One of the most unique places of worship we’ve visited is Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. 130 years after it was first commissioned, it’s still under construction, and years away from being done.
This basilica, known in English as the Church of the Holy Family, was begun in 1882, with the idea that it would be finished in a decade. However, a year later, the great architect Antoni Gaudi took over the project, and the scope of the building as well as the timelines of the project were radically changed.
I’ve written about Gaudi before (here and here); in this project, as well as others, his originality and vision are breathtaking. He often changed his plans partway through a project, which was one of the reasons for the delays in finishing. Once, when asked why it was taking so long to complete the basilica, he answered, “My client is not in a hurry.”
When Gaudi died in 1926, the building was only 25% finished. For a while, the project slowed down or stopped completely, due to both the Spanish Civil War and the drying up of private donations. It was assumed that the Barcelona skyline would forever be dominated by this half-finished place of worship.
However, the Barcelona Olympics and the entry of Spain into the European Union renewed interest in this glorious city and its unusual basilica. Now, construction is being funded by entrance fees, and completion is once again possible. Some critics say it could be finished in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Other estimates say it’s as far off as eighty years in the future.
As in his other buildings, Gaudi shunned flat surfaces and straight lines, using curves, circles and elaborations nearly everywhere, inside and out. Sculptures range from the crude and primitive to extravagant and ornate. Columns twist and turn, and change shape completely as they rise.
Opinions about the basilica have been mixed, to say the least. When dedicating it in November 2010, Pope Benedict described it “as a hymn of praise to God carved in stone”. On the other hand, George Orwell once called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”. Whatever you think of it, Sagrada Familia truly is a one-of-a kind church.