Sometimes the things we are least interested in turn out to be the things that really blow us away. Whilst I was aware of how large and eccentric the Sagrada Familia was from my research and from the view from my hotel I hadn’t anticipated the impact actually entering the building would have. I’m not a religious person in the sense that I have little time for organised religion but I know from the time I spend in Worcester Cathedral every award ceremony season that there is something about these large religious buildings that can be quite powerful.
The exterior prepares you for the modernistic and unconventional approach to the design of this huge basilica. As you can see the columns are very naturalistic, based on trees and in the crypt/museum you can see drawings where Gaudi used the measurements of real trees that were leaning as he wished to help him create these columns. The facade in the photo above is the Passion Facade and depicts the story of Christ from the Last Supper to his burial. This facade was actually completed by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs between 1985 and 2005 based on Gaudi’s ideas. However it was on entering the building that the real impact hit.
I suspect the chanting from a service had something to do with it but on entering the building I was quite overwhelmed, almost to tears which was quite bizarre. The photographs just don’t do the architecture justice. There are so many elements – the columns of three or four different designs with the taller ones down the central nave and the shorter ones on the outside. If you look up the columns again you can see Gaudi’s fascination with nature in the way they branch like trees. The circular things you can see on the top of some of the columns are meant to represent clouds in heaven.
The stainless glass windows are simply stunning and depending on whether they are facing towards the sea or the mountains are predominantly blue or orange/green. Whilst some of the windows, particularly those looking down on the altar will be left clear so natural light can shine in there are still many windows left to be done. It is amazing that this building was originally started by Gaudi in 1883 the building is still not complete and it is anticipated that it may not be completed until at least 2026. This really surprised my sons given how quickly buildings go up even the large and dramatic skyscrapers like the Shard recently completed in London. Part of the reason is that the Sagrada Familia is entirely dependent on donations for its construction, the other reason I think is the complexity of the building.
My sons, a cabinet maker and a design student, found the museum in the crypt quite fascinating since you could see behind the scenes where the models were made which helped the architects work out the details and explain their ideas to the stone masons.
I found the drawings for the various exterior sculptures amazing. Gaudi’s for the Nativity Facade and Josep Maria Subirachs’ for the Passion Facade. There was something about this drawing which particularly spoke to me and if there hadn’t been a queue to get in the shop I would have seen if there was a print.
There is just something about the face that I found incredibly powerful. I love seeing the way the artist/sculptor sketches and works the design up.
All the time we were looking around the basilica we were aware of the continuing work on the building. I found myself wondering if this was a similar sight to that experienced by our medieval ancestors when the great English Cathedral such as Worcester were built. I found the building and the process quite awe-inspiring and I can imagine my ancestors, nearly a thousand years ago, feeling the same.
If you are in Barcelona you really have to visit the Sagrada Familia. You can book tickets in advance although we arrived around 10:15ish and queued for only about 15 minutes. I couldn’t fault the staff on how quickly and methodically they moved visitors through the ticket gates so don’t be put off.