Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s Church of Flowering Spirit, Exaltation, Chaotic Life and Sanctuary

Looming shadow of Sagrada Familia Cathedral seen from hilltop at National Museum of Catalonian Art. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Looming shadow of Sagrada Familia Cathedral seen from hilltop at National Museum of Catalonian Art. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

I first saw from afar,  the shadow of Antonio Gaudi’s contemporary and wild cathedral.  We were gazing over the city rooftops of Barcelona,  Spain from the palatial hilltop at the National Museum for Catalonian Art. The church looked ghostly grey and foggy, with a tangle of towering construction cranes.

Cathedral Masterpiece to Be Done After 143 Years
Up close, this modern cathedral, Sagrada Familia will knock off your socks. Sagrada Familia is Spanish exhaltation for “Family of Nazareth”.  This massive, wild-looking edifice has been under construction since 1883.  The architect, Antonio Gaudi spent 43 years of his life on his church masterpiece before he died.  His body is buried within a corner of the church.

This cathedral is scheduled to be finished sometime in 2026.  At least, it’s not like the Freiburg Cathedral in Germany * where construction dragged on for 900 years!

Facing the altar. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Facing the altar. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Sp;ain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Christ on cross under thorned crown of light. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Churches:  Architecture, Art Through Lens of Time, Culture
I’ve dropped by  a number of European cathedrals and smaller churches over the past 3 decades.  What captures my curiosity is the architecture, art and how different Christian stories are interpreted locally in statuary, paintings and stained glass art.  I only know major biblical stories and have sketchy understanding of Jesus’ life.

One of many sculptures in cathedral façade. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
One of many sculptures in cathedral façade. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sharp angular lines trace Cruxificon of Christ. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sharp angular lines trace the Cavalary and Cruxificon of Christ. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

But honest, it’s some knowledge to appreciate the depth and infiltration of Christianity in shaping Western beliefs, art, literature and early European wars  which led to death or martyrdom. It gives enough context when appreciating church architecture and liturgical art world-wide.

Approaching front of cathedral. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Approaching front of cathedral. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Near Completion Reveals Light, Flowering Columns
It was worthwhile for Jack to see how far Gaudi’s vision was progressing when we wandered  there for a few hours.  In recent years, he tends to visit cathedrals more often with me or cools his heels outside. On solo trips, he might make the rare stop off his bike. He was inside Sagrada Familia  back in 2008 – when it was dark, dingy and cluttered with scaffolding.

Late afternoon sunlight infuses like a waterfall. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Late afternoon sunlight infuses like a waterfall. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Contemporary stained glass windows, usually similar colours and hues graced cathedral. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Contemporary stained glass windows, usually similar colours and hues graced cathedral. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Fast forward 8 years later:  construction had transformed the cathedral inside as a white and creamy clean sanctuary of soaring flowering columns bathed in streaming sunlight that struck many different modern stained glass windows.

Gaudi’s vision for Sagrada Famila was the celebration of God through Nature’s shapes, lines and colours that’s infused in the cathedral’s structure and art –organic flowing lines, flower motifs and fruit mosaic art topping cathedral steeples.  It is a simultaneously unearthy, yet totally rooted in Earth

Vaulted ceiling reveals joyful sunflower-like motifs. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Tree-like sunflower columns reach vaulted, light ceiling with Christian symbols. Gaudi embedded nature in structural design. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

in vision.  Outside what pulls the viewer forward, are white carvings of biblical scenes on the church’s façade.  From a distance, it looks chaotic:  a jumble of stories and characters which is precisely what Life on Earth is.

Topping some steeples were fanciful, colourful mosaic art fruit. A celebration of God through abundance of nature. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Topping some steeples were fanciful, colourful mosaic art fruit. A celebration of God through abundance of nature. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Gaudi:  Riot of Colours Means Life
Clearly Gaudi spent some time studying sunlight and its shifting position throughout the day. When we were there, a fantastic bank of sunlight streamed through, arcing over like a waterfall through the stained glass windows.

Much of his stained glass art windows, were grouped together by similar colour hues – red and orange glass windows here whereas elsewhere, the blues were in a separate window panel group.

He orchestrated the position of colours with light reflection so at different times of the day, there was sometimes a rainbow stream of colour glowing through the church.

