Stepping Into A Prism
Walking into the Sagrada Família is like being transported to another world. The exterior is an amazing mix of Gothic, Catalan, and modern lines, all woven in a way that can only be described by the name of the man that created it, Gaudi. Symbolism covers every surface of the Basilica. The vision that is slowly appearing, though incomplete, has been revealing itself for over 100 years. Visiting the Sagrada Família has been on my bucket list for years, and this past Sunday, that dream was realized.
Antoni Gaudi began his life in Catalonia, the center of which is now Barcelona, Spain. He always suffered from poor health, even in his youth. Because of that, he adopted a vegetarian diet, and natural lifestyle, which he fastidiously maintained for his entire life. Gaudi studied architecture at the Llotja School, and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture. He graduated in 1878. During his education, he took jobs working as a draughtsman for architects and construction engineers in Barcelona. While handing Gaudi his degree, the director of his Architecture school said, “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”
Time swiftly told the tale. Gaudi’s works began with lampposts and small installations throughout Barcelona, and by 1883, just 5 years post graduation, he was given charge of the project to build a basilica for Barcelona. Though started by another architect, under Gaudi’s hand, the design was radically changed, and the form of what we see today began to take shape.
His life and work are expressions of his love for art, nature, and his devout Catholic faith. Though polished and cultured, enjoying society, and attending events in his youth, over time, he faded into a frugal, wizened man in his later years. It was almost as if his life force poetically flowed from him, and directly into his creations. He perished in an accident at the age of 73, but rests in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the crypt of his life’s greatest achievement, the Sagrada Família.
The construction of the church began in 1882. The construction finally passed its midpoint in 2010, and is rumored to be on track for a 2026 completion, in order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The construction is now seventy percent complete, and has begun the final phase. The footprint of the church is finished, but now there remain six immense towers, to be added to the structure, and the main facade to complete. Thanks to modern technology, the accelerating pace of construction is made possible, through a CNC milling machine, which uses computer modeling to shape the stone offsite.
A book could be written, just to cover all of the symbolism in the structure. The short time that I had there, I spent basking in the surreal presence of the interior. Gaudi designed the interior of the cathedral to be an organic structure. He wanted the light and space to feel as if you were in a forest, and the light was filtered through a high canopy of leaves. The colors and light change with the daylight, going from cool on the eastern side, to burning orange and reds on the western face. The leaning, branching columns and vaults look like geometric trees, and the holes in the ceiling remind me of the underside of a tree canopy, or alternatively, a cloudy sky, which the light is trying to break through.
The Sagrada Família is a place that I will visit again someday. I hope that it will be completed, as I’m sure all the citizens of Barcelona do. In 2005, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was consecrated by the church in 2010. In the coming years, the last 30% of the construction will hasten by in less than 10% of the total construction time. I have saved a climb of the towers for my next visit.
If you are in Barcelona, don’t miss the opportunity to spend time in this strucure. Being in a city full of amazing sights, sounds, and people, it would be an easy thing not to take the time for the Sagrada Família. But if you have a couple hours, and want to witness another world, without leaving the ground, the Sagrada will be there.