Construction of the Barcelona basilica of La Sagrada Familia by controversial Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí began in 1882 and is due to be completed in 2026.
When the cornerstone of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, or Church of the Holy Family, was laid in 1882, the church was meant to be a typical neo-Gothic church – instead, the masterpiece by the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí is still under construction, 140 years later.
Named in honor of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the church is considered a revolutionary example of Catalan modernism. As these photos of the Sagrada Familia show, it’s a spooky collage of natural forms and architectural feats.
Over the century it took to build, the Sagrada Familia slowly transformed from a grand vision on paper to an iconic piece of architecture. It has passed through countless stonemasons and craftsmen – and numerous architects since Gaudí’s death in 1926 – to become the impressive basilica it is today.
Completion is scheduled for 2026; the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.
1 of 34
2 of 34
3 out of 34
4 out of 34
5 out of 34
7 out of 34
8 out of 34
9 out of 34
10 out of 34
12 out of 34
13 out of 34
14 out of 34
Lisa Voigt Garms/Getty Images
15 out of 34
16 out of 34
17 out of 34
18 out of 34
Philippe Lissac/Getty Images
19 out of 34
20 out of 34
21 out of 34
22 out of 34
James Strachan/Getty Images
23 out of 34
24 out of 34
25 out of 34
Peter Unger/Getty Images
27 out of 34
Vanni Archives/Getty Images
28 out of 34
29 out of 34
Jordi Boixareu/Getty Images
30 out of 34
Alexandre Spatari/Getty Images
31 out of 34
Juan Silva/Getty Images
32 out of 34
33 out of 34
Sergi Escribano/Getty Images
34 out of 34
La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s Magnum Opus
Before becoming the masterpiece of young visionary Antoni Gaudí, the Sagrada Familia was under the supervision of Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, whose original 1877 design was rather simple and traditional.
Curiously, Gaudí actually worked under del Villar on another project, years earlier. After disagreements with another architect on the construction site, del Villar abandoned the Sagrada Familia and recommended Gaudí – then an ascendant designer – to take his place.
Gaudí immediately drew up new plans so grand that he eventually had to devote all his attention to building the church itself, which he did in 1914. He would spend his last decade preoccupied solely with the basilica.
But in 1891 Gaudí realized that the temple would not be completed in his lifetime. Often asked about how long the church would take, Gaudí is said to have always replied: “My client is in no hurry”.
For this reason, he decided to begin construction of the exterior of the church first; nervous that donations might dry up once customers can worship inside. In fact, donations dried up for a time – for about 18 years during and after the Spanish Civil War. Anarchists set fire to incomplete church, setting fire to a large part of the workshop. But in 1954, construction resumed. By then Gaudí had already been long dead.
Indeed, when he died in 1926, the church was only about 20% complete.
A vision inspired by nature
As these photos of the Sagrada Familia show, part of what makes this temple so breathtaking is its extensive symbolism and parallels to nature, much like Gaudí’s signature style.
It is composed of five naves in the shape of a Latin cross. Four towers representing the 12 apostles extend from each of the three exterior facades; the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory. The three entrances to the church even symbolize the three virtues: Faith, Hope and Love.
With organic patterns and columns that resemble trees, Gaudí’s belief that nature is the work of God is a popular motif. Interestingly, he was not a devout Catholic when he started the project.
According to tour guide Onno Schoemaker, Gaudí carved ultra-specific and detailed biblical scenes on the facade of the church because he knew that much of Barcelona’s working class was illiterate at the time. “So Gaudí wanted to tell the story of Jesus through images, through sculptures and visual elements, rather than through text.” He explained.
Indeed, the facade of the church almost looks like a “storybook”. In each of the three facades, “you get specific elements of the story of the life of Jesus”.
However, the text is not completely absent from the design. Themes include words from the liturgy; the towers bear the inscriptions ‘Hosanna’, ‘Excelsis’ and ‘Sanctus’. When the Glory facade is complete, it will feature words from the Apostles’ Creed.
Modern-day controversy haunts the Sagrada Familia
Today the church is almost complete. But now controversy surrounds him. Residents who live nearby feel crowded out as continued construction encroaches on their property lines.
Janet Sanz, deputy mayor for urban planning, environment and transport, is the spokesperson for the inhabitants. “How do we ensure the neighborhood doesn’t turn into a giant souvenir stand? How do we keep traffic flowing? And when we already have a shortage, is destroying more housing the best solution?” She asked.
Not only that, but there had been rumors that the Sagrada Familia never got the proper building permits in the first place. “When I took over,” Sanz noted, “I had my team look into it, and we saw that for over 130 years they had been building without a permit.”
The members of the board of directors of La Sagrada Familia wanted to rectify this oversight. Along with obtaining permits and paying past building taxes, they have reached an agreement to cover the costs with an additional $36 million over the next decade. This could provide increased security and a private subway entrance so surrounding streets are less crowded with tourists.
All these improvements would undoubtedly be useful because in 2005 the facade and the crypt of the Nativity were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This increases interest and brings even more tourism. Additionally, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated La Sagrada Familia as a minor basilica in 2010, increasing visitor numbers even further.
Many members of the construction team are deeply religious. Recreating Gaudí’s plans is an arduous task, but from which they derive deep meaning. As the current chief architect Jordi Faulí has remarked, “In one way or another, the Sagrada Familia uplifts everyone to bring their best to it. It’s transcendent.”
After looking through these photos of the Sagrada Familia, discover the story of the Spanish bishop who resigned after fall in love with a satanic erotic writer. So look at this Templar secret crypt found under a Polish church – and its possible connection to the Holy Grail.