Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia marks a major milestone in its 141-year construction

The Antoni Gaudí-designed church has been under construction for more than a century

Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia marks a major milestone in its 141-year construction
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La Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, has remained a work in progress for 141 years since construction began. However, it inched closer to completion last week with the crowning of the iconic towers of the Evangelists.

Last Thursday marked a historic event as workers placed the final sculptural piece on the tower representing Evangelist John, symbolized by an eagle figure. The previous Wednesday, they achieved a similar milestone by crowning the tower dedicated to Matthew.

Each of the cathedral's towers is dedicated to one of the four evangelists, and these recent additions, crafted by the sculptor Xavier Medina-Campeny, complete the quartet: Matthew as an angel, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox, and now, John as an eagle.

Workers of the Sagrada Familia next to the figures of the evangelist towers of John and Matthew
La Sagrada Familia culminated the evangelist towers of John and Matthew, with the placement of the sculpture of the eagle and the angel respectively David Zorrakino/Europa Press/Getty Images

Celebratory events in Barcelona to mark the occasion

These accomplishments mark significant milestones in the ongoing construction of the church which first began way back in March 1882. With the scaffolding gradually coming down from the completed towers, La Sagrada Família has revealed its plans for a special blessing mass scheduled for November 12 that will be open to the public. This event will mark the commencement of the illumination of all four towers, a visual spectacle that will continue to light up the skyline until Christmas.

Throughout November, the city of Barcelona will also host a series of free cultural events to celebrate the completion of the four Evangelist towers, inviting everyone to partake in this historic moment. There will be free concerts, events for children and, of course, castells - the much-loved Barcelona tradition of building human towers whenever there's a festivity taking place.

The church ceiling inside of La Sagrada Familia
The church ceiling inside of La Sagrada Familia © Nikada/Getty Images

What makes La Sagrada Família special?

La Sagrada Família is seen as the most prominent example of Catalan modernism and the best-known work of Gaudí in a city dotted with his designs. It has an otherworldly charm that almost defies physics. Some liken its whimsical design to a giant castle, an underwater forest of coral, or a masterpiece plucked from the pages of science fiction (particularly the interiors which look more like the inside of a spaceship than a church). Others are less favorable, however, by comparing it to giant termite hills overlooking the city. George Orwell even called it "one of the most hideous buildings in the world" in his Spanish Civil War memoir Homage to Catalonia.

Whatever side you stand on, what's truly remarkable though is that this cathedral was conceived in the late 19th century, a radical design concept that stands in stark contrast to today's world filled with uniform glass and steel structures. It begs the question: has anything as unique been created in recent times?

An interior view of the La Sagrada Familia with the light illuminating its stain glass windows
The interior light display, courtesy of sunlight and the cathedral's stain glass windows © Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

When will La Sagrada Família be complete?

The temple is made up of 18 towers, 12 represent the apostles, four symbolize the evangelists, one is a tribute to Mary and the other is the Tower of Jesus. When complete, the Tower of Jesus will stand at 172m, making La Sagrada Família the tallest church in the world. The main facade and its crypts, where Gaudí himself is buried, are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The cathedral is expected to be completed in 2026, to mark the centenary of the death of Gaudí.

Gaudí set out to build a church to reflect three phases in the life of Jesus Christ: the nativity, the passion and the glory. However, the work stopped short when the architect was killed by a tram in 1926. Following his death, a succession of architects tried to decipher his complex geometric designs and continue the project; but work halted several times; with parts of the church destroyed by fire in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. Finance was an issue for many years, but the construction is now funded through thousands of anonymous donations from around the world. The building is today the most photographed piece of architecture in Barcelona. 

Construction is not without controversy

El País reports that a faithful construction of Gaudí’s original design requires an enormous entranceway to be built. Esteve Camps, president of the construction board, explained that would require the demolition of almost two blocks, which includes businesses and around 150 homes — directly impacting 3000 people.

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