La Sagrada Familia: History & Facts

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  • 0:04 What Is La Sagrada Familia?
  • 1:03 Founding of the Church
  • 2:01 La Sagrada Familia Under Gaudi
  • 3:03 La Sagrada Familia After Gaudi
  • 4:16 Completion of La…
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

La Sagrada Familia has been called both the most inspirational and most controversial building in modern architecture. In this lesson, we'll explore the history of this amazing structure and see how its past has defined its present.

What Is La Sagrada Familia?

In the 1880s, Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí took over the design and construction of a new church for the city of Barcelona. That church is still unfinished to this day, and yet is already recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important buildings in the world. The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic basilica in Spain and one of the most recognizable, lauded, and controversial structures in the last several centuries of architecture. Despite being under construction for over a century, the basilica remains incomplete due to the complexity of Gaudí's designs and a few other historical factors, but that's okay. Gaudí, known in history as 'God's Architect' for his incredible religious structures, was said to have remarked that his client was in no hurry. La Sagrada Familia would be completed in its own time, and a century later we still wait to see when that time will come.

Founding of the Church

The Temple of the Holy Family, as it's called in English, was inspired in the 19th century by a Spaniard named Josep Bocabella. Bocabella had founded a religious organization called the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph, which was campaigning to have a new church erected in Barcelona dedicated to the Holy Family.

Eventually, the association raised enough money to purchase some land and hire an architect named Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. Paula's original plan was to build a Neo-Gothic church, which was a very popular style in the 19th century, whose buildings were based on the magnificent Gothic churches of medieval Europe, characterized by their high levels of decoration and towering spires. The first stone of the new church was laid in 1882, but Paula resigned soon after. In 1883, construction of the Sagrada Familia then fell to another architect: Antoni Gaudí.

La Sagrada Familia Under Gaudí

Gaudí immediately began changing the design of the church. While he was committed to the generally Gothic style, he also felt that this was naturally limited. Medieval Gothic structures relied on large support structures called buttresses, and Gaudí did not want to imitate this. He believed that God's house should be free of bulky supports, yet limitless in its height and grandeur. To resolve this problem, Guadí turned to nature, seeking inspiration in what he saw as God's architecture.

There's a reason the Sagrada Familia today looks almost botanical. Not only are the design motifs largely based on natural and organic forms, but the support structures of the church are actually modeled on the stems of plants. This unique design was stronger, lighter, and allowed for a greater amount of natural light inside the church. Art historians, therefore, identify the Sagrada Familia partly with the neo-Gothic movement, but also with the emerging Art Nouveau of the late 19th century that stressed organic and flowing forms.

La Sagrada Familia After Guadí

In terms of both technical engineering and design, Gaudi's church was amongst the most complex structures ever planned. He built many models, many of which were actually constructed upside down to show how the weight would be distributed, and towards the end of his life dedicated all of his attention to a church he knew he would not live to see completed.

Antoni Gaudí died in 1926 after being hit by a streetcar and, while work on the Sagrada Familia continued, it was not without challenge. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War interrupted construction. Around the same time, Spanish anarchists destroyed many of Gaudí's original models and plans. After the end of the World War II, however, construction resumed and has been constant ever since.

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