The History of Constructing the Sagrada Familia, The Largest Unfinished Church in the World
The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, more commonly referred to as the Sagrada Familia, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica located in Barcelona. The story of this still-under-construction masterpiece began all the way back in 1874 when a local organization began campaigning for the construction of a church honoring the Holy Family. After a couple of years of planning and drawing up plans, the church's cornerstone was officially laid on 19th March 1882. This 19th-century church, which is still incomplete, is an architectural marvel and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Read on to know more about the history of the marvelous basilica.
Detailed Timeline of the Sagrada Familia Construction
1882: The design of the church is made by the architect Francisco Villar. That year, in March, Bishop Urquinaona lays the cornerstone of the basilica.
1883: Antoni Gaudi takes over from Villar.
1885: The Chapel of Saint Joseph was inaugurated in the crypt. The first masses start to be conducted.
1891: Work begins on the famed Nativity Facade
1925: Saint Barnabas Bell Tower on the Nativity Facade is completed. This was the only completed structure Gaudi saw to completion before his death in 1926.
1936: Vandals enter the Sagrada Familia and destroy plans, photographs, and models of the basilica during the Spanish Civil War.
1939: Francesc de Paula Quintana takes over site management.
1952: The Nativity facade stairway is completed. The facade is lit for the very first time.
1954: Foundation laid for the Passion façade.
1961: Museum is created to explain the historical, cultural, and symbolic elements of the basilica.
1966: Isidre Puig i Boada and Lluís Bonet i Garí take over following Francesc de Paula Quintana's death.
1976: Passion façade Bell towers are completed.
1978: Construction of the façades on the side naves begin.
1983: Francesc Cardoner i Blanch takes over.
1985: Jordi Bonet i Armengol is named head architect and site manager.
1986: Josep Maria Subirachs is commissioned to make the sculptures for the Passion façade. The same year, work began on the foundations for all the naves, the columns, vaults, and façades on the main nave, transepts, crossing, and apse.
2005: The Nativity Facade and the crypt are declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.
2010: Pope Benedict XVI consecrates the Temple, officially opening it for religious worship and given the status of a minor Basilica.
2012: Jordi Faulí takes over as head architect and site manager.
2016: Construction begins on the towers of the Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ.
2018: The Cross is placed on top of the Passion façade.
2020: The construction stops due to Covid-19 in March 2020, and only resumes in October.
2021: On 8 December, the tower of the Virgin Mary is inaugurated and construction of the Tower of Jesus continues.
History of Sagrada Familia
Plans for the Basilica Created
While Antoni Gaudi is credited as the genius behind the Sagrada Familia, the Basilica was in fact the brainchild of the founder of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St John, Josep Maria Bocabella. After his visit to Italy in 1872. he wanted to build a church inspired by the Loreto Basilica. Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar was tasked with designing the church and his design followed a Gothic revival style. In March 1882, the apse crypt of the church began being constructed. Later, in 1883, Antoni Gaudi took over the responsibility for the construction and radically changed the plan for the church. He was officially appointed as the Architect Director the next year.
Construction of the Basilica
Early 20th Century
During this time period, the Nativity facade’s work had begun. When Gaudi died, rather unexpectedly, in 1926, only 20 percent of the work was completed, with the finishing of the Saint Barnabas Bell Tower. Following his death, the work was taken over by his disciple Domènec Sugrañes i Gras until the unfortunate Civil War in 1936. During the civil unrest, many original plans, model structures, and workshops were destroyed by the Catalan Anarchists. The work only resumed after the Civil War, for which a new present design based on reconstructed versions of the destroyed plans along with modern adaptations were created.
Construction Resumes After Civil War
Late 20th Century
After 1940, the work on the Basilica changed hands several times; with architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Gari, and Francesc Cardoner carrying on the work. In 1952, the staircase on the Nativity facade was built, and two years later, the foundation for the Passion facade was laid. In 1961, a museum was created to educate people about the various aspects of the basilica. In 1976, the Bell towers of the Passion facade was completed and two years later, construction began on the façades on the side naves. Work also began on the naves, the columns, vaults, and façades on the main nave, transepts, crossing, and apse in 1986.
