April 29th, 2019: La Sagrada Família!!!

This morning I stuck to my usual routine – I ran out for bakery treats while Mandy rested a little longer at the apartment. This morning I found the wonderful Pastisseria Formentor, and brought back my finds to our private garden for us both to enjoy.

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed out walking towards town for what promised to be a most remarkable day – for today we were off to see our first Antoni Gaudí masterpiece, the phenomenal Sagrada Família, Basílica de la Sagrada Família.

The Nativity façade of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

Upon arriving at our destination at the intersection of two of Barcelona‘s broad avenues, we sat down outside at a coffee shop across the street, giving me time to open my sketchbook and attempt to capture a portion of the looming facade of the basilica. I was fascinated by the ongoing construction activity – there were so many cranes hauling materials into the sky and placing new parts of the great basilica into place.

Multiple cranes on the north façade of Sagrada Família, a familiar presence for the past 135 years of construction

The image of the basilica in all its glory and intricate detail was almost too much to take in. I sketched for half an hour or so then closed my sketchbook. It was an overwhelming feeling to see the evolution of the construction of the Sagrada Família after 135 years. You can really tell what parts are 100 years old and what parts have been more recently constructed, for the older parts definitely had taken on the patina of age. What a grand vision turned into reality!

An iron model of the Sagrada Família as it will appear when completed. Looking at the main entry to the nave, the Glory façade. The 566 foot-high Jesus Christ spire rises in the middle of the great mass, surmounted by its giant cross

“Advancements in technologies such as computer aided design and computerised numerical control (CNC) have since enabled faster progress and construction passed the midpoint in 2010. However, some of the project’s greatest challenges remain, including the construction of ten more spires, each symbolising an important Biblical figure in the New Testament.” (from Wikipedia)

I had purchased timed tickets which would allow us entry into the Sagrada Família along with a personal headset in English and a ride up the Passion Tower elevators. Seeing the state of the construction, it is amazing that the construction is scheduled to be complete by 2026. “Chief architect Jordi Fauli announced in October 2015 that construction is 70 percent complete and has entered its final phase of raising six immense steeples. The steeples and most of the church’s structure are to be completed by 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death; as of a 2017 estimate, decorative elements should be complete by 2030 or 2032.” (from Wikipedia)

Work on the tallest tower, the Jesus Christ Spire, is just beginning, although the supporting structure was completed years ago. This monumental spire will make the Sagrada Família the tallest church in the world when it is done.

A rendering of the Sagrada Família from the Glory Façade entrance, with the huge central spire of Jesus Christ rising in the middle of the great composition

“The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be surmounted by a giant cross; its total height (172.5 metres (566 ft)) will be less than that of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona, as Gaudí believed that his creation should not surpass God’s. The lower spires are surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, representing the Eucharist. Plans call for tubular bells to be placed within the spires, driven by the force of the wind, and driving sound down into the interior of the church. Gaudí performed acoustic studies to achieve the appropriate acoustic results inside the temple.” (from Wikipedia)

The lower spires are surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, representing the Eucharist

We began the entry sequence to the basilica at the Nativity façade. “Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. Characteristic of Gaudí’s naturalistic style, the sculptures are ornately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature, each a symbol in its own manner. For instance, the three porticos are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable). In contrast to the figures of turtles and their symbolism, two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade, and are symbolic of change.

An aerial photo of the Sagrada Família‘s Nativity Façade, which was completed in 1930, four years after the untimely death of the great architect and designer
A 1905 photograph showing construction progress on the Nativity Façade
The large tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable) supporting one of the columns flanking the portico of the Nativity Façade

The façade faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol for the birth of Christ. It is divided into three porticos, each of which represents a theological virtue (Hope, Faith and Charity). The Tree of Life rises above the door of Jesus in the portico of Charity. Four steeples complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (MatthiasBarnabasJude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot)” (from Wikipedia)

Our audio guides were a wonderful introduction to the architecture, craft, history and theory behind the Sagrada Familia. We approached the main entry doors, which were a wonderful casting of copper and bronze. There was so much detail to the doors, there were even locusts and snails sculpted into the metal relief.

