La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
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Day 17: La Sagrada Familia

Being a lifelong Spanish student and teacher, I had always heard about the Basílica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and I certainly had an idea of Gaudí’s life works and contributions to Barcelona. But, as we’ve been on the road a couple of weeks and seen many cathedrals, including St. Peter’s in the Vatican and Notre Dame in Paris, we were coming into Barcelona a little wary of touring yet another church. How good could it be, we wondered.

On a rainy Thursday, we purchased our tickets online and set off. Neither of us had looked at pictures online or had any idea what to expect. In retrospect, I’m glad because pictures (including ours) don’t do it justice.

Coming out of the metro, the cathedral was behind us. The first glimpse was…wow, immense, where the hell are we? Is this really our life right now? (A question asked frequently in the last few weeks). I’ve heard the towers described as “bony” and “melting ice cream cones” and both seem somehow appropriate. It was drizzling when we arrived, which I think helped with the crowds. We walked right through the reserved online tickets entrance. So far, so great!

After taking in the exterior facade, we walked through the ornate doorway. I was instantly transfixed. The white, scalloped columns extending upwards (towards Heaven?) first caught my eye. And the play with color and light. Gaudí was not afraid of color; my kind of man. The inside is so special. Like a dream.

To the right, is Christ on a cross, suspended under a lighted halo of an “umbrella.” To one side is Mary and the other, Joseph. The three comprise the Holy/Sacred Family, also known as the Sagrada Familia.

A little bit into our audio tour, we stopped to take in the main altar, which includes the aforementioned trio. I found a quiet place nestled in a column facing the front. The organ music. The light. The color. The shapes. The height. It was just too much. I burst into tears. Happy tears. There are places in the world that remind you how small we are, how fragile life is and how unimportant our problems really are. I was so moved.

We spent about four hours in the church and I could have spent more. We stayed until closing when everyone had left and just took in the silence. Finally, about 20 minutes after six, we were ushered out. We took a brief detour to the crypt of the church, which was still open to the public. This is where Mass is held for Catholic Church goers and it includes the tomb of Antoni Gaudí.

I can’t wait to come back in 2026, when the exterior construction of the church will be finished. Though the inside is the real treasure.


Looking toward the main alter.

Looking toward the main altar.


Looking up at the unfinished tower above the main alter.

Looking up at the unfinished tower above the main altar.


The sunlight shines through the various colors of stained glass creates a prism inside the cathedral. Gaudi made sure light would play a major role in the design of La Sagrada Familia.

The sunlight shines through the various colors of stained glass creates a prism inside the cathedral. Gaudi made sure light would play a major role in the design of La Sagrada Familia.


The columns holding up the roof were designed to look like trees with the ceiling decor resembling palm fronds.

The columns holding up the roof were designed to look like trees with the ceiling decor resembling palm fronds.


Stained glass on the left side of the cathedral.

Stained glass on the left side of the cathedral.


The cathedral is still a work in progress, as it has been since 1882. The stained glass has yet to be installed on the circular windows beside the alter.

The cathedral is still a work in progress, as it has been since 1882. The stained glass has yet to be installed on the circular windows beside the altar.


Outside, the neo-gothic cathedral reflects in the windows of the modern souvenir shop.

Outside, the neo-gothic cathedral reflects in the windows of the modern souvenir shop.


More Photo of the Day posts from our January-March 2016 trip to Europe

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