May 23, 2024

Inside the Barcelona Church That Waited 137 Years for a Building Permit

Author: Jonny Lupsha, News Writer
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By Jonny Lupsha, News Writer

After nearly 140 years, La Sagrada Familia received a permit to finish construction, according to NPR. The Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona began construction in 1882, but was held up by legal paperwork until this year. It is already a landmark tourist destination despite its incompleteness.

La Sagrada Familia Pic by Baldomer Gili i Roig, 1905
Incomplete La Sagrada Familia church structure as seen in 1905. Photo by Baldomer Gili i Roig / Public Domain

La Sagrada Familia was designed by Antonin Gaudí, a Spanish architect who died in 1926. He worked on the Gothic church for over 40 years after its original designer was fired early on in the project. Despite being unfinished, the church has attracted tourists for generations with its utterly unique architecture and, eventually, its long-standing status as a work in progress. Some of its works of art are truly wonders to behold.

The Crucifixion of Christ

One of the most outstanding features of La Sagrada Familia is its epic portrayal of Christ’s crucifixion. “The flagellation, where Jesus is tied to a column, is actually a statue on a column that sits in this church,” said Dr. William R. Cook, Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo. “In the bronze door, there’s a text from Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s in Italian, and it’s from ‘Paradisio’ Canto 28: ‘Thus, if my longing is to have gained its end / in this amazing and angelic temple / that has, as boundaries, only love and light.’” Dr. Cook said that because of the stories in sculpture one sees as he or she progresses through the temple, one can know the temple stands for “the eternal love and light that Jesus offers to humanity through His sacrifice.”

Further along in the building, Pontius Pilate is depicted washing his hands and Jesus is depicted carrying the cross to Cavalry. One notable feature of this scene is that Jesus’s mourners’ faces are all blank. “We see their grief without any of the features on them at all,” Dr. Cook said. Following a sculpted depiction of Christ’s burial, he can be seen in bronze ascending to Heaven, which, according to Dr. Cook, is quite a sight when the bronze catches the sunlight.

The Three Doors of the Transept

Three distinct doors give entrance to the transept of La Sagrada Familia, paying tribute to the concepts of faith, hope, and love. Each door has a dedicated artwork to its name.

“Let’s look first at the portal of faith,” Dr. Cook said. “We have the story of the visitation—this is the story of the Virgin Mary coming to visit her cousin Elizabeth who’s much older and who is pregnant with John the Baptist. We have two pregnant women here; again, the theme is faith, especially the faith that Mary had because she didn’t conceive the baby [naturally].”

And the hope portal? “What stories do we have?” Dr. Cook asked. “The flight into Egypt—to pack up your little baby and take him to Egypt, you need to have hope that this call Joseph got in a dream to take this baby away is indeed a call that’s going to save his life and allow him to fulfill his promise.”

And lastly, there’s the third door that features the portal of love. This portal includes a depiction of the nativity. “It’s a very beautiful image that reminds us of the time of the birth of Jesus,” Dr. Cook said. “On one side, we have the adoration of the Magi. On the other side is a shepherd, and you can see the shepherd’s also adoring and bringing a gift, of course, a much more humble gift than the Magi, but a gift isn’t measured by its value.”

The bronze depiction of the crucifixion and the portals dedicated to faith, hope, and love are just some of the magnificent details of La Sagrada Familia. Thanks to the building permit recently granted by the city of Barcelona, they and the other beautiful devotions—some of which are yet to be built—will stand proudly in Spain for decades to come.

Dr. William R. Cook contributed to this article. Dr. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo. He earned his bachelor’s degree cum laude from Wabash College. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D.

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