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La Sagrada Família

The Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). It's full name is Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. This website contains a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and what makes this church different from any of the other's is although listed as one (alongside six other works in the city by Gaudí), it's construction is not yet completed. The church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010 and became a minor basilica.

At the end of the 19th century, Barcelona was in full industrialisation and rich in culture. The city's bourgeoisie were both religious and promoted artistic projects. The combination of these two formed the ideal setting for the concept of the Sagrada Família which began as the dream of Josep Maria Bocabella, a Barcelonan bookseller. This would, in due course become Gaudí's dream and the symbol of the city. Bocabella was an intelligent and of strong religious conviction; he was president of the association of Devotees of Saint Joseph. In 1872, he travelled to Italy to offer the Pope on behalf of the association, a silver reproduction of a picture of the Holy Family (Sagrada Família) and on his return to Spain, passed through the Italian village of Loreto. Loreto is famous for it's basilica and according to tradition, is where a house was where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived. Inspired by this, Bocabella decided he would like to see a replica of the basilica in Barcelona. he soon abandoned this idea, instead deciding he would like to see a new and unique temple in the city.

Bocabella's vision would be for the new unique temple to be an expiatory temple, i.e. it would be financed by money donated by the faithful. He unsuccessfully tried to find donations in order to buy centrally located land in Barcelona's Eixample district. The city was rapidly expanding at the time and in 1881, he ended up paying for the site of the future temple, with 172,000 pesetas he had accumulated under the tiles of his bookstore. This site was still in the carefully planned Eixample district, but much further away from the centre than he had originally hoped. This part of the city at this time would have still been under construction, inhabited by labourers, many of whom would have been attracted to the city by it's growing industries.

The laying of the first stone of the temple of the Sagrada Família was on 19th March, 1882, on St Joseph's day. The event was a large public event, attended by all of the city's civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The first stone was to serve as the base for the temple which had been planned by it's first architect, Francisco del Villar. When Bocabella abandoned his idea of reproducing the basilica in Loreto, Italy, he entrusted the project to del Villar, a diocesan architect who had offered to volunteer his services at no cost.  Del Villar's plan was for a neo-gothic church, the style of choice for religious architecture at the time, and his design was for the church to have three naves, a large crypt and a tall needle-shaped bell tower. However, Del Villar's position on the project would only last for a short time. Not long after the supporting columns of the crypt had been put in place, there was a disagreement between himself and Bocabella's Technical assessor. Del Villar's plan was to build the columns out of solid stone blocks whilst the management of the project wanted to use a less expensive system which involved erecting pillars with pieced of stone on the inside and outside which would later be filled with masonry. The disagreement resulted in Del Villar resigning from his position on the project in 1883. Bocabella accepted this as he was more concerned with the possibility of the project running out of money.

After Del Villar resigned, Bocabella offered the role to his technical assessor who turned it down but suggested one of his collaborators, Antoni Gaudí, should lead the project. At the time (still in 1883), Gaudí was just 31 years of age, but he was known for his energy and originality as an architect. It wasn't long before Gaudí, now as the temple's architect, went beyond the original project and transformed it into a visionary masterpiece. As the construction of the crypt's pillars had already begun, one of the first things Gaudí  did was to alter them, giving them naturalistic capitals. In 1884, the first plans were signed off by Gaudí and these were for the design of the chapel of St Joseph, sited in the temple's crypt. The chapel of St Joseph did not take long to build and the first mass to be held there was on 19th March, 1885 (again on St Joseph's day). The crypt itself was completed in 1891, with a few of the chapels inside still to be decorated.

Gaudí, now in charge of the construction work, wanted Sagrada Família to become a focal point and the project would acquire a greater significance not only for it's complex symbolism which he had planned, but also for it's revolutionary structure in his design. Gaudí took the opportunity to explore all of the building's archtectonic potential to create a groundbreaking new design for a perfect temple. With this in mind, he concentrated all of his efforts on making sure every part of the temple would be in perfect agreement with the objective of making the building a celebration of liturgical rites. Gaudí drew on all of his architectonic resources and innovative artistic abilities and applied them to the practice of religion. As the years followed, Gaudí, a man whom strived for perfection, gained a solid religious knowledge and developed an ever growing faith. Consequently, he became highly conscious of the various liturgical themes and managed to reflect these throughout his design for the temple.

Gaudí's vision for the temple was of one as a Bible made of stone, outlining the history and the mysteries of Christianity. He designed the outside of the building to represent the Church, with the Virgin, the saints, the apostles and evangelists. The cross on top of the main tower in his design symbolises the triumph of Jesus' church and each of the façades represent three crucial moments in Jesus' life, namely his birth, his death and his resurrection. The interior of his design is a reflection of the universal church and the crossing, to the celestial Jerusalem - mystic symbol of peace. Gaudí worked on Sagrada Família until his death in 1926, when less than a quarter of the building was finished. Progress was slow due to it needing private donations and construction work was stopped by the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), commencing again in the 1950's. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 and some of the project's greatest challenges still remain. Overall,  Gaudí's design successfully combined his artistic genius with his faith to convert the construction from it's early life into a masterpiece, which if all goes to plan, should be completed in 2026, one hundred years after his death.

For the visitor to Sagrada Família interested in Gaudí's work, there is plenty to see in, or near, Barcelona. His work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Família forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site (as mentioned earlier). Alongside this, there are six other buildings on the UNESCO listing ('Works of Antoni Gaudí'). These are Parque Güell, Palacio Güell, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and the Crypt in Colonia Güell. For further reading on these click Here to view the UNESCO World Heritage Convention webpage (external link).

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