It towers above everything, an intrusive landmark in a city renowned for architectural beauty. Barcelona’s church above all churches, La Sagrada Familia, or to be precise, the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, reaches for the skies in a fashion that is beautiful, powerful, and awesome, or awful, depending on one’s taste.
Begun in 1882 and taken over a year later by celebrated Catalan architect Antoini Gaudi, construction continues in an effort to find completion by 2026, the centennial marking Gaudi’s death. Gaudi’s take on gothic design insures that the church will stand alone – a “one off” – a grand curiosity, much like St. Basil’s in Moscow’s Red Square, whose “bonfire” design sets her above all Russian Orthodox churches of the sixteenth century.
Although there is much to appreciate in church architecture that reaches for the heavens in an attempt to inspire a sense of wonder and awe, the Sagrada Familia and St. Basil’s fail in their attempts to house a Holy God. He doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. His glory cannot be reduced to stone, mortar, glass, gold, or reaching spire. In the heavens His glory is declared, and in the humble heart alone it finds its home.