If you haven’t visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, you might have difficulty believing all of these photos are of the exact same building. I’ve been back from my latest holiday just on a month, and the place I have spent more time trying to describe to people than any other would have to be this remarkable church. I’d love to have a few more hours to spend there today.
With an ambitious design by Antoni Gaudí, construction on this spectacular church began in 1882. Current estimates are that it will be completed by 2026, although that still seems to be a massive task. Barcelona is a beautiful city for many other reasons, but I think it would be worth visiting just for this one building alone.
What did I love about Sagrada Família?
On the outside, the church tells biblical stories. The Nativity façade, the only side Gaudí saw completed in his lifetime, uses lifelike figures to present all aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the familiar and the unfamiliar, the triumphant and the tragic.
The details are incredible.
On the other side, the Passion façade follows Gaudí’s plans but with the style of a completely different sculptor.
The story of the betrayal, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus the Saviour unfolds through figures with square-cut faces and yet amazing depths of emotion.
The third façade, supposedly the “largest and the most striking” has not even been begun yet, but will tell the story of the risen and triumphant Jesus the King.
The building is fascinating and complex and intricate on the outside.
There are extra, unexpected details and symbols everywhere you can see.
And then you walk inside …
The interior took my breath away.
The sense of space. This is a place for prayer and reflection, to marvel at the God of creation in all His magnitude.
A place to slow down, to wonder, to worship.
What did I learn from Sagrada Família?
I teach a subject called “Understanding the Biblical Narrative” and in my PhD I looked at ideas of orality and embodiment in understanding the Bible. For me, this church brings some of that to life. The biblical story can be seen, felt, even interacted with, in a completely different way to reading words on a page.
The world has changed an awful lot since 1882, and I wonder if the architects and funders of this project had known how accessible the Bible would become whether they would have embarked on this project. But I’m so glad they did.
“Reading” the story in this way takes time, and oral storytelling to go along with it, and imagination, and engagement. Despite the overwhelming accessibility of the printed and digital text, things we can so often lose.
The contrast between the outside and inside of the church, for me, took me to a whole other place. It is one thing to know the stories, to ponder their meaning, to enter into their emotions.
It is yet another to be brought to a place of stillness, silence, speechlessness.
This is not a church of my tradition, and in some ways it is more a tourist attraction than a house of prayer. And yet … sitting in the pews, taking time to tune out the voices bustling around (listening to this podcast helped me focus), for me this became a place of prayer and worship.
To be sure, I have experienced the same wonder and worship in nature, in community, alone in my room. I don’t need a place like this to spend time with God, but it sure is a genuine delight to be provided with one every now and then.