I have this thing with old churches in Europe. I love them. I love going in and wandering through them. Soaking in the vast ceilings and ornate interiors. They are beautiful and the sheer size of them is amazing. I mean how in the world were these things built so long ago? The trouble is, in a a lot of ways, they all start to look the same. You have the Gothic churches with their distinct ceilings, the Baroque churches with their ornate detailing, and everything else in between. I love them all, but they tend to run together once you've seen a few dozen of them. So if you are sick of the same old churches, there is one that blows them all out of the water.
La Sagrada Familia. Barcelona. GO!
One of our top priorities in Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia. To be honest, before planning our trip, I knew very little about the history of the church and Antoni Gaudi, the architect. I had heard of both and vaguely remember a 60 Minutes episode highlighting the long struggle to complete Gaudi's vision, but that was it. It didn't take long to learn a bit about La Sagrada Familia and for it to top our list for our time in Barcelona. If you have seen any pictures or read any reviews of this place, they are all true and also don't even tell the half of it. This place is one of the most amazing places I have ever experienced. And yes, it's an experience. It's huge yes, but more than that is every last detail has a purpose. The exterior reflects the birth, death, life, and glory of Jesus. We only really saw the birth and death side and that was enough. The entrance was on the side illustrating the birth of Jesus. It is the only side completed under Gaudi and some of that was even commissioned later. Either way, it is distinctly Gaudi. There is so much to look at it is nearly impossible to see it all. The opposite side takes you through the finally days of Jesus' life in detailed scenes around the exterior. The massive, endless, beautiful exterior and it's only partially completed. It awaits the completion of its large, center spire. When finished the central spire, representing Jesus, will be 170 meters tall. Gaudi designed the center spire to be exactly one meter shorter than the nearby Montjuic Hill. Gaudi believed his creation should not surpass that of God's. Accompanying the center spire will be 18 other spires. Pretty crazy and that is just the exterior.
Now for the interior. Oh the interior. Have you ever imagined what Heaven looks like? Or just sat and dreamed up the unimaginable beauty of it? La Sagrada Familia is one of the places that feels like a glimpse of Heaven. You walk in and immediately your senses are overwhelmed. The perfectly placed stained glass windows flood the church with glowing light. Like the outside, there is so much to take in and see. Ornate, spiral staircases all around the edges. Ceilings with endless detailing, gold overlay, and just enough color to draw your gaze upward. The pillars all around the nave seem to go on forever and reach towards something unseen. They resemble a forest full of tall, thin, beautiful trees. There are hints of God's creation all throughout the church. Glimpses of the natural world with a Gaudi twist. Whimsical and powerful and beautiful and awe-inspiring. We wandered through the nave listening to our audio guide just trying to comprehend what we were seeing and how any person could dream up such a beautiful imitation of the natural world. We ended up going through the nave twice as once is just not enough.
The problem is, no words or pictures even do this place justice. I rarely say anything is a MUST SEE, but if you ever have the opportunity, this is a must see. I have never, and can almost guarantee I will never, see anything like this again in my life. Big statement, but it is true. It was a vision of a genius, of a man devoted to his faith and this church. He died nearly 100 years ago, but his vision lives on. The project was privately funded in the beginning and is now funded by visitors to the church. Antoni Gaudi took over this project in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926, leaving only a quarter of the project complete. Since then, architects have taken on the project with the intent of finishing Gaudi's vision and completing his masterpiece. The goal is to finish the project in 2026, 100 years after his death. It is a sight to see, finished or not, I can only imagine the finished project and the lasting legacy of Antoni Gaudi.
If you find yourself in Barcelona or in Europe for that matter, make the trip because you won't regret it. Until that day, a large number of pictures to give you an idea.