Gaudí’s Grandeur: The Breathtaking Beauty of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família

Spain is not easily attached to a European tour.  It is out of the way and therefore, if you go there, it must be the destination unto itself.  It was this out of the wayness that had kept me from it all of these years, until a fortuitous business trip corrected the situation. And once there, I immediately regretted not having prioritized a visit sooner.

Barcelona itself is a dream.  The topography, the architecture, the food…all of it are just amazing.  I could write 1,000 blogs on that topic alone.

But experiencing the genius and magic of famed architect, Antoni Gaudí, is an entirely separate subject and what brings us together today. Of course, when I think of Gaudí, I think of the word “gaudy,” which was termed from his work and means “excessively showy.”  And his buildings are just that.  The term is correct, but in my world, we apply that word to mean “too much” or “tacky” and the real structures designed by Antoni Gaudí are certainly not tacky and definitely not too much.

The thing that makes his excessiveness so beautiful, the thing that makes it work…is that he draws all of his inspiration from nature.  Every bit of the immense Basílica de la Sagrada Família is an ode to nature and God. The interior columns are trees.  Ornately carved leaves and vines crawl up the outer doors.  The intense colors in the stained glass windows correlate to the colors of nature.  It’s like the Garden of Eden in stone, wood and glass. Gaudí himself famously said, “Nothing is art if it does not come from nature.”

It’s like the Garden of Eden in stone, wood and glass.

Gaudí took over as chief architect of the cathedral in 1883 from architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, who had begun the work in 1882.  Gaudí’s efforts on the project consumed his life and went very slowly.  He worked on it until his death in 1926 and was still only 25% finished.  Using Gaudí’s plans, construction on the cathedral continues to this day and is projected to finally finish in 2026.  Throughout la Sagrada Família, there is a mixture of old and new…100 year old stone laid next to new sculpture.

In remarking on the slowness of the construction, Gaudí said, “My client is not in a hurry.”

I often wonder about how Gaudí would feel about the use of computers and modern technology in the construction.  I think he would have loved the potential it opened up and the allowances it provides for the sort of detailed work he loved.

Gaudí was a Catalan by birth and a major figure in the Modernista art movement.  He was heavily influenced by the Gothic era.  If you travel to Barcelona, you can not only visit la Sagrada Família, but also, he has several incredible homes that he designed in town.

Gaudí, who never married or had children, had the look of a sophisticated architect in his youth, but as he aged and his obsession with la Sagrada Família intensified, he let his appearance go and was often mistaken for a beggar.  He was struck by a bus on June 7, 1926, and it was days before anyone even knew  that the man who had been hit was Gaudí.

He is buried in the crypt at la Sagrada Família in the middle of his life’s work.  When asked about how it felt to know that some future generation would finish his cathedral, he said, “There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.”

Here are a few resources to help you learn more about la Sagrada Família and Gaudí: