Barcelona: Gaudi, Works in Progress and the Sacrada Familia

“A church is the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man”.

~Antoni Gaudi~


Religion: man’s way of reaching out to the heart of God.

Gaudi is arguably one of the most famous architects of modern times.  No doubt, his greatest work of architecture is the Sacrada Familia.  It is one of the most thought-provoking, awe-inspiring churches I have ever visited.

If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, it is a must-see for the Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Gaudi was not the original architect, but he quickly became chief architect and visionary for this ambitious project.  No doubt, Gaudi was the man for the job.  He was highly sought out for his innovative design — but he was also a faithful Catholic.

Gaudi took his inspiration from a forest when designing these columns reaching to the sky

What began as a “project” ended up becoming his sole passion and life’s work.  The last twelve years of his life were spent exclusively on the building of Sacrada Familia.

Gaudi saw this work as a way to “collaborate with God”.  This might be a familiar concept to the modern Catholic, but the idea of holiness, of sanctifying one’s work in a secular vocation was not necessarily a common idea at the time.

Gaudi reminded even the most humble of laborers that they were “collaborators”  with God and that their work could be part of their path to holiness.

He also looked out for their earthly needs. He established a school for the children of the workers, right next to the Sacrada Familia.  How cool is that?

Interestingly, famous Japanese designer Etsuro Sotoo, who worked on parts of the Nativity facade, converted to Catholicism after spending time studying Gaudi’s work and his instructions left behind for future collaborators of the project.

The Nativity Facade

The Sacred Familia tells the whole salvation story in stone and ceramic.  It is quite stunning to see — mind blowing, really.

Look at the details packed into every inch of space on the Nativity Facade.  Gaudi oversaw the work on this facade.  It is hands-down my favorite part of the exterior of the church.

Here’s a few more views:

Crowning of Mary
Flight into Egypt
The Slaughter of the Innocence.

The Passion Facade is quite a contrast to the Nativity facade.  It is primarily the work of Josep Maria Subirachs.  It was begun in the 1980’s.  Honestly, it isn’t my preferred style.  I’ve said it before, but in my opinion,  nothing good came out of the 80’s. 🙁  Having said that,  I think the “cubist” styling with its cold undertones somehow seems to work here, so I’ll give it a pass.

The stark reality of the death of Jesus and the lack of warmth of the cubist style most definitely leaves the visitor with an impression of the sadness of that event.  It is masterfully done — so definitely worth the time to contemplate.

Perhaps this “collaboration” of different stylings has helped to draw in people of all different backgrounds and preferences.  Perhaps it can touch hearts in a way that one man’s work couldn’t touch.  Perhaps.

Here’s a few examples of the difference in styling.

Passion Facade done primarily by Josep Maria Subirachs.
Betrayed with a kiss.
Very different in styling to the Nativity Facade.

La Sacrada Familia is most definitely a project that required architectural genius, inspiration, and a lot of hard work.  You can see evidence of that throughout the entire church.

Don’t forget to explore one of the towers.  We decided to go up the Nativity Tower.

The towers are definitely worth seeing.
Unless you have a fear of heights.
Architectural Genius
Such a cool stairwell.
Don’t forget to look up every once in a while — you’ll be surprised by the beauty that is above you.

You will also notice the abundance of light — lots and lots of light.  And you see color play a major role as well. Gaudi saw light as crucial.  Light was really the key to unlocking the beauty of his design.

We went about 3pm.  It is one of the best times of day to visit because everything seems to be glowing inside.  It’s like a beautiful forest — with light and color streaming through on all sides.

The East Wall.  It has a cooler, more somber feel.
The West Wall.  Exudes warmth and color.
Don’t forget to look up!
Light infused stairwells.

As Gaudi grew in understanding of his unique call, his life began to change as well.  Gaudi began his career as a fashionable architect serving the wealthiest citizens of Barcelona. In his final years, he lived a dramatically simpler life.

