Friday, 20 April 2018

Barcelona: The Sagrada Familia

The facade of the south transept

The Sagrada Familia (or The Penitential Chapel of the Holy Family, to give its full name in English) was, as everybody knows designed by the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. We have learned that the correct pronunciation is Gow-dee.  Gaudí started work on the church in 1883 and continued to do so until he died as the result of an accident in 1926. Apart from a pause during the Spanish Civil war work has continued ever since.

However, it turns out that Gaudí was not the original architect. A group called the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph raised money for the church and appointed Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano as architect. He prepared a Neo-gothic design and started work on the crypt in 1882, but soon resigned due to disagreements with the promoters. Here is the crypt, seen from the nave. Apart perhaps from the floral decoration on the floor, it look thoroughly conventional (the blue is a reflection of the stained glass, of which more below).

An exciting recent development has been the announcement of the planned completion of the Sagrada Familia in 2026 - the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. We visited the church in 1993 and have been really looking forward to seeing what it is like now. The short answer is: absolutely astonishing.

One of our key memories is that we were left unable to imagine what shape the finished church would take, but now it is clear. The plan of the church is absolutely classic gothic: a nave with an apse at the east end, two aisles on each side, transepts and a crossing tower.

However, everything above the crypt is unlike any church you have ever seen before. You enter through the south transept via a door covered in carved foliage (and if you look closely inhabited by various beetles and insects) ...

 ... with four towers above. Each of the transepts and the west end has a separate theme. The South transept's is the Nativity, the North's is the Passion and the main facade is of course the Resurrection. So the exterior of the church tells the story of the life of Christ.

This does not prepare you for what you see when you go inside. There are great columns defining the nave but these are more like a forest of trees than any normal columns.

There is a profusion of bright light from abstract stained glass in the sides of the church, the three facades and in the sides of the transepts.

Golden light enters above the altar (OK, it was a sunny day).

The ceiling has vaguely gothic bosses, but the effect is again almost without precedent.

We took the lift to the bridge above the south transept and looked at some of the extraordinary shapes. It reminded us of what we had learned about Gaudí's deep interest in the natural world.

We remembered coming down the narrow stairs in 1993 and reaching the ground with our legs like jelly - there were no landings so you couldn't really stop.

We were delighted to reach the bottom in much better shape this time - all that walking we have done since 2002 has clearly had some effect! 

You are firmly routed through the church and leave by the north transept. This is the view of that part of the church.

Rating: 5 stars. It does not seem enough for one of the world's greatest buildings.

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