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Sagrada Família History

The Basilica de la Sagrada Família, also known as la Sagrada Família or Gaudí’s Cathedral, is a monumental unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica located in Barcelona, Spain. Learn about the inspiration and original design of the building. It is a project that began in 1882 and it is still under construction today.

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    Lavish Beginnings

    In 1872, Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer returned to Spain following a visit to the Vatican. This visit left him feeling inspired, with a desire to build a place of religious importance. In his head, he had found his inspiration in the basilica at Loreto. Josep founded the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of Saint Joseph, under which he began campaigning to construct a temple dedicated to the Holy Family.

    The crypt of the church itself was started in 1882, laid using plans that had been designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar. Originally, Francisco had planned to build a Neo-Gothic place of worship, much unlike the Sagrada Família that can be seen today.

    Sagrada Familia Beginnings
    sagrada familia history

    Gaudí Cathedral

    The Sagrada Família was not intended to be a cathedral, but from the outset it was planned from the outset to be a cathedral-sized church. The original designs had clear similarities to earlier Spanish cathedrals like the Burgos Cathedral, the León Cathedral, and the Seville Cathedral. The Sagrada Família has several building aspects in common with Catalan and other European Gothic cathedrals such as a great complexity of parts. However, it is not in fact a cathedral as it does not have a cathedra – Latin for “seat” – of a bishop, thus functioning as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate.

    The Sagrada Família is also known as Gaudí’s Cathedral because when he took over of the project in 1883 he transformed the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curve lines of Art Nouveau forms. He dedicated the rest of his life to the project and he envisioned it as “a cathedral for the poor.” Pope Benedict XVI in the first Mass at the Sagrada Família repeated the following: “A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man” at its dedication on 7 November, 2010.

    Basilica of the Sagrada Família

    The construction of the Sagrada Família began on 19 March 1882, under the lead of the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. The inspiration to have a building of this magnitude was from a bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph 10 years before the construction started. It was after a visit to the Vatican in 1872 that Bocabella returned to Barcelona with the intention of building a church inspired by the basilica at Loreto.

    The architect Francisco del Villar had planned a Gothic revival church of standard form, and only the apse crypt of the church was completed under his lead. However, due to creative differences with the team Francisco del Villar stepped down as the main architect a year later, and Antoni Gaudí took responsibility for the design that he transformed radically from the original sketch. Gaudí was not appointed Architect Director until 1884.

    construction history of the sagrada familia

    In reference to the subject of the considerably extended construction period Guadí is said to have remarked: “My client is not in a hurry”, as he referred to his client as God. The Sagrada Família is the most iconic monument in Barcelona, Spain, and it does not have a single straight line because according to Gaudí they do not exist in nature, and the temple reflect Nature, Life, and Death, and should not have them. The construction has relied exclusively on private donations since the start and the progress has been slow, and the construction was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936, revolutionaries entered the building and set fire to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop and burned a large part of Gaudí’s plans and models. But, some of the instructions and plans remained untouched and the construction continued, with new architects like Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig and Luis Bonet. They made their best efforts to remain true to the view of Gaudí and they also brought their own style in accordance to Gaudi’s vision of each generation to participate in the construction.

    Views of the interior of the Sagrada Familia

    Sagrada Família Arquitechts

    Since the beginning the Sagrada Família has had changes in design, direction, and even materials used in the construction. The original architect was Francisco del Villar that was commissioned to design and lead the iconic building, but due to creative differences with the team he resigned and that is when Antoni Gaudí took charge in the design and changed radically the plans. Gaudí dedicated the rest of his life to work on the Sagrada Família up until his death in 1926, which was between 15 and 25 percent complete.

    After Gaudí’s death, construction continued under the direction of Domènec Sugrañes i Gras until the work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936 were they burned in a fire parts of the unfinished basilica, and also Gaudí’s models and workshop were destroyed. Since 1940 the architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Garí and Francesc Cardoner have continued the work based on reconstructed versions of the original plans as well as modern adaptations from each generation. Carles Buigas designed the illumination. The current director – and son of Lluís Bonet – Jordi Bonet i Armengol, introduced to the project computer technology into the design and construction since the 1980s. From New Zealand there is Mark Burry working as Executive Architect and Researcher. The sculptures are made by J. Busquets, Etsuro Sotoo and Josep Subirachs decorate the impressive facades. Today, the project is about 70% complete and it is expected to be completed by 2026.

    Sagrada Família: Unesco Heritage

    Along with six other buildings designed by Gaudí in Barcelona, the Crypt and the Nativity Facade of the Sagrada Família is a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2005, and with nearly 3 million visitors per year it is the most visited monument in Spain, overtaking sites like Granada’s Alhambra and the Prado Museum of Madrid. 

    close-up of the frontal door of sagrada familia