He is said to have walked around with pins holding his clothes together — so little did he care for his own personal appearance. His entire life became an offering of sorts,  slowly burning away his ego until he was almost unrecognizable from earlier days.

Gaudi dedicated his life to prayer, Mass, fasting and penance — and designing and constructing one of the most ambitious projects in modern Church history.

It was on the way to pray at St. Philip Neri’s, one day, that he was struck by a streetcar and left to die.  Nobody recognized the great architect — so poor was his appearance.  He was mistaken for a beggar. Eventually he was brought to a hospital and died soon after.

Not such a happy ending to a story — unless, of course, that isn’t the end of the story.

The story goes on.  Gaudi’s work is continuing to this day.  It is set to be completed in the year 2026.

This ambitious project set to be completed in 2026.

While writing this post, I attempted to cut the crane out of the picture above. It just seemed to detract from the magnificence of Gaudi’s work. After I thought about it, though, it seemed more fitting to leave it in.

The work that Gaudi did — it was messy.  There are real moments of beauty, things of beauty filling the church — and they rose out of the dust and dirt of a construction site.  You know, it’s a great reminder for our own lives.

The truth is, we’re all just works in progress.  Sometimes we get glimpses of the beauty in our souls — those moments we respond with love, rather than anger or impatience or selfishness. Those are good moments, aren’t they?

Sadly, they don’t last for very long.

Sometimes you have to overlook the construction, to notice all the good stuff happening.

Walking around the Sacrada Familia — it’s a good reminder to not allow all the work that is left to be done in our lives to cause us to grow discouraged.  We can’t let all that “messiness” stop us from moving forward.

We also can’t grow too comfortable with our own mediocrity — we are called to be Saints.  We are called to strive for excellence — in our work, in our efforts to love, in our pursuit of virtue.  Often that excellence is what is going to draw others to Christ.

That’s why is so important to keep praying, going to confession, and taking advantage of the Sacraments.

It is also important to be realistic.  This work in our souls is not likely to be finished in this lifetime.  Hey, that’s why we have purgatory.  So, yay for purgatory.

The key is to not stop, to keep trying, to never, ever give up — and to stay humble — because then we’ll be able to see the beauty that lies in the midst of all that mess.

Sometimes we need to get up close to appreciate all the beauty that’s already there.

Gaudi famously said, “My Client is not in a hurry”.  

It takes patience to allow growth to happen in God’s timing, not our own.  And you know what else, it takes courage to keep going, despite the obstacles.  Gaudi faced many of them himself.

There were many critics of his work, naysayers who insisted la Sacrada Familia would never be finished, and I’m sure he had his own doubts, too — but he just kept moving forward.

And so we must move forward too.  We just have to keep dusting ourselves off and trying again.

Love doesn’t require the minimum.  It requires the maximum. Love asks us to pour ourselves out, again and again.

And I don’t know about you, but sometimes all this “pouring ourselves out for others” can be tiring.  We’re not even two weeks into the school year, and I’m already feeling a bit weary.

Let’s not forget the power we have to renew our enthusiasm for this crazy life we’re living: the power of prayer, the power of joy and the power of “no”.

Prayer helps us to reconnect with God and to know what He is asking of us.

Leisure and time with loved ones brings us joy — which brings a renewed enthusiasm for our work.

Last, but not least, learning to say “no” to the things that God’s not asking us to do allows us room to breathe and time to do the things we are supposed to be doing — and to do them well.

Tired campers. I can relate.

So let’s not grow discouraged.  Let’s continue the good work that God has begun in us and in the world.

Lord have mercy, we have our work cut out for us.  Now let’s get crackin’.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9)


Linking up with Kelly.

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4 thoughts on “Barcelona: Gaudi, Works in Progress and the Sacrada Familia

  1. Good tears have entered my eyes because I’m tired, so tired too. But, I know the encouragement of loved ones and Gods words mixed with great examples of Faith will sustain me…love you, Meg

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