As a medieval historian, there is little about modern history that really captivates and intrigues me. However, a recent trip to Barcelona left me completely in awe after witnessing the famous Sagrada Familia. Its architecture is incredible, and doesn’t look as if it belongs to any particular era. The style almost makes the building seem naturally occurring, rather than man-made. What surprised me the most however, is the fact that construction began in the 19th century, and it remains unfinished to this day. This led me to look into the history on this incredible building, as well as further research into what makes La Sagrada Familia so spectacular.
One thing that La Sagrada Familia is arguably most famous for is the unique design. This was the product of Antoni Gaudi. Although Gaudi was not the original architect, he replaced Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano in 1883, only a year after the first stone was laid.
Gaudi’s work is instantly recognisable to this day, and is still unique, thus making La Sagrada Familia truly one of a kind. Gaudi continue work on the Cathedral, and in 1925, the first bell tower (which stood at 100 feet tall) was completed. Unfortunately, this completion was to be the last that the artist witnessed. He died the following year after being hit by a tram. On the 12th June, 1926, Antoni Gaudi was buried in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which resides in the crypt of La Sagrada Familia, still very much a part of the project he invested 40 years of his life in.
Alongside Gaudi, there were many different architects who assisted in the building of the cathedral. Domènec Sugrañes took over the job after Gaudi, until 1938. Whilst there may have been someone to replace him, the sudden death of the artist and the sudden change in architect would have undoubtedly slowed the process of construction down. La Sagrada Familia displays several different styles of architecture, such as the traditional gothic design, as well as the Art Nouveau approach which inspired Gaudi, numerous architects, artists and sculptures have left their mark on the cathedral. Thomas G. Beddall has commented that ‘while it is true that his architecture is characterised by an extra-ordinary range of invented forms, a close examination of his buildings suggests that Gaudi was influenced by a variety of historical styles, among them the distinctly regional tradition of Catalan gothic’. However, despite these differences, all artists were able to maintain a great deal of Christian symbolism within the walls. Each of the 18 towers represent different biblical figures. The middle tower is dedicated to Jesus Christ, another one symbolises the Virgin Mary, 4 towers represent the gospels, and the other 12 embody the apostles.
As well as the many different ideas and contributions which may have complicated the building process, a great deal has happened between the start date of 1866, and the present day. The most significant of these could arguably be the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which occurred in 1936. During this period, the crypt of the cathedral was set alight, the provisional school was burnt down, and the original plans, drawings, and photos were lost. Although this could very easily have been the end of the assembly, construction never actually came to a halt. Although it did disrupt the building considerably, the cathedral survived, and work continued. Since this period, the building work on La Sagrada Familia has gone from strength to strength, and has even been consecrated as a place of worship by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
The Cathedral will hopefully reach completion in 2026, a hundred years after the death of Gaudi, who had joked that ‘his client, God, was in no hurry to see it finished’. All throughout the building process, La Sagrada Familia welcomes approximately 3 million visitors a year, who pay for a large majority of the €25 million required every year to continue building.
La Sagrada Familia is arguably the most iconic building in Barcelona, and during its 150-year construction it has witnessed so many important events. Only once you delve into the history of this remarkable building can you truly appreciate the time it has taken to build. The many different architects and the destruction caused by the Spanish Civil War being only a fraction of the disruptions. Despite this, the construction of La Sagrada Familia has never halted, and this amazing building will go on to witness other historic moments for hundreds of years to come.