Unlike other dim old cathedrals, multi-coloured washes of sunlight, lifted this cathedral as a warm,  light  and peaceful place to be.

We climbed tight, near claustrophobic tower steps to peek out to half-completed turrets with bright fruity blobs, sculptural peace doves, protective netting and more construction equipment.

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Thankfully, we spiralled down the stairs, to the main floor to bask in  cascading early evening light like a watercolour wash of benediction, over cathedral walls, visitors and supplicants before drifting slowly outside.

One of many series of stained glass art windows. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
One of many series of stained glass art windows. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Liturgical art on cathedral floor. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Liturgical art on cathedral floor. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Late afternoon sunlit colour washes pour through stained glass windows throughout cathedral. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
A tender nativity scene. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
A tender nativity scene. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Resource
More information about Gaudi’s beliefs and vision influencing design and art in Sagrada Familia.
*Link gives some stained glass art at Freiburg Cathedral, in addition to other cathedrals.

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21 Comments Add yours

    1. Jean says:

      Have you been to this church? If not, strongly recommended while in Spain.

      Like

      1. Sartenada says:

        Yes, I have seen it, but only outside. There were too long queues for visiting it. Some year ago, they made in Finland:

        World’s tallest ice Cathedral (Sagrada Família in ice).

        What do You think?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          I guess I would worry just a tad about structural stability in warmer weather. Or they have that down to a science and know when to cordon off the area to visitors?

          Like

  1. Sue Slaght says:

    So beautiful Jean. These are some of the best photos I have seen of this church I hope to see myself one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It’s a stark contrast to the older large cathedrals. I’m glad I saw it when the interior was devoid of most of the construction mess. My partner saw it the first time in 2008 with scaffolding inside. Reminds me of the time, I saw Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel at the Vatican –under major restoration over 20 yrs. ago. Still, we could see the brilliance of his painting colours.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been a long time since I was there the last time. I believe it was back in 2004 when we had a training camp near Barcelona and went there for a day trip. This cathredral was so massive but back then there was not much to see in the inside if I remember correctly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Maybe when it is finally finished, you’ll go see it. By then your 2 children should be nearly adults! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter Klopp says:

    I have read many a post on Gaudi’s cathedral. While they were all great in their presentation. I must declare that your outstanding report and images are very impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Am humbled by your compliments, Peter. To really appreciate the cathedral, it helped me to have visited other European huge cathedrals as a point of comparison yet similar scale.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Peter Klopp says:

        Good point, Jean! However, Gaudi’s Cathedral is unique and very different from the gothic style of most other European cathedrals. I am looking forward to reading your next post, Jean.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Mabel Kwong says:

    Such stunning photos of the Sagrada Familia, Jean. Very well done and all very vivid and sharp too. What amazes me is the amount of light running through the place, what with all the intricate architecture all over the place. Nice to hear you braved the narrow climb to the top. One day I hope to see it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Have you been to Europe yet? I’ve been inside some large, light coloured interior cathedrals but this one can’t be beaten. Most of the huge cathedrals that are older, are darkish inside. Especially how the natural sunlight changes position inside.

      Like

      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        Nope, never been to Europe. But some day. It is amazing how light infiltrate these cathedrals. Amazing architecture that’s not only about beauty but ergonomics and atmosphere too. Did you spend long wandering the cathedrals in total?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          For the European cities, where we went last fall, it averaged to be 1 cathedral /church per day..which means 2-3 in 1 day. Then a few days, cycling/on high speed trains. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  5. livelytwist says:

    So beautiful. The restoration is worth the wait.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It was a very different experience being in this particular cathedral. Because of its lighter interior, more inspiring compared to normally old, quite dark European cathedrals.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. T enjoyed the post. But he’s more interested in what they eat over there. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      😀 The food was great except I felt lacking in choice of veggie dishes.. Maybe we were too amazed by our surroundings to hunt down veggies.

      Like

  7. Eileen On says:

    These are great interior photos! When we visited, the construction scaffolding was up. This adds some more impetus to a return trip to Spain.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, most of the interior is cleared of scaffolding. My partner experienced that the lst time he was there in 2008. This time he was amazed by the transformation and reveal.

      Like

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