Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is almost finished after more than 140 years

The world’s largest unfinished Catholic church, Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, is almost done – after nearly a century and a half of building work.

The Sagrada Familia organisation announced on Tuesday (local time) that the four towers of the Evangelists had been finished.

The church said the tetramorph, an arrangement of four different elements, was completed last week.

“Today [last Wednesday] the final sculptural piece was put on the tower of the Evangelist Matthew, represented by a human figure, and work will continue tomorrow, crowning the tower of the Evangelist John with the figure of the eagle,” it wrote on social media.

“The crowning of the towers with the figures of the tetramorph representing Matthew and John completes these two towers and, therefore, the group of the towers of the Evangelists.”

Last year, the tower of Mark was crowned with a lion and the tower of Luke with an ox, the church said, explaining they are figures used to symbolise them.

Towering apostles

“The four towers are crowned with the four winged figures of the tetramorph, by sculptor Xavier Medina-Campeny, which Christian iconography has used to represent the men who told the story of Jesus’ life,” the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia stated.

The towers of Matthew, John, Luke and Mark that surround the tower of Jesus Christ are each 135 metres tall, making them the third tallest at the basilica.

On November 12, there will be an inauguration of the towers. They will then be illuminated for the first time and stay lit until Christmas.

“Plus, throughout November there will be cultural events to celebrate this milestone of completing the towers of the Evangelists with the people,” the church said.

All that is left to do is finish the tower that will represent Jesus, and it is expected the cathedral will be finished in 2026.

Sagrada Familia

Construction of the Sagrada Familia started in the 1800s.

World landmark

Even though the church is still not complete, Sagrada Familia is one of Barcelona’s most iconic landmarks and it is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city.

When it began it was designed as a simple church. Later, as it grew in scope, it was called a cathedral. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica.

Designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882, the church had a slow start in the years after that.

Original design for the project for the Sagrada Familia by diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar followed the prevailing guidelines of the time, with neo-Gothic elements – ogival windows, buttresses, flying buttresses and a pointed bell tower,” church management said.

“Technical differences about the cost of materials led this architect to be replaced with another who was starting to stand out in the field, Antoni Gaudi, who took the project in a different direction, transforming it into an ambitious proposal for the church of the future.”

The stunning interior of the church. Photo: Getty

A slow build

Gaudi took over the project in 1883 and started to work exclusively on the cathedral in 1914 until his death in 1926.

The only part of the cathedral Gaudi saw completed before his death was the bell tower. It is dedicated to the disciple Barnabas and was finished in 1925.

Construction has continued over the decades since, although there have been setbacks.

In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, La Sagrada Família was vandalised and plans and photographs were burnt.

Luckily, when Francesc de Paula Quintana took over the project, he was able to do so thanks to materials from Gaudi’s workshop and based on already-published plans and photographs.

According to CNN, for 137 years, construction of Sagrada Familia was carried out illegally because there was no building permit.

Authorities didn’t realise that until 2016, and a permit was not issued by the city council until 2019.

Construction was put on hold in early 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. It resumed in October that same year.

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