A locust sculpted into the relief of the main doors leading through the Nativity Façade
Lives of the saints told through amazing sculptures over the entrance to the Nativity Façade
A hissing serpent carved into the stone façade of the Sagrada Familia. Details like this were everywhere to be found! This particular creature, like many others around the exterior of the basilica, serves as a downspout – kind of like the cathedral gargoyles of the Gothic period

The interior of the basilica is like a fantasy come to life – soft light coming from so many angles and the light changes color throughout the day as the sunlight passes through differently colored glass windows. I can only imagine the sound the great organs must make or the sound of a great choir – the acoustics must have been carefully studied and are certainly amazing, despite the basilica’s great size.

First impressions of the giant basilica nave, with light filtering in through stained glass windows in every direction. Note the canopy over the central altar
The crossing rests on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of twelve hyperboloids

“The central nave vaults reach forty-five metres (148 feet) while the side nave vaults reach thirty metres (98 feet). The transept has three aisles. The columns are on a 7.5 metre (25 ft) grid. However, the columns of the apse, resting on del Villar’s foundation, do not adhere to the grid, requiring a section of columns of the ambulatory to transition to the grid thus creating a horseshoe pattern to the layout of those columns. The crossing rests on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of twelve hyperboloids (currently under construction). The central vault reaches sixty metres (200 feet). The apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching seventy-five metres (246 feet). Gaudí intended that a visitor standing at the main entrance be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse; thus the graduated increase in vault loft.

A view from the crossing looking into the apse vault. The apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching seventy-five metres (246 feet)
The soaring vaults of the nave. The central vault reaches sixty metres (200 feet)

There are gaps in the floor of the apse, providing a view down into the crypt below. Antoni Gaudí is buried in the crypt.

The columns of the interior are a unique Gaudí design. Besides branching to support their load, their ever-changing surfaces are the result of the intersection of various geometric forms. The simplest example is that of a square base evolving into an octagon as the column rises, then a sixteen-sided form, and eventually to a circle. This effect is the result of a three-dimensional intersection of helicoidal columns (for example a square cross-section column twisting clockwise and a similar one twisting counter-clockwise).

Besides branching to support their load, their ever-changing surfaces are the result of the intersection of various geometric forms. The simplest example is that of a square base evolving into an octagon as the column rises, then a sixteen-sided form, and eventually to a circle

Essentially none of the interior surfaces are flat; the ornamentation is comprehensive and rich, consisting in large part of abstract shapes which combine smooth curves and jagged points. Even detail-level work such as the iron railings for balconies and stairways are full of curvaceous elaboration.” (from Wikipedia)

Even detail-level work such as the iron railings for balconies and stairways are full of curvaceous elaboration. The afternoon light filtering in through the western window cast an awesome orange/yellow/red glow on the interior elements
High balconies and the blue stained glass filtering the morning light through the Nativity Façade

“The length of the Sagrada Família is short in comparison to its width, and has a great complexity of parts, which include double aisles, an ambulatory with a chevet of seven apsidal chapels, a multitude of steeples and three portals, each widely different in structure as well as ornament. Where it is common for cathedrals in Spain to be surrounded by numerous chapels and ecclesiastical buildings, the plan of this church has an unusual feature: a covered passage or cloister which forms a rectangle enclosing the church and passing through the narthex of each of its three portals. With this peculiarity aside, the plan, influenced by Villar’s crypt, barely hints at the complexity of Gaudí’s design or its deviations from traditional church architecture. There are no exact right angles to be seen inside or outside the church, and few straight lines in the design.”

The plan of this church has an unusual feature: a covered passage or cloister which forms a rectangle enclosing the church and passing through the narthex of each of its three portals. With this peculiarity aside, the plan, influenced by Villar’s crypt, barely hints at the complexity of Gaudí’s design or its deviations from traditional church architecture
The length of the Sagrada Família is short in comparison to its width, and has a great complexity of parts, which include double aisles, an ambulatory with a chevet of seven apsidal chapels, a multitude of steeples and three portals, each widely different in structure as well as ornament. This rendered plan shows the symbology of the various parts of the great basilica

From the soaring interior, we cued up to take our timed ride up the elevator inside the Passion façade. The view from atop the Passion tower was awesome. From here we could examine details of the other spires. Their crenelated tops were marvelous, as were the spire “chalices with bunches of grapes, representing the Eucharist.” (from Wikipedia)

A young Spanish sculptor admiring his work, for placement high up on the façade
A sculpture looking down on the city from high atop the Passion Façade
A diagram depicting the elevator which zooms you to the top of the Passion Façade
Looking up at one of the towering crenellated spires from atop the Passion Façade

An amazing, 300-step spiral staircase carried us back down to ground level. From here we passed outside to admire the whole of the Passion façade.

