at the corners in blueish granite evoking the mantle of the Virgin Mary. At the base of the tower, next to the text of the Ave Maria, there are relief representations of flowers associated with the Virgin, designed by the Temple sculpture workshop and carved in the stonemasons’ workshop under the supervision of Etsuro Sotoo.
Towers of the evangelists
Of the 135 metres the towers of the evangelists will reach in 2022, the one for Matthew is already 83.87 metres high; the one for John is 80.83 metres, and the ones for Mark and Luke are 86.82 metres. The four towers are now at levels two or three of the thirteen they will have.
Tower of Jesus Christ
It will be the tallest, at 172.5 metres. The shell is made up of twelve paraboloids (like the dome of the sacristy) of triangular windows, with svelte porphyry arrises at the corners, representing the blood of Jesus Christ. Inside, 85 metres from the temple, visitors will enter a first space, 60 metres up, with a stone spiral staircase with a glass enclosed lift at the centre. The tower will start to grow from here and have twelve levels.
Currently, work is also under way on the final project for the pinnacles of the six central towers.
In 2017, the outer acroterions on the upper narthex were put in place with the lion of Judah and the lamb of Abraham, two representations of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament. Both pieces are the work of Lau Feliu and were sculpted in granite from the French region of Tarn.
In 2018, the elements of the upper narthex will be completed with the scene of the empty tomb placed behind the central columns and the holy cross in the central acroterion. Sculptor Francesc Fajula is currently putting the finishing touches on the sculptures: the empty tomb with the figure of the angel, which weighs 3.8 tonnes and is practically finished, and the figures of the three Marys. Each sculpture is three metres tall. At the same time, work is under way on the stone cross and sculptor Lau Feliu is putting the finishing touches on the angels that accompany it, which will be sculpted in stone soon.
The space between the wall of the prophets on the upper portico and the base of the central window on the Passion façade has been completed. This space, located twenty metres up, evokes the garden where the Gospel explains Jesus Christ was buried and an abandoned quarry, where his tomb was dug. It is set aside for quiet worship, designed for individual or group reflection, prayer or contemplation.
The blocks that make up the wall, laid out in a pyramid, have been cut using the traditional wedge system. Typical Mediterranean plants, symbolising life after death, have been planted among the stones to complete the representation of the garden.