For me the most important attraction in my entire European vacation was La Sagrada Familia. I was just awed by Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece and the history behind it.
The most important tip I can give to anyone planning to go to Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) is to buy your tickets online and to get an audio guide or even better a guided tour which I plan to do when I go back to Barcelona. As concise as the audio guide was I felt it was lacking in information that only a seasoned guide can give. Also don’t forget to print your tickets which most of us forgot thankfully Sha had the foresight to print everyone’s tickets. There was a long, long line of people who were just buying their tickets on site.
La modeling the audio guide
Construction commenced in 1882 to a bland and uninspired neo-gothic design by Francesco del Villar, who left the project a year later with only the lower part of the crypt built. The young Antonio Gaudi was called in as replacement architect in 1883 and immediately began his radical transformation of the design, discarding Villar’s dull plans and completing the crypt and apse walls in his own version of gothic, though this was still conservative compared with what was to follow.
Gaudi always knew the project was too vast to be completed in his lifetime and was expecting other generations to finish what he had begun. Very little of the overall church then existed, he left us only the crypt, apse walls and one of the three facades, but plans and models indicated what was to come next, and also how much revision his original, more conservative concepts had undergone. The overall plan of the building follows the traditional cathedral layout with nave, transepts and apse. However Gaudi was adding much more, with protruding chapels, an encircling cloister and no less than 18 steeples, all symbolic with 12 for the Apostles, four on each facade, one over the apse for Mary, and four representing the Gospel Writers surrounding thetallest and largest of all over the crossing represening Christ. The three facades were to be adorned with sculpure on different themes, the Birth of Christ (Nativity Facade, east/’south’ transept), the Passion of Christ (Passion Facade, west/’north’ transept) and the Last Judgement (Glory Facade, main south/’west’ facade of nave). source
This was the second façade to be built following Gaudí’s original project. The architect, who only left the decorative part annotated, foresaw that future generations would make interventions on it according to the aesthetic tastes of the moment. Such is the case of the sculptural decoration by Josep Maria Subirachs and the stained glass by Joan Vila-Grau.
The Passion façade is so called because it represents the Passion of Jesus, in other words, the pain, the sacrifice and the death, as staged along the twelve stations of the cross, expressed in highly dramatic and emotionally intense sculpture groups. source
These scale models of the church which is scheduled to be completed in 2026, a hundred years after the death of Gaudi, show the different facades including what the Glory facade will look like when completed. Even with today’s modern equipment the minute details Gaudi planned will still a long time to construct.
Glory facade (left)
This door was just put in for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010 when La Sagrada Familia was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica.
This is the main façade which will be the entrance to the church when it is finished. As it is so important, Gaudí included in the project the construction of a great exterior flight of steps that provided access to the church with a solemnity befitting the place.
The Glory façade was given that name because it represents the situation of man within the general order of creation: his origins, his problems, the roads he must take and his purpose. Like the other façades, it will have three entrances (a main door dedicated to charity and two side doors dedicated to hope and faith), and a porch with seven columns that will symbolise the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and present the virtues opposed to the sins.
The façade will have various sculpted elements and on the upper part, above the roof of the narthex, stretching along the four bell towers there will be stone clouds bearing the Credo written in large letters. The bell towers will be consecrated to the apostles St Andrew, St Peter, St Paul and St James the Great, ordered from left to right.
The Glory façade faces south so that the sun beats down on it for most of the day, in harmony with its significance: the exaltation of its strong life and joyous spirit. Gaudí himself said: “Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit”. For technical reasons it is the last of the three façades to be built and its architectural and decorative design follow Gaudí’s original idea. source
This side entrance to the church was the first to be built and the only one Gaudí completed in his lifetime. The architect represented Jesus more human part and celebrated his birth by depicting an exultant nature on a Gothic base. The Nativity façade faces east, which is where the sun rises every day, so that it symbolically expresses the birth of life.
The Nativity façade is so called because it presents the birth, childhood and young manhood of Jesus. The entrance to the church from this façade is through a central door and two side doors dedicated to the three theological virtues: hope, charity and faith, the names given to each of the three doors. These three virtues are vital in the life of Jesus, in analogy to St Joseph, Our Lady and Jesus. At the top rise four bell towers, dedicated to the apostles St Barnabas, St Jude, St Simon and St Matthew, from left to right. source
We finished the audio guide tour in a little over an hour. I wanted to stay longer and explore more parts of the church but the group had other plans. I wasn’t able to go to the crypt either. The visit to La Sagrada Familia was definitely the highlight of my trip to Spain.
We have plans to return to Barcelona in 2026 to see the completed La Sagrada Familia. But I want to go back sooner than that to see all the places I missed and maybe go to other parts of Spain too.
Read more about La Sagrada Familia here.