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Sagrada Familia

Overview of the temple

Detail of the Passion façade

Model of the completed church

La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, more formally Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, is Antoni Gaudí's masterwork.

It is a Roman Catholic basilica (not a cathedral - the cathedral of Barcelona is the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, a Gothic building of the late Middle Ages). After disagreements between the founding association and the original architect Francesc del Villar, Gaudí was assigned the project in 1884 and created an entirely new design. He worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to this endeavour. Upon its completion, it will be the largest basilica in the world.

As the building proceeded higher and higher, the style got more and more fantastic with four spindle-shaped towers that can be likened to termites' nests or children's drip sand castles. They are crowned with geometrically shaped tops that were probably influenced by Cubism (they were finished around 1920). There are also many complicated decorations that are said to be in the style of Art Nouveau.

Gaudí died in 1926. The towers were originally intended to be three times higher. Parts of the unfinished building and Gaudí's models and workshop were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Gaudí left no further plans and work on the privately owned church has been episodic. Since 1940 the architects Francesc Quintana, Puig Boada, and Lluís Gari have carried on the work. Sculptures by J. Busquets and the controversial Josep Subirachs decorate the fantastical façades.


The design is based both on reconstructed versions of the lost plans and on modern adaptations.

Every part of the design is rich with mystic Christian symbolism, as Gaudí intended the church to be the "last great sanctuary of Christendom." Its most striking aspect are its spindle-shaped towers. A total of 18 tall towers are called for, representing in ascending order of height the 12 Apostles, the 4 Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. The evangelists' towers will be surmounted by sculptures of their traditional symbols: a man, a bull, an eagle, and a lion. The central Christ tower will be surmounted by a giant cross; the tower's total height will be one metre less than that of Montjuïc, as Gaudí believed that his work should not surpass that of God. The lower towers are surmounted by bunches of grapes, representing spiritual fruit.

The church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade, the Glory façade (yet to be completed), and the Passion façade. The Passion façade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ being flogged and on the crucifix. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Subirachs.

Themes throughout the decoration include words from the liturgy. The towers are decorated with words such as "Hosanna," "Excelsis," and "Sanctus;" the great doors of the Passion façade reproduce words from the Bible in various languages including Catalan; and the Glory façade is supposed to be decorated with the words from the Apostles' Creed.

Areas of the sanctuary will be designated to represent various concepts, such as saints, virtues, sins, and secular concepts such as regions of Spain, presumably with decoration to match.

Computer modelling has been necessary to describe the shapes of various elements such as the inner pillars of the church as Gaudí intended them.

See also: architecture, Gothic architecture, Art Nouveau.

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