The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is a work on a grand scale which was begun on March 19, 1882 from a project by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar (1828-1901). At the end of 1883 Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work after his original idea.
The building is in the centre of Barcelona, and over the years it has become one of the most universal signs of identity of the city and the country. It is visited by millions of people every year and many more study its architectural and religious content.
It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since the outset, 130 years ago now, it has been built from donations. Gaudí himself said: "The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people." The building is still going on and could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century.
In 1930 the bell towers of the Nativity façade were finished and in 1933 the Faith door and the central cypress.
In July 1936, at the time of the military uprising and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt, burned the Temporary Schools of La Sagrada Família and destroyed the workshop. At that time the original plans, drawings and photographs were lost, and some of the scale plaster models were smashed. We should point out, however, that since Gaudí's intervention in 1883 and in spite of those acts of vandalism the building of the church has never stopped and has always respected the will of the architect's original design.
After the Spanish Civil War the construction of La Sagrada Família began again and the church continued to rise slowly. From 1939 to 1940, the architect Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal, an associate of Gaudí since 1919, restored the burnt crypt and reconstructed many of the damaged models, which were used to continue the construction according to Gaudí's original idea.
In 1952 the XXXV International Eucharistic Congress was held in Barcelona, and a number of events were organised in the church on that occasion. The same year the Nativity staircase was built and the façade illuminated for the first time; from 1964 it became permanent at the decision of Barcelona Council.
The works continued strongly in 1954, when the foundations of the Passion façade were begun, based on the many studies done by Gaudí between 1892 and 1917. After the foundations came the crypt, where in 1961 a museum was opened to explain to visitors the historical, technical, artistic and symbolic aspects of the church. On that façade the four terminations of the bell towers were erected in 1976; they were finished the following year.
One important date is 1955, when the first "collection" was made, a whole day devoted to collecting funds to pay for the works, an initiative that was maintained in the following years as a way for society to take part in the construction of the church.
On 19 March 1958, the feast of St Joseph, the sculptural group representing the Holy Family, done by Jaume Busquets, was placed on the Nativity façade.
From 1978 the foundations of the nave and the crossing were done and the columns, vaults and façades of the main nave and the transepts were erected.