The church of the Sagrada Família, final masterpiece of architect Antoni Gaudí and an icon of Barcelona, was begun in 131 years ago and is still unfinished. When the cornerstone was laid on March 19th, 1882, the church was to be built according to a neo-Gothic design by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, but he resigned in 1883 over conflicts with consulting architect Joan Martorell and architect Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of the Association of the Devouts of Saint Joseph created to promote the construction of a church dedicated to the Holy Family. Martorell was offered the job of head architect but he declined and suggested his protégé Gaudí.
Gaudí was just 31 years old when he headed the call to build the new church. It would become his life’s work and he committed to it almost exclusively from 1915 until he was hit by the number 30 tram in 1926 and died at the age of 73. He was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Família. The church was between 15 and 25 percent complete at the time of his death. Construction continued under Domènec Sugrañes i Gras who had worked for Gaudí for 20 years. It was Sugrañes who finished the façade of the Nativity over the next 10 years.
Then the Spanish Civil War ignited and work on the church stopped in 1936. Catalan anarchists set fire to the church crypt, to the school Gaudí had built on the site for the children of the workers, and most damaging of all for the fate of the building, to Gaudí’s workshop which contained all his plans, drawings, notes and models. He didn’t use blue prints, preferring to make 3D models and make changes organically as he went along. Those models were essential, therefore, to the execution of the church Gaudí had envisioned.
In 1939, architect and Gaudí collaborator Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal picked up the pieces, restoring the crypt and painstakingly reconstructing the models that had been damaged during the war. Using the rebuilt models as guide’s to Gaudí’s vision, construction resumed on the ravaged church. Since then, a number of architects have taken up the mantle, adapting the design as they deemed necessary, something Gaudí himself did all the time, but since nobody but Gaudí is Gaudí, any and all changes have caused controversy.
Still, construction continues inexorably, sometimes more vigorously than others depending on how well fundraising is going. The church is entirely privately funded and over the years financial bottlenecks have occasionally slowed traffic to a crawl. A major milestone was passed in 2010 when the roof over the main nave was completed and an organ installed. This meant the church could finally be used for services. It was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI on November 7th, 2010, at a mass attended by 6,500 indoors and 50,000 outside.
In 2011, the construction committee announced a completion date of 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death. Sort of. If not 2026, then surely by 2028. Maybe. Let’s face it, they still don’t know. It’s such a complex project and there are so many variables that the only way we’ll know for sure the Sagrada Família is finished is when it’s actually finished.
Since that is indubitably a long way off, here’s a wonderful digital rendering of the remaining construction and the final triumph to tide you over.