The Sagrada Familia: the Basilica That’s Never Been Completed

Sagrada Familia

In Barcelona, Spain, there is a famous basilica called the Sagrada Familia. It currently sits in the middle of the city and is one of Barcelona’s biggest landmarks and tourist attractions. The Sagrada Familia is famous for two things. Firstly, it's architecture, both inside and out. Considering the Sagrada Familia stands at 566 feet, it is filled with Catalan Modernism, Art nouveau, Noucentisme, Baroque, and Spanish Late Gothic architecture. Secondly, and most importantly, the basilica is still in development, never having been completed.

To begin the story and journey of the Sagrada Familia, it was created and built by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. He was born on June 25, 1852, in Reus, Spain. Despite not having a background in architecture, he developed an interest in it through his experience working in his family’s boiling-making business. In 1870, he moved to Barcelona, Spain, and attended the Provincial School of Architecture. Eight years later, after he graduated in 1878, he began testing his architectural craft. Believe it or not, one of his methods “was based on trial and error.” Gaudi would do so by experimenting with scale models to test shapes and structures, which were ultimately used for his work. Interestingly, he used the same technique for the Sagrada Familia.

"View from the center of Sagrada Familia
"View from the center of Sagrada Familia's Latin Cross floor, looking towards the apse," says Barbara Weibel. Image from holeinthedonut.com.
The ceiling inside the basilica consisting of Solomonic columns columns with the Evangelists at the top. Photo from barcelonaexplorers.com
The ceiling inside the basilica consisting of Solomonic columns columns with the Evangelists at the top. Photo from barcelonaexplorers.com

In March 1882, 31-year-old Gaudi began constructing the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi incorporated the architectural and engineering styles of Gothic and Art Nouveau into the basilica. For example, he focused on creating the Sagrada Familia’s iconic flying buttresses and twisted towers. Gaudi was Christian and a part of the Renaixensa, “an artistic revival of the arts and crafts combined with a politically reinvigorated way of life in Catalonia that had long been suppressed by the Castalian- dominated and Madrid-centered government in Spain.” So, the Sagrada Familia is a symbol of the Renaixensa in Barcelona, and Gaudi inserted those motifs into the basilica through statues consisting of religious figures on the outside. In addition, Gaudi filled the interior with Solomonic columns, a type of Baroque architecture, along with more significant biblical figures making his architecture ancient and classical. He had built four twisted columns representing the Evangelists: Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John. In addition, the remaining columns are dedicated to twelve apostles, four Catalan bishoprics, fifteen Spanish cities, and five continents. Apart from the Solomonic columns, there are also colorful stained glass windows, an organ, and an apse at the altar underneath the cross.

Tragically, on June 10, 1926, Gaudi was hit and killed by a tram while walking to the Sagrada Familia. He was only 74 years old. His tomb is buried underneath the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, which was incomplete except for the Saint Barnabas Bell Tower on the Nativity Facade. As a result, the basilica remains incomplete to this day. Apart from Gaudi’s death, the construction of the Sagrada Familia has faced several interruptions over the last 97 years, such as “multiple civil wars, funding problems, conversation work, permit applications, and the pandemic.” Fortunately, a completion date has been set for 2026—three years from now— marking 100 years after Gaudi’s death. Although this is exciting news for such a historical monument, what are the residents of Barcelona saying?

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí, the original architect Image taken from biography.com.
Portrait of Antoni Gaudí, the original architect Image taken from biography.com.

In February and March 2023, writer Jo Lawson-Tancred reported on Art News how the construction of the Sagrada Familia impacts “the demolition of nearby residences housing up to 3,000 people.” Barcelona residents who are living around the basilica are currently dealing with the struggles of daily construction. The Glory façade, an entrance with an elaborate staircase, is the last framework of the Sagrada Familia to be completed. However, Lawson-Tancred reported how the residents have gone as far as filing a lawsuit to stop the completion. Their main accusation was about how the Glory façade doesn’t need to be completed. Due to the fact “the staircase was never part of Gaudi’s original plans” and his original paperwork was burned in a fire. Yet, the only proof residents and architects have of Gaudi’s plans are “based on surviving photos.” So, despite what the residents desire, the ultimate decision will be made by the Barcelona City Council. In addition to the issues of the construction, it doesn't help matters that the Sagrada Familia is a huge tourist attraction. With 3,000 residents complaining about its construction, there’s an entire group of tourists visiting the Sagrada Familia daily. 

"The Passion Facade " on the exterior of La Sagrada Familia by Josep Maria Subirachs. Image from forbes.com.
"The Passion Facade " on the exterior of La Sagrada Familia by Josep Maria Subirachs. Image from forbes.com.
The Nativity Facade featuring three sculptures of virtue: Faith, Hope, and Charity. They
The Nativity Facade featuring three sculptures of virtue: Faith, Hope, and Charity. They're built in a Catalan Modernist style. Photo from barcelonacheckin.com

Thus far, the Sagrada Familia, being one of Barcelona’s most historical basilicas, has been through many adversities since its development began in 1882. This raises many questions if the Barcelona City Council should still fund the Sagrada Familia. Will it even be completed by 2026? Is this project even still worth it? Regardless of what is happening in Barcelona, Spain, it’s important to remember Gaudi took on the project of building the Sagrada Familia to indulge in his love of architecture and honor his Christianity faith through new art movements. Rather than questioning if the Sagrada Familia should be completed or not, it should be celebrated as Gaudi’s legacy. He left behind his greatest joy—the Sagrada Familia for Barcelona and the world to enjoy.


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