La Sagrada Familia

When in Barcelona, go to La Sagrada Familia. The church is visible from high points around the city, its yellow cranes making it even more conspicuous. But when walking at street level, it evades view until it is just a few blocks away.

Construction started in 1882, paused during the Spanish Civil War, began again in the 1950s, and is still underway. The current date for structural completion is 2026; a few years later for the artwork. Hopefully we will be able to take our kids to see the finished Basilica someday.

We watched one of the cranes lifting blocks skyward as we drank sangria waiting while for our entry time.

The Nativity Facade (eastern side).

The different sides look almost like completely different churches. The Nativity Facade on the east side is already showing age; the color is much darker from a hundred years of weather. It is very Gothic feeling, with lots of details and natural imagery. The four spires rise almost straight into the air.

The western Passion Facade is stark and modern with skeletal looking humans showing the scenes from the Crucifixion. Sections added in just the last few years are still bright white. Its pillars come outward and seem to welcome people in.

The Glory Facade exists in name and design posters only. A lot of concrete bases with rebar rising out the top stands where towers and the main doors will eventually go on the south side of the building.

A small part of the Passion Facade and part of a wall of stained glass.

Symbolism is rampant around the Basilica – there are scenes from the Bible and the history and saints of the Catholic church, representations of virtues, images of the natural world showcasing the variety of creation. There is a tree full of doves, trumpeting angels, symbols for the Apostles and Saints. Two of the eastern pillars rise from the backs of a turtle and tortoise – representing God’s creation and control of the sea and land.

Words on a door leading in from the Passion Facade, a tortoise holding up a pillar, seashell font, details from the doors leading in from the Nativity Facade.

The interior style is much more unified. It was completed and consecrated in 2010. Entering the nave is like walking into a forest – the pillars branch near the ceiling and seem to dissolve into a sky of stars and planets. In reality the inset circles each represent a saint or apostle.

Ceiling of the Nave, stained glass reflecting late afternoon light.

The light colors of the stone interior reflect dozens of stained glass windows, especially late in the afternoon. The windows are arranged to create rainbows of color as sunshine filters through; the entire area seems to glow.

At night, the completed facades are illuminated by flood lamps. Some of the lower details are lost, but it is easier to see the complexity of the spires. I think I prefer the exterior at night and I’m glad we got to see it that way.

The Basilica at night.


The Barcelona Cathedral is not as tall as La Sagrada Familia and will be further dwarfed once construction is complete, but it is just as breathtaking inside. We watched the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday evening. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the statue of Jesus be moved around the square to readings from the Gospel before being carefully ushered back into the church.

The Stations of the Cross in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.