The Sagrada Familia features a mix of Catalan Modernism, Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Noucentisme and Art Nouveau. While the church began construction during the Art Nouveau, Gaudi has been credited with bringing Art Nouveau style much beyond its usual application as a surface decoration.
While the Sagrada Familia was never meant to be a cathedral, it was designed to be one in terms of its scale. Featuring a shorter width than most other cathedrals in Europe, the Sagrada Familia showcases a complex symphony of parts, including numerous steeples, three portals, an ambulatory with seven apsidal chapels, double aisles and towers.
The interesting thing about all these structures is how distinctly different they are in terms of both the structure and ornament. Another highlight of the church are covered passages which form a rectangle around the church and passed through the narthex of its three portals. Also, unlike most other churches around the world, the Sagrada Familia doesn't boast of exact right angles inside or outside the church and very few straight lines in the design.
While the church is still being constructed, the areas open to the public still feel like a mystical castle straight out of a fairytale, with colourful stained glass windows framed by vaulting columns and an intricately carved ceiling.
What to See in Sagrada Familia
The Nativity facade, along with the Glory facade and the Passion facade, are the only parts of the Sagrada Familia, which are completely designed by Gaudi. The facade was constructed between 1894 and 1930 and happens to be the only part of the Sagrada Familia which was completed while Gaudi was alive. The Nativity facade symbolizes the birth of Jesus, and in Gaudi's vision, life and creation itself. This is the reason why Gaudi included opulent ornamentation, such as animals and tools mixed with symbols like The Tree of Life in the facade. The Nativity facade faces the north east and has three entrances which represent the three theological values, namely, Faith to the right, Charity at the centre, and hope to the left, along with the Door of Jesus and the Tree of Life. The facade of Nativity culminates with four bell towers dedicated to St. Barnabas, St. Matthew, St. Jude, and St. Simon.
Deemed the most important amongst the three facades of the Sagrada Familia, the Glory Facade provides visitors access to the basilica's central nave. One of the most recent additions to the construction process, work on the Glory facade began only in 2002 and hence is not very far along. Gaudi designed the Glory facade to visually represent the heavenly glory of Jesus and showcase his rise to heaven. Gaudi was well aware that construction of the Glory facade would not be completed in his lifetime and hence drew just a few sketches with a general idea of what his vision and plan was, which included representations of Death, Final Judgement, Hell and Glory. While a majority of the construction work is done, the bell towers dedicated to St. Paul, St. Andr, St. Peter and Jacques d'Alpheus.
Guided by drawings made by Gaudi, work on the Passion Facade started in 1954 and was completed in 1976. After the initial construction was completed, decorative work was done. The Passion facade is dedicated to the Passion of Christ and this is well represented with the facade's relatively simplistic exterior, adorned with bare stone. The facade is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton. The Passion facade is supported by six large columns which resemble Sequoia trunks. There is a pyramidal pediment with 18 bone shaped columns atop the six columns and all this culminates in a large cross with a crown of thorns. There are scenes sculpted into the facade which are divided into three levels, Jesus' last night before crucifixion at the lowest level, the Calvary of Christ at the middle level and the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Christ at the top most level.
While Gaudi's original vision called for a total of 18 spires, to represent the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary the four Evangelists and Jesus Christ. As of 2010, 8 spires have been constructed, next to four apostles each at the Nativity facade and the Passion facade. The spires dedicated to the Evangelists will be surmounted by sculptures of their traditional symbols while the tallest spier, dedicated to Jesus Christ, is to be surmounted by a giant cross. While a lot of work is still pending on the spires, once completed they will make Sagrada Familia the tallest church building in the world.
While the fabulous exteriors of the Sagrada Familia draw most of the attention, the interiors are quite a work of art themselves. What most visitors will notice during their trip to the inside of the church is the magnitude, light and decor on display and just how out of the norm Gaudi's creation truly is. Just like the exterior, the interior of the Sagrada Familia also has great religious significance based on the book of the Apocalypse and the Gospels. The interior showcases Gaudi's personal style with a focus on nature. For instance, to avoid the use of Gothic buttresses, Gaudi created columns shaped like tree trunks, giving visitors the feeling that they are inside a forest and not a church. The ground plan of the Sagrada Familia features a classic Latin cross with a nave of five ships opening onto a transept with three naves, and an apse with a large ambulatory.
Crypt of the Expiatory Temple
The Crypt was the first place in the church which was opened for worship and serves as the final resting place for Antoni Gaudi. The Crypt also happens to be the only part of the Sagrada Familia that Gaudi saw. The style featured in the crypt is very different from the rest of the church because the previous architect Francisco Paula del Villar followed the neo-Gothic style of architecture which was very popular in Europe in the late 19th century. While Gaudi retained much of Villar's design for the crypt, he made some modifications including the location of the altar, the staircase and the addition of a trench for enhanced lighting and ventilation.
The Sagrada Familia Museum
Located on the ground floor of the Sagrada Familia church, the museum opened in 1961 and like the rest of the building, was designed by Antoni Gaudi. The museum was previously the workshop during the construction process and showcases drawings, original and restored models by Gaudi. The evolution of the construction process of the church, through old photographs and drawings, is also on display at the museum. While a majority of the workshop was destroyed during a fire set by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, few original pieces by Gaudi still remain. A visit to Sagrada Familia museum is a great way to learn about the life and working process of Antoni Gaudi and also to discover the painstakingly long process of the church's construction.