When we step into centuries-old churches, we know we are stepping into the past, and we are invited to share in the history provided by what has been preserved throughout time. Churches fascinate me. Some people say that they all start to look the same after a while, but not to me. Barcelona’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, especially, is like no other church I’ve ever seen.
Unlike other historically significant churches that invite us into the past, La Sagrada Familia, The Holy Family, simultaneously invites us into the past, the present and the future, as La Sagrada Familia’s first stone was laid in back in 1882, its construction continues today, and it is scheduled to continue in the years to come.
Influences of the past include the distinctive inspiration of architect Antoni Gaudi, whose unmistakable handprint graces many buildings and parks throughout Barcelona. Gaudi spent the latter portion of his life devoted to the design and construction of the church, which was said to have been only a fourth of the way completed when he passed away in 1926. Under the direction and guidance of countless others, the work has continued.
Outside, as it has for years, scaffolding and construction materials encase parts of the three Gaudi-inspired facades, the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory Facades, while workers busily implement plans conceived long ago. While on one hand, to not describe the cathedral with words such as simple, bare and plain is difficult. Because on the other hand, it is anything but. Therein lies its beauty. The straight lines, the smooth curves, the simple angles sculpted in ordinary cement are all intentionally combined to create dramatic images depicting complex scenes involving the religious themes for which the facades are named.
As beautiful and amazing as the exterior is, the interior is breathtakingly more. Literally. My breath escaped me the moment I stepped through the doors, reaffirming the notion of being conscious of the present. Gaudi was famously inspired by nature, and that is undeniably reflected, for example, in the basilica’s tall tree-like columns. Inside, the walls and columns are an understated, muted, cement beige. The windows, unlike traditional stained-glass windows, are monochromatic in the shades of blue, yellow, orange. Once the sunlight shines through the windows, the plain interior – the walls, the columns, the floors – becomes a canvas flooded with color. It’s mesmerizing.
All around, inside and out, construction continues as it will, reportedly until 2026, when work is projected to be completed. In the meantime, La Sagrada Familia, will undoubtedly continue to be a tangible example of the past, the present and the future.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)