La Sagrada Familia: Antoni Gaudi's Tribute to His Faith

Paul Fraser


Bustling beneath the "bloody-fingered" flag of Catalonia, Barcelona is a city with verve. Famous for its architecture, dining and rich history (to say nothing of the nightlife),  the city is fast becoming a traveler’s dream as its ever-expanding concoction of delights attracts more and more visitors to its Mediterranean shores.

Akin to the city’s majesty, standing yet unfinished, just a short distance from Placa de Catalunya (the central-most point in Barcelona) is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, or Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family.

With an estimated completion date of 2026 and 130 years into construction, La Sagrada Familia, as it is more commonly known, continues to evoke a unique mix of controversy, curiosity and awe in all who lay eyes upon its lofty spires. No more so than when famed author George Orwell referred to the church as “the ugliest building on earth.”


Loved or hated, admired or abhorred, La Sagrada Familia is here to stay and may stand as the great icon of Barcelona for centuries to come. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the structure as a "minor basilica" and opened its doors to traditional worship services, declaring the dedication of the building to be a “high point” in the rich religious history of Catalonia.


The building, now housing a regular congregation, is a melee of religious icons, controversial artwork and Gaudi’s own vision of the finished temple. In fact, the building, when finished, will point toward the heavens with 18 bell towers, the highest adorned with a large cross representing Christ. There is one for the Virgin Mary, four for the evangelists, and 12 others for the apostles. Each tower is intricately decorated with carvings rich with the symbology associated with the Catholic Church, and all of this is evinced in a somewhat surreal "Catalan Modernism."


Any visit to La Sagrada Familia makes for an interesting experience,  especially while trying to envision the grandeur of the finished work. The building ornamented with varying facades, each of which tell their own story, captivates both the enthusiastic traveler and seasoned symbologist alike. However, to delve a little deeper into the original concept of Gaudi, to understand his intent and styling, is to reveal a beauty in the structure that so often goes unnoticed.

Antoni Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852 and received his degree in architecture in 1878 from the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture. He had numerous passions  in addition to architecture, such as nature and his religion.

Gaudi is famously quoted as saying, "Originality consists of returning to the origin. Thus, originality means returning, through one's resources, to the simplicity of the early solutions.” When coupled with another of his quotes, "Everything comes from the great book of nature," we begin to get a sense of his inspiration.

Gaudi’s strong faith and religious background had taught him that God was perfect, and his creations within nature were an extension of that perfection. If one wanted to create a near-perfect piece of art or structure, then how could one better the form and styling of the natural world?

Utilizing the lithe form and inspiration of trees, the physical body and all earthly creations, Gaudi formed a style all his own, concluding that "Nothing is art if it does not come from nature."


While looking at La Sagrada Familia, we begin to see Gaudi’s masterpiece for what it really is -- a tribute. It's not simply a building in which to house a worship service, sufficiently ornate to be distinguished as a basilica, but a force of nature. The building  seems to be reaching to the heavens, growing and climbing toward a higher understanding. The prolonged time spent in construction gives an added sense of the natural process.

To understand and appreciate La Sagrada Familia is to understand Gaudi — devout, deep-thinking and often bold.  In a November 3, 2010 New York Times article by Raphael Minder, Pere Jordi Figuerola Rotger, curator of Barcelona’s Diocesan Museum, is quoted as saying, ““Forty years ago, people in this city used to ignore and sometimes even throw away Gaudi’s work. Those who have really made the Sagrada Familia famous are the Japanese tourists, not for any religious reason, but because of their shared fascination for nature.”


 In 1883, Gaudi set out to declare his faith, to carve it into the face of Catalonia itself. Standing at the base of his magnum opus,  La Sagrada Familia, one gets the sense that even before its completion, Gaudi has done just that.


Author Bio:

Paul Fraser is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


Photos: Clark Di Camelot, Flickr; Wikipedia; Pentti Rautio, Fotopedia

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Clark di Camelot, Flickr
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