Barcelona’s Crowning Jewel: La Sagrada Familia – A Bible Of Stone

The culmination of La Sagrada Familia shall be a true feat that will crown Barcelona for the whole world to see.

La Sagrada Familia
PHOTO LOUIS ALCORN

Traveling Europe, it seems that every place I’ve visited has some distinguished cathedral that I’ve felt obligated to check out. What I’ve found city to city, country to country is the exact same three-nave architectural structure, featuring a central passage of pews facing some ornate stage where the presiding priest will give his testament to the Holy Father. Around the outer passage that typically loops around the Church, a variety of rooms contain a combination of stained glass and ornate sculptures to pay tribute to various religious figures. After seeing my fair share of Cathedrals, they all begin to look the same and as a student of Architecture and a guy who always draws interest from interesting buildings, this is saying quite a bit. However, I must say that La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain opens up a whole new world in terms of religious architecture. A visit to this landmark remains one of Barcelona’s must-see attractions.

La Sagrada Familia was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a man who after populating Barcelona with his stunning architectural visions devoted his fortune and remaining life to the construction of the culmination of his life’s work. Nearing the end of his life, Gaudi actually moved into La Sagrada Familia to live in the crypt. Ultimately, he died crossing the street as a tram broadsided him. Passerby left him for a homeless man and he died as a result of internal bleeding leaving the church unfinished. Later, all of his models and plans were destroyed by rebels, leaving the remaining construction of La Sagrada Familia up to those who were most familiar with his vision.

La Sagrada Familia remains the only church I’ve visited that is still under construction and by looking at the four sides of the Cathedral one can sense the progression of development on the site. Similar to La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia Church also contains a rough, protectionary outer skin. However, as the Church has been built over a period of many years this surface looks different from every side. The northern façade, built before Gaudi’s influence maintains an older-looking Gothic vibe. The nativity façade features an utterly amazingly rendering of religious scenes carved into the warped geometry of the stone. Unfortunately, the death façade does not quite mesh with the rest of the building. Naturally, having been built in the 1980’s it doesn’t appear to have accumulated the same age as the rest of the Church; however, it also does not characterize the essence of Gaudi. The depicted figures are represented in more rigid, non-rhythmical, and angular forms. The amazingly intricate warped geometry of the Nativity façade is lost, as the subject material rendered on the death façade remains backed with a simply flat stone brick surface.  The main, Glory façade has yet to be constructed, but one can only hope that it pays more attribution to Gaudi’s genius than to mar this incredible creation.

La Sagrada Familia
PHOTO LOUIS ALCORN

Inside, the building contains a smooth, womb-like interior once one is granted entrance to the house of the Holy Trinity through one of the three entrance gates. Even an additional buffer exists in the private indoor meditation areas that surround the church containing sculptures alluding to the anarchist bombers that would eventually attack the church burning all of Gaudí’s life’s work. During the afternoon hours, the sun filters through the stained glass surrounding the main nave filling the room with vibrant colors and a spiritual aura. If the main hall wasn’t filled with hundreds of enthusiastic tourists snapping pictures of every orifice of Gaudi’s masterpiece, I might feel like some external force was present.

As a whole, La Sagrada Familia represents a bible created of stone. Towers help to represent the twelve apostles. The three entrances and the coloring of the lettering on the Death Façade help to illustrate the conglomeration of the Holy Trinity: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The turtles supporting the entrance supports on the Nativity façade represent the unity between land and sea. Astronomical references are also made in the orientation of the building. Nativity or birth faces the rising sun. The Glory façade (yet to be built) faces the sun at its apex to the south. Then, the death façade faces west where the sun sets each evening.

Innovation also played a large role in getting this gargantuan piece to stand on its own in the first place. Previous typical cathedrals of the North required three naves and lower ceilings. Meanwhile, Gaudi implemented his knowledge of hyperboloids, parabaloids, and warped geometry features to create a structure supported by pillars seeking the exact direction of the natural loads of the ceiling. Additionally, his deliberate use of materials helps to emphasize Gaudi’s thoughts on functionalism. For example, the central quadrant of the church where the largest tower will be installed contains a harder, more expensive type of stone in its columns.

The groundwork of a genius has been laid in what has already been built at La Sagrada Familia. Although the complete vision of the architectural genius cannot be retrieved from what has been lost to reality, what stands on the plot today remains an awesome structure that will drop the jaw of even those who could do without viewing just another historic Cathedral. The culmination of this work shall be a true feat that will crown Barcelona for the whole world to see.

Louis Alcorn

As a San Diego native, Louis lives by his ultimate travel tip: take a minute in each place you visit to collect your thoughts and write them down. They tend to be invaluable when you look back in the future.

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