Two girls were lying on the floor when I entered the basilica. Did they do it on purpose, or were they so overcome by the beauty of the light that enveloped every square inch of the interior that they lost control of their legs? It’s probably the former but I’d like to think it was the latter, because I sure felt like doing the same thing myself.

Barcelona is known for many things, but chief among them has to be Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, famous for it’s melted ice-cream look, and the fact that it has been under construction for so long. It is due to be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. When I was much younger than I am now I used to think that I would never see it finished in my lifetime, but now it’s only 8 years away. And while the construction cranes and scaffolding on the outside make it clear that this is still a work in progress, on the inside it is clear that this is an amazing piece of architecture, well-deserving of its World Heritage status. The vaulted ceilings, the stained glass windows pouring coloured light onto every surface, it just stuns you into awed silence. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so moved by such a space, and really, it was about the light and air more than anything else. I think Gaudi must have really understood what it meant to be moved to look towards the heavens.

Which is why I think it’s a little sad that he is buried in the crypt below ground. I know it seems strange that a basilica has a burial within it when it’s not even finished, but in the history of church-building I guess that’s not so unusual, since they often take decades, if not centuries, to build. But for a man who understood light and loftiness, I would have liked to see him buried in a place surrounded by that light. Too romantic and impractical I guess, and really, do the dead really care? In any event, he is not the only person buried in the crypt, the other person in there is Josep Maria Bocabella, the man who first proposed the idea of the Sagrada Familia, started a foundation to raise funds for its construction, and eventually fired the first architect and hired Gaudi to replace him. Unfortunately, the only way to see the crypt is to attend a service there, which takes place at 9 a.m. (and 8:15 p.m.) in Spanish and Catalan (I think it’s also possible to see it outside of mass times in the evenings). I was not there at either time, but they do have windows that look down into the crypt so you can see a bit of it.

It’s hard to believe that on June 7, 1926, when he was struck by a tram while walking on his way to confession that no one recognized him and thought him to be a beggar. By that stage in his life he really did not take care of his appearance (focusing on his work instead) and on that day carried no identification. It took a while before some people finally put him in a taxi and brought him to Santa Creu Hospital, which is just up the street from the Sagrada Familia, which was designed by one of his teachers, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (I spent the morning here before going to the Sagrada Familia in the afternoon). The hospital in its initial planning was meant to help people who could not afford medical treatment, but at the time Gaudi went there he was given a pauper’s care, which wasn’t much. Unfortunately, by the time someone recognized Gaudi the next day, it was too late for any other medical treatment to help him, and he died on June 10th. Two days later, he was buried in the crypt, one of the oldest parts of the building. If only we all could be so lucky to be buried in the place of our greatest achievement.

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Monuments: The entire building is amazing

Grounds: It’s quite a large space to walk around, you can sit in the pews or on the benches on the side if you need to rest.

Visitors: Quite a few, I imagine it’s much worse during high season. However, when I was here it was reasonable enough, it never felt overcrowded to me, even in the towers.

Notes: Even with all the beautiful light, the light levels are kind of low of handholding.

DETAILS

SiteBasílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Established: 1882

Notable Internments: Josep Maria Bocabella and Antoni Gaudi are the only two

Location: Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain

Hours: Opens at 9 a.m. daily, closes at 6 p.m. in the winter, 7 p.m. in March and October, and 8 p.m. the rest of the year. Closes at 2 p.m. on Dec 25, 26 and Jan 1 and 6. Buy tickets beforehand, to avoid the long lines outside.