La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Prior to my visit I'd only ever seen the iconic photo(s) of La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) in Barcelona. They look very much like this one. To be honest I felt like the cathedral was a monstronsity, it's only claim to fame the fact that it remained unfinished despite work beginning in March of 1882. It looks, melted, waxy, unrefined, ugly. If you feel the same way then you absolutely have to see it for yourself - because it is one of the most intricate pieces of work I've ever seen, and the inside it achingly beautiful. Dammit Gaudi, you really were a genius.
One of the reasons the cathedral remains unfinished is it is exclusively an Expiatory Church - which means its construction is funded entirely through donations. With a generous donation is 1881 a parcel of land was purchased between Carrer de Marina, Carrer de Provenca, Carrer de Sardenya, and Carrer de Mallorca. I was shocked to discover that this places it squarely in the city - I had always envisioned it off by itself somewhere, but no, right in the middle of everyday life it towers above us.
Some hostel roommates had mentioned that they had been to see the cathedral in the middle of the previous week and had waited in line for more than an hour to secure tickets. I thought about buying them online, but ultimately didn't want to pay the foreign transaction fee (remember at this point I was still thinking in terms of monstrosity). So, when I queued for tickets I was not overly invested in staying if the line moved to slowly. To my surprise it moved quickly and I was at the ticket gate in less than twenty minutes.
See, actual construction (welding) happening while we wait!
Gaudi designed the Passion and the Nativity facades himself. You can only see the Passion facade after the ticket gate so I was especially glad the I'd waited. This figures in this facade are all very stylized, which only enhances the emotion.
Betrayed with a kiss
I love that the image of a snake is included in the betrayal relief. When I watched The Passion of the Christ the inclusion of Satan weaving in and out among the crowds, inciting hate and fear with his presence alone was one of the most powerful pieces of imagery from the film.
This cryptogram was invented by Joseph Maria Subirachs - the multiple combinations of numbers always adds up to 33, the age of Christ at his death. There are two numbers repeated: 10 and 14; if they are added together the sum is 48, the same result as the addition of the letter INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex ludaeorum) according to the numerical order of the Latin alphabet.
I cannot possibly convey the beauty of the interior. It is so light, so airy, the stained glass is breathtaking. Many cathedrals have stained glass that feels heavy (I can't explain it properly, really), but here it feels lighter than air. Initially I chalked it up to the use of blues and greens, but there are also a lot of yellows and reds. It just feels ... lighter.
I loved the way the light reflected onto the ceiling and floor from the windows. It made it feel like you were standing in a prism.
Stained glass is also unfinished. Although patterns exist on some of the windows.
I love a good spiral staircase, and this one went on forever.
The cathedral is a working cathedral. There was a notice up listing times for masses held in Spanish and Catalan. Even when open to the public, there is a section roped off for respectful meditation (you can take photos in this area, but you have to be seated), and another section roped off specifically for those who wish to pray.
The Nativity facade is the famous side. The one that looks drippy, melty, waxy, monstrous, beautiful, detailed, amazing.
Gabriel and Mary
That right there in the middle - is the star of Bethlehem.
Mary, Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
The Wise Men
The Heavenly Host
Shepherds (with bonus pigeon)
The flight into Egypt
Basically the whole of the gospels on the facade.
Please go to Barcelona; please go see La Sagrada Familia. It is beautiful, gorgeous, spiritual... it is AWESOME.