La Sagrada Família Lives Up to Reputation

Pictures cannot do justice to La Sagrada Família and neither can words. It just must be experienced to be believed. Some call it a masterwork. Some call it (pardon the pun) gaudy, but everyone should agree they’ve seen nothing like it before.

Walking through the main doors, your mouth opens involuntarily as your eyes fill with color and shape and light. You may draw a quick intake of breath, as I did. Looking back over the hundreds of photos we took, none capture the vibrance of the experience.

A lifetime’s work, give or take a century

For those who don’t know, La Sagrada Família in Barcelona consumed most of Antoni Gaudí’s life. He took over the project shortly after its conception in 1882 and over the next 40 years turned the idea of a Gothic cathedral on its head.

More than 130 years since construction started, it’s still not complete, although principal construction is now projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. However, placement of the finials, or tops, of the remaining towers likely will occur several years later.

As numerous signs remind you, La Sagrada Família remains a construction site. Three cranes over the towers make that abundantly clear, as do the tall plywood barriers that obstruct two portions of the main floor designed to seat 13,000. Despite the barriers, despite the tour groups and the crowds and the Italian couple having a lovers’ spat, you feel at one with the place, filled with an inner peace.

Stunning inside and out

Oh, but the sights you will see both outside and inside despite the construction. Glimpsed from a high point in Barcelona, La Sagrada Família does not seem out of place. It was well sign-posted until we were a couple of blocks away. Marilynn was looking for signs and glancing at her fraying map when I looked up—and up and up. No signs were needed at this point.

Walking the exterior before our ticket time, we were struck by how huge it all seems but how visible everything is. Whimsical bowls of colored fruit top some towers. There’s a lamb with its legs tied together, obviously a sacrificial lamb. Snakes coil around tall columns. As you enter the church through ornate doors dotted with sculptured frogs, a pair of them appear in the throes of passion.

And then the breathtaking windows come into view. From subtle blues to the deepest yellows and reds, each window is awash in light and color and brilliance. In some parts of the church, the windows paint the floors in green and blue.

Gaudí touches are everywhere, from the nonlinear columns (he didn’t believe in straight lines) to an oddly shaped stairwell that reminds you of Dr. Seuss. Although Dr. Seuss is actually Gaudí-an, rather than the opposite.

An hour’s visit passed by in what felt like seconds, and there still were the museum and the crypt to visit.

When you do visit (note I didn’t say “if”) be sure to get tickets for an afternoon viewing. We wanted to visit the basilica in the morning but could only get tickets for 6 p.m. It turned out to be the best mishap of the trip, as the stained glass windows were truly ablaze.

Some will dismiss the whimsy of the La Sagrada Família as an affront to God. Architecture fans may decry calling this a Gaudí masterpiece 100 years after his death and 80 years since anarchists destroyed many of his plans.

But I will say that La Sagrada Família was as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve had in Spain.

Don’t read about it. Don’t Google it. Don’t watch a documentary about it. Just go.

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