Temple de la Sagrada Familia
The monumental church El Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family) is Gaudí's most famous work, the finest example of his visionary genius, and a world-wide symbol of Barcelona. The architect undertook the task in 1883 on the site of a previous neo-Gothic project begun in 1882 by F. del Villar. Gaudi dedicated his life, in his later years to the exclusion of all else, to carrying out this ambitious undertaking which due to his sudden death was left unfinished.
Gaudí wanted to create a "20th century cathedral", a synthesis of all his architectural knowledge with a complex system of symbolisms and a visual explication of the mysteries of faith. There would be facades representing the birth,death, and resurrection of Christ with eighteen towers symbolizing the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, and the Virgin Mary and Christ. This latter, the tallest, would stand 170 meters high. The church was based on the plan of a Gothic basilica with five naves, a transept, an apse, and ambulatory. Gaudí planned monumental facades on the central nave and the arms of the transept. He wanted to give the edifice a spectacular vertical dimension by way of an effusion of pinnacles and high, spiral-shaped towers which would be covered in abstract patterns of Venetian glass mosaic crowned by Episcopalian symbols and the cross.
Works personally undertaken by Gaudí are the neo-Gothic crypt, the constructed part of the apse, and the magnificent facade of the Nativity (Eastern side) with a purely naturalistic exuberance in its decoration; figures are directly molded from nature, animals, plants, clouds, etc. Of the four towers of this facade, Gaudí only saw that of St. Barnabas completed.
Gaudí became obsessed with the church to the point that not only did he focus all of his creative energies into it, but he set up residence in his on-site study as well. On June 7, 1926, Gaudi was hit by a street car while crossing the Gran Vía at Gerona. Three days later not having regained consciousness, Gaudí died at the age of 74.
Work continued on the church, however, until it was interrupted in 1936 when the crypt and Gaudí's study holding his notes and designs were burnt by Spanish Civil War shelling. The project was resumed in 1952 using drawings and maquettes as a base although the continuation of the work gave rise to much debate. From 1954 to 1976, the facade and the four towers of the Passion (Western side) were completed. The sculptor Josep. M. Subirachs joined the project team to work on the sculptures on the Portal of Passion in 1987. Today, the constructed part is open to visitors as well as the small Museu del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família with maquettes and drawings showing the construction process. The towers can be climbed as well offering incredible vistas of the city.
Text kindly provided by Jonathan D. Meltzer from his excellent Gaudi Central website.