I feel lucky that I have been able to come back to Barcelona after I visited it eleven years earlier, and not because it is an amazing city with wonderful and spectacular history, but because it means that I have been able to tour the Sagrada Familia twice. Now, I know that this is a cathedral, and anybody who has been to Europe knows that there are so many cathedrals that they start to blend into one another, but there is something special about this cathedral. It was originally supposed to be another gothic cathedral in the heart of Barcelona, but then Antonio Gaudi was given the privilege to design it, and what was created has turned into something that is unlike anything else that has been built. It is a tribute to architecture, and in my humble opinion, the most beautiful thing that man has ever created.
The design starts with the pillars inside of the cathedral. Gaudi was inspired by nature, and wanted the inside of the cathedral to reflect this connection. Instead of having the pillars reach to the ceiling and connect in four spots to hold up the mighty structure, he designed them so they would continually branch out like trees. It give the space inside the cathedral a more airy and open feeling as if you were walking through a forest. He added to this motif by designing stain glass windows to let in light that reflects the time of day, cooler colors on the east side for the morning, and warmer colors on the west for the sunset. The stone that is used for each pillar is different and the carving on the side is specific to different trees to give his forest an eclectic variety of tress. With all of this, the brilliance comes with the fact that structurally this is more sound than the designs of gothic cathedrals, and more pleasing to look at.
He also removed a lot of the clutter that can be found inside gothic cathedrals and instead placed the statues outside so everybody can enjoy the impact that these points of Bible stories might have on the general public. So far two of the sides reflect two of the more important points in Jesus’s life, the nativity and the passion. The nativity side faces east towards the rising sun, and the intricate carving were designed to give the feeling of the explosion of nature as if life is just beginning for the first time. The whole side of the cathedral has moments from Jesus’s earlier part of life such as the arrival of the the shepherds, and the three wise men, the exile from Bethlehem, and Jesus working on a project with his father, Joseph. I spent some time on this side marveling at the intricacies put into the design, making walking through its doors a spiritual moment.
But this is in stark contrast to the opposite side of the building with its angular statues, and harsh motifs. This side depict many moments of Jesus’s death, and Gaudi wanted to remind people that this was a brutal moment in history. Even the pillars that hold up this side of the building remind me of taut muscles and stiff bones. But this side captivates me more than the nativity side. Gaudi dies before its completion, so he was never able to see it as he intended, but the artist that took over the construction made sure to give enough hints to its creator to make it even more interesting to look at. There is a magic square in which the numbers always add up to 33, how old Jesus was when he dies. There are also Roman soldiers wearing helmets that are actually chimney rooftops from another Gaudi structure in town, and the face of the architect is on one of the disciples of the left side of the relief.
It is a great building that is filled with surprises at every turn that highlights Gaudi’s love of nature, God, and the city that he lived in. It is still being built and they hope to finish its construction by 2026, one hundred years after the death of its designer. And I am lucky to have seen it at two different points during its construction, and I hope to come back again some day to see it again when it is complete.