Technology Accelerates Construction
Early 21st Century
A number of elements were added to this basilica during this period of construction thanks to computer-aided technology introduced by Jordi Bonet i Armengol. In 2005, the Nativity facade and the crypt were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites and in 2010, the temple was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI, officially making it a minor Basilica and opening it for religious worship. The central nave vaulting was completed in 2000 and the focus turned toward the construction of the transept and the apse.
Final Phase of Construction
In 2012, Jordi Faulí i Oller took over as the chief architect of the project and in 2015, he announced that 70 percent of construction was complete. The final phase of the construction included raising six steeples. Since July 2017, an international mass is celebrated at the basilica every Sunday. While the church has been functioning, several events have halted the progress of its construction. On 19 April 2011, an arsonist started a small fire in the sacristy, which took 45 minutes to contain. The pandemic halted work for 4 months between March to July 2020. Despite these challenges, on 29 November 2021, a 7-meter twelve-pointed illuminated crystal star was installed on top of the Mary Tower.
1882- 1883: Francisco de Paula del Villar
1883 - 1926: Antoni Gaudi
1926 - 1936: Domènec Sugrañes i Gras
1940- 2012: Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Gari and Francesc Cardoner
2012 - Now: Jordi Faulí i Oller
Architecture of Sagrada Familia
The glorious architecture of the Sagrada Familia has influences from the Spanish European Gothic styles, Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau. The plan calls for 18 spires that are well beyond 100m in height, each representing the 12 Apostles, the four Evangelists, Mother Mary and Jesus Christ. Only nine of the planned 18 have been completed. These spires form the three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South. The rich sculptures and intricate carvings on these facades are enhanced by the canopy effect that the exterior creates, thanks to the great natural vegetation.Architecture & Design of the Sagrada Familia
The church plan takes shape of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults are 45 meters in height while the side nave vaults stand 30 meters tall. The interior features columns that stand in a horseshoe pattern. The crossing rests on four central columns that support a massive hyperboloid structure with 12 complementing hyperboloids around it. The geometric intersections allow the visitor standing at the entrance to have a good view of the naves, crossing, and the apse. The gaps on the floor of the apse, allow the visitor to view the crypt below. The precision and intricacy of the design stand out and leaves one in awe.The Sagrada Familia Interiors
Sagrada Familia Today
In 2022, 140 years after the work on Sagrada Familia began, the construction of the basilica is still underway. As per current estimates, the steeples and most of the church's structure will be completed by 2026, while the decorative elements would only be completed by 2030 or 2032. Despite being unfinished, the Sagrada Familia has earned a name for itself thanks to the grandiose vision Gaudi had for the basilica and the intricate work that has gone into constructing it. Today, the basilica is a minor Basilica, ie, a functioning Catholic Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.
While the opinions on the design have been polarizing, with some seeing it as a masterpiece, and others like George Orwell calling it "one of the most hideous buildings in the world", the fact that it draws 4-5 million visitors annually is a testament to its allure.Visit Sagrada Familia
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Frequently Asked Questions About Sagrada Familia History
A. The Sagrada Familia is 140 years old.
A. Sagrada Familia was designed by Francesco de Paula del Villar initially and was taken over and changed significantly under the lead of Antoni Gaudi.
A. The origins of Sagrada Familia dates back to 1872, when a bookseller and founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José Josep Maria Bocabella visited Vatican. He was inspired by the basilica at Loreto and wished to create a temple with a similar design in Barcelona.
A. The construction of the expiatory temple of the Sagrada Familia began in 1882.
A. The Sagrada Família, has been under construction for 140 years, with the work beginning back in 1882. It's now in the final phase, and it is expected to be fully completed by 2030 or 2032.
A. The architectural style of the Sagrada Familia is Catalan Modernism and has an influence of the Spanish Gothic style.
A. The Sagrada Familia in Spain was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2005
A. Sagrada Familia is located in the city of Barcelona in Spain at C/ de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain.
A. The tickets for the Sagrada Familia start from € 34.
A. Yes, there are guided tour options available that will help you understand Sagrada Familia’s history, architecture, and other nuances about the basilica better.
A. The most fascinating fact about Sagrada Familia’s history is that 140 years after its construction began, it is still an unfinished church. It is the largest unfinished church in the world.
A. Sagrada Familia is famous for the iconic Nativity Facade and the crypt which are both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A. Yes, the grandeur of the Sagrada Familia encased in the many stories that the structure, the museum, and the guide tell you is an unmissable experience.