In a remarkable milestone for Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica, a construction project initiated more than 140 years ago by a Spanish bishop, significant progress has been made. As of last week, five of the basilica’s six central towers have finally been completed, bringing the long-awaited realization of Antoni Gaudí’s audacious architectural masterpiece a step closer.
However, while the project advances, eager pilgrims and tourists flocking to this iconic monument should temper their expectations, as the full realization of Gaudí’s visionary design is not expected until at least 2026.
The overseeing body responsible for the Sagrada Familia’s construction, the Junta Constructora del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, announced the completion of work on two of the church’s primary towers. These four towers, together with two others finished in the previous year, symbolize the Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors of the canonical Gospels narrating Jesus’ life.
Last Friday, the church foundation celebrated the achievement with a tweet, proclaiming, “The four towers of the Evangelists are finished!” Additionally, a special Mass to mark this significant milestone is scheduled for November 12.
The Sagrada Familia’s radical architectural design, blending elements of Gothic revival, Art Nouveau, and modernism, attracts millions of tourists annually and forms part of a UNESCO world heritage site encompassing seven of Gaudí’s buildings in Barcelona. Opinions on the basilica vary greatly, as demonstrated by George Orwell, who famously described it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”
These four newly completed towers are adorned with sculptures representing winged figures associated with the Evangelists—an ox, an eagle, a human, and a lion. They stand at an impressive height of about 442 feet (135 meters), making them the third tallest towers within the basilica’s structure.
Antoni Gaudí, the brilliant and unconventional Catalan architect, devoted a significant portion of his later life to designing and constructing the Sagrada Familia. The cornerstone was laid in 1882, and Gaudí tirelessly worked on the project until his unfortunate death at the age of 73, struck by a tram, leaving his magnum opus incomplete.
Generations of Spaniards have witnessed the massive church remaining under construction throughout their lives, with its lofty spires periodically shrouded in scaffolding and encircled by cranes. In November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the basilica as a cathedral and conducted a Mass attended by 7,000 people.
The Sagrada Familia foundation maintains hope that the tallest and central tower, symbolizing Jesus, will be completed by 2026, coinciding with the centennial of Gaudí’s passing. However, the fate of other proposed elements, such as a grand staircase, remains uncertain.
Following Gaudí’s death, the construction process faced delays and intense controversies for decades. Critics argued that subsequent architects struggled to adhere to Gaudí’s original vision, as some of his plans had been lost over time. Nevertheless, many contend that the basilica’s unfinished character contributes to its enduring appeal.
Several years ago, the Barcelona municipality accused the church of lacking a proper building permit, a claim that the Sagrada Familia refuted. In 2018, the basilica agreed to pay city authorities approximately $41 million over a decade to settle the dispute, along with funding transportation enhancements around the complex.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed additional challenges, as construction was temporarily halted, and travel restrictions disrupted the flow of visitors whose ticket sales support the project. As one former chief architect on the project, Jordi Bonet, eloquently put it before his passing last June at the age of 97, “Gaudí didn’t see it finished, and I won’t either.”