Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, and also known simply as Sagrada Família, is a large Catholic temple in the Catalan city of Barcelona, Spain, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, and considered by many critics as his masterpiece and exponent of modernist architecture Catalan. Funded solely for private contributions, the project was started in 1882 and assumed by Gaudí in 1883, when he was 31 years old, dedicating his last 40 years of life, the last fifteen exclusively. The construction was suspended in 1936 due to the Spanish Civil War and is not estimated to be completed before 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death.
The construction began in Neogothic style, but the project was completely reformulated by Gaudí when assuming it. The temple was designed to have three large façades: the Nativity Façade, almost finished with Gaudí still in existence, the Passion Façade, begun in 1952, and the Façade of Glory, still to be completed. According to his usual procedure, from general sketches of the building Gaudí improvised the construction as it advanced. The temple, when completed, will have 18 towers: four in each of the three portal entrances, in the style of domes; will have a system of six towers, with the tower of the central dome dedicated to Jesus Christ, 170 meters high, another four around it, dedicated to the evangelists, and a second dome dedicated to the Virgin. The interior will be formed by innovative inclined arborescent columns and vaults based on hyperboloids and paraboloids looking for the optimum shape of the catenary. It is estimated that it will be able to bring in its choir 1500 singers, 700 children and five organs. In 1926, the year Gaudí died, only one tower was built. From the design of the building only remained plans and a model in plaster that was very damaged during the Spanish Civil War. Since then works have continued: the Nativity and Passion portals are currently finished (2018), and Glória began, and the interior vaults are under construction.
Gaudí’s work – the façade of the Nativity and the crypt – was included by UNESCO in 2005 at the World Heritage Site under the title «Works by Antoni Gaudí.
The purpose of building an expiatory temple dedicated to the Sagrada Familia in a new terrain of the Eixample of Barcelona was of the bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella, for which it founded the Association of Devotees of San Jose. For this it was acquired a whole quarter of the Eixample in a place known like El Poblet, near the Camp de l’Arpa in Sant Martí de Provençals, between Provence, Majorca, Marina and Sardenya streets.
The project was first handed to Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, who proposed a neo-Gothic set, refusing Bocabella’s suggestion to make a replica of the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto. Villar’s project consisted of a church of three naves, with elements typical of the Gothic, such as alveolated stained glass, the exterior buttresses and a tall steeple in the shape of a needle. The first stone was placed on March 19, 1882, the day of St. Joseph, with the presence of the then bishop of Barcelona, José María Urquinaona. Gaudí attended the ceremony, since he had worked as Villar’s assistant in several projects. The works did not begin until 25 of August of 1883, being adjudicated to the contractor Macari Planella i Roura.
The Holy Family in 1915.
In 1883, Villar resigned by disagreements with Joan Martorell, architect adviser of Bocabella. The project was offered to Martorell himself, but in refusing it, it was offered to a young Gaudí of 31 years; Gaudí had been Martorell’s assistant in several constructions, a fact that had motivated the recommendation of Gaudí, who had not yet performed great works. When Gaudí took charge of the project, he modified it entirely – except for the part already constructed of the crypt -, giving him his peculiar style. During the remaining 43 years of his life he worked intensively on the work, the last 15 years exclusively. This intense dedication has its explanation, beyond the magnitude of the work, by the fact that Gaudí defined many aspects as the construction progressed, instead of having concretized them previously in his plans and instructions. That is why his personal presence in the work was of great importance.
During the life of Gaudí only the facade of the Nativity was made, with sculpture of Carles Mani, Llorenç Matamala and Joan Matamala, counting on the drawings of Ricard Opisso; Gaudí only came to see crowned the tower of Saint Barnabé before his death. On the death of Gaudí, his helper Domènec Sugrañes was commissioned during the years 1926-1936, finishing the three towers that were on the façade of the Nativity.
Gaudí shows the works of the temple to the Apostolic nuncio of the Vatican, Francesco Ragonesi (1915). At that time Ragonesi described Gaudí as “the Dante of architecture” and stated that “his work is one of the greatest Christian poems in stone”.
During the Spanish Civil War the workshop in which Gaudí had worked was destroyed for the most part, and where his sketches, mock-ups and models were found. For this cause and the particular way Gaudi worked, there were no plans or guidelines as to how the temple should end. Therefore, when the construction of the Holy Family continued in 1944, it was first necessary to define how to proceed in order to build the temple in the manner most faithful to Gaudí’s principles.
At the head of this gigantic task were the architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig i Boada and Lluís Bonet i Garí, while the sculptural work was commissioned by Jaume Busquets. Later, when the facade of the Passion was constructed, the main set of sculptural figures was entrusted to Josep Maria Subirachs. The latter’s works gave rise to a certain controversy, due to the fact that he created totally contemporary sculptures that were far removed from the realistic style that Gaudí included on the façade of the Nativity. The Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo collaborated in some sculptures of the facade of the Nativity. Since 1987 the works are under the direction of the architect Jordi Bonet i Armengol.
Project of a starry square for the Holy Family (1916).
One of the most controversial points in relation to the temple is its situation in the urban fabric of Barcelona: when the work began, it was in a clearing, but quickly became part of the rapid development of the city in the early twentieth century. In 1905 Gaudí carried out a project to include the Sagrada Família within the Jaussely Plan, the new project of Barcelonan enlargement: he conceived to situate the temple inside an octagonal star-shaped garden area that would have provided an excellent view of the temple from all surrounding areas. Finally, due to the cost of the terrain, it reduced the project to a four-pointed star, which allowed a broad view of all vertices. However, Gaudí’s plan was not implemented: in 1975 the Municipality of Barcelona carried out an urban study that included rehabilitating a cross-shaped area around the Sagrada Família, with four garden squares at each end of the temple; even though there are currently only two of these squares, and the creation of the new spaces would involve demolishing several buildings, for which the ideal solution for framing the Holy Family in an appropriate environment is still being studied.
The Temple of the Holy Family had several outstanding events: in 1920 the Jubilee Year of Saint Joseph was celebrated with processions, pilgrimages and masses, and the Hallelujah of Handel’s Messiah was sung by a thousand orchestral singers from all over Catalonia, directed by Lluís Millet. In 1953, on the occasion of the 35th International Eucharistic Congress celebrated in Barcelona, the artistic illumination of the facade of the Nativity was inaugurated. In 1981, the Gaudí square opened in front of the Sagrada Familia, with a project of gardens of Nicolau Maria Rubió i Tudurí, where stands out the tank, in whose waters the temple is reflected. The following year, on the occasion of the centenary of the laying of the first stone, the temple was visited by Pope John Paul II. Likewise, on March 18, 2007, the 125th anniversary of the laying of the first stone of the temple was celebrated with a party, concerts and dancing a sardana around the entire temple. The temple is the usual stage of numerous cultural events and religious meetings.