Being a project that I’ve been fascinated with my entire life, I wanted to update you on a few developments at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The work of the late Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926) the Basilica of the Holy Family (“Sagrada Familia”) has been under construction since the late 19th century, and is undoubtedly the most unique church in the world. Millions of people visit each year to marvel at it, and there is always something new and exciting going on with regard to its architectural progress.
The latest addition to the building is a massive, 18-ton stone cross, nearly 25 feet tall and about 14 feet wide. The construction team described its installation on Monday as “a real challenge”, not only because of its size, but because of its placement. There was no room for error in swinging it about into position, which could have damaged the statuary and architectural elements beneath it.
The cross is located on the pinnacle of the porch attached to the façade of the church that represents scenes from Christ’s Passion. There will be three sculptures of angels placed around the cross, each engaged in a different action: the first will be venerating the cross, the second will be embracing the cross, and the third will be kneeling and holding aloft a chalice. You can see a model for the group below:
While the giant cross may seem like just another decorative element on an already highly-decorated building, it ties in to the overall sculptural program. Just below the cross is a platform, reached by two staircases that will eventually be accessible to visitors, depicting the scene in the Bible in which the women come to the tomb on Easter morning and find it empty. An angel appears to them to inform them that Jesus has risen from the dead, and points to both the empty tomb and to Heaven as the women react with astonishment:
Most of the sculpture on the Passion Façade is by the late Catalan sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs (1927-2014), whose work straddles the lines between Expressionism, Cubism, and Brutalism. To be honest, for the most part his work is not to my taste, although I do confess to liking some of it. Subirachs died before all of the sculptural groups on the Passion Façade could be finished, and two other Catalan sculptors have been working to complete the programme on this side of the building.
The cross and the angels surrounding it are the work of contemporary Catalan sculptor Lau Feliu (born 1957) whose style is, while not exactly the same as that of Subirachs, certainly related to it and perhaps a bit more pleasing to the eye. In addition to the cross and angels, Feliu has also completed two animal sculptures which stand on either end of the porch: the Lion of Judah, and the sacrificial ram caught in a thicket which was sacrificed by Abraham in place of Isaac:
The empty tomb scene on the other hand, is the work of another contemporary Catalan sculptor, Francesc Fajula (born 1945). Like Feliu, Fajula’s style is not the same as that of Subirachs, but shares some of the same visual influences, particularly from Expressionism. The faces of the Marys, in particular, had to be carved with great thought, since they would need to be seen from the sidewalk down below. Fajula also sculpted the crucifix which is suspended over the main altar in the Basilica, based on Gaudí’s designs for the piece.
As to overall progress, by the end of this year it is expected that the six main towers of the Basilica will all be as tall as the currently existing towers on the Nativity and Passion Facades, which are about 295 feet tall. Of the six, the tower located over the apse will be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and will eventually be 459 feet tall, crowned with a giant illuminated star representing the Star of Bethlehem. Over the crossing at the center of the church are a central spire surrounded by four supporting spires. The supporting spires will be dedicated to the Four Evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and each of these will be 443 feet tall. The central spire rising from the midst of these will be dedicated to Jesus and stand 566 feet tall, making the Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world when it is completed.
Construction on the Sagrada Familia is still on pace to be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death, and I must confess that every time I go back to Barcelona I’m astonished by how quickly things have been moving. While the final decoration of the building will be completed long after 2026, to have it structurally complete in my own lifetime is something that, as a child, I never thought that I would see happen. It’s already a structure which makes you gasp when you stand in front of it because of its sheer size and height, and I can’t imagine what the final effect will be when it’s nearly two times as tall as it already is right now.
To keep up with the progress on the Basilica, be sure to follow the Sagrada Familia’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. Images are posted every day, with accompanying text in English, Catalan, and Spanish, and there’s always some new detail to be featured, or a new achievement in the construction process to note. Unlike many other buildings, the construction of the Sagrada Familia is being funded entirely by private donations and tickets – no government or diocesan money is going toward its completion – and it’s been that way from the beginning. So if you’re interested in helping to complete construction on this astonishing project, you can visit the official website and learn how you can participate.