The 300-step spiral staircase leading down from the top of the Passion Façade
The great bronze doors at the entrance to the Passion Façade

“In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is austere, plain and simple, with ample bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudí for future architects and sculptors.

The harsh, spare lines of the “bones” of the Passion Façade. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker

The steeples were completed in 1976, and in 1987 a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs, began work sculpting the various scenes and details of the façade. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker. He wanted to “break” arcs and “cut” columns, and to use the effect of chiaroscuro (dark angular shadows contrasted by harsh rigid light) to further show the severity and brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.

Facing the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ, the Passion Façade is supported by six large and inclined columns, designed to resemble Sequoia trunks. Above there is a pyramidal pediment, made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which culminate in a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four steeples is dedicated to an apostle

Facing the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ, the Passion Façade is supported by six large and inclined columns, designed to resemble Sequoia trunks. Above there is a pyramidal pediment, made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which culminate in a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four steeples is dedicated to an apostle (JamesThomasPhilip, and Bartholomew) and, like the Nativity Façade, there are three porticos, each representing the theological virtues, though in a much different light.” (from Wikipedia)

From here we passed back into the interior, gazing along the double aisles, looking toward the crowning Glory Façade from the inside. The afternoon light filtering in through the western window cast an awesome orange/yellow/red glow on the interior elements.

Another view of light filtering in through one of the aisles

“The largest and most striking of the façades will be the Glory Façade, on which construction began in 2002. It will be the principal façade and will offer access to the central nave. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while Hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will. Aware that he would not live long enough to see this façade completed, Gaudí made a model which was demolished in 1936, whose original fragments were used as the basis for the development of the design for the façade. The completion of this façade may require the partial demolition of the block with buildings across the Carrer de Mallorca.

Model of the completed basilica, with the main Gloria Façade welcoming the faithful into the nave

To reach the Glory Portico the large staircase will lead over the underground passage built over Carrer de Mallorca with the decoration representing Hell and vice. On other projects Carrer de Mallorca will have to go underground. It will be decorated with demons, idols, false gods, heresy and schisms, etc. Purgatory and death will also be depicted, the latter using tombs along the ground. The portico will have seven large columns dedicated to gifts of the Holy Spirit. At the base of the columns there will be representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and at the top, The Seven Virtues.

  • Gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
  • Sins: greed, lust, pride, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy.
  • Virtues: kindness, diligence, patience, charity, temperance, humility, chastity.

This façade will have five doors corresponding to the five naves of the temple, with the central one having a triple entrance, that will give the Glory Façade a total seven doors representing the sacraments:

In September 2008, the doors of the Glory façade, by Subirachs, were installed. Inscribed with the Lord’s prayer, these central doors are inscribed with the words “Give us our daily bread” in fifty different languages. The handles of the door are the letters “A” and “G” that form the initials of Antoni Gaudí within the phrase “lead us not into temptation” (from Wikipedia)

Inscribed with the Lord’s prayer, these central doors are inscribed with the words “Give us our daily bread” in fifty different languages. The handles of the door are the letters “A” and “G” that form the initials of Antoni Gaudí within the phrase “lead us not into temptation”

After a final pass through the nave we went down into the crypt. Here we saw a model of Gaudi’s workshop, complete with blueprints and drafting instruments.

A model of Gaudi’s workshop, complete with blueprints and drafting instruments

After a full day at the Sagrada Família, we ate dinner and retired to our apartment garden, to spend time with our guidebooks, planning out our days in Barcelona and I inked in my pencil sketch of a portion of the façade of the Sagrada Família. I am including a picture of the mural inside our apartment, featuring the word “welcome” in languages of the world. It truly was a welcoming and relaxing space.

Relaxing with guidebooks in our apartment’s private garden – an oasis away from the big city outside
The word “welcome” in languages of the world

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s