BARCELONA, SPAIN —The stunning masterpiece by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family), is breathtaking in size and detail.

The immense, iconic Roman Catholic basilica, which honors the Holy Family, is in the final stages of completion, 137 years after construction began. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered one of the most important and intriguing structures erected in the last century. One of Spain’s most visited sites, it attracts more than 4 million visitors a year.

The goal is to have the steeples and most of the structure completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The final decorative elements will be completed up to six years later.

When finished, the structure will be the tallest religious building in Europe. It will have 18 towers, the central tower reaching 564 feet.

The original architect began the project in 1882 as a traditional neo-Gothic structure. But the following year, Gaudi, at the age of 31, took over the design and changed it radically. His strong Christian faith and love of nature were his inspiration.

Gaudi, who has several world-renowned architectural gems spread around Barcelona, dedicated much of the final years of his life to the erection of the basilica. His goal was to create ornate facades, ornamental arches, impressive spires and stained glass windows, combining all the symbols of Christianity.

The massive interior, adorned with religious symbols of the New Testament gospels, is inspired by nature with columns shaped like tree trunks. It is 312 feet in length and 197 feet wide and can accommodate 13,000 worshipers.

The project was less than a quarter complete when Gaudi died at the age of 73 in 1926 after being run over by a tram. He was buried in the church’s crypt.

Gaudi was never concerned about the pace of the construction, saying “my client (God) is not in a hurry.

“There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.”

Relying on private donations, the construction progress slowed for many years after Gaudi’s death and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936. Revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and partially destroyed Gaudi’s original plans. Work resumed intermittently in the 1950s and was only at the midway point in 2010. But computer-aided design technology, has moved the progress forward rapidly in recent years.

The first façade, known as the Nativity Façade, is built in Baroque style. Gaudi completed it himself, decorating it with animal and plant motifs.

Construction of the Passion Façade began in 1954, with sculptures depicting the crucified Christ added in 1987. Those abstract figures caused controversy because the style is very different from Gaudi’s.

Work on the third and main façade, the Glory Façade, began in 2002 and is still underway. It depicts life and death.

The nave of the church was covered in 2000 and a 1,492-pipe organ was installed in mid-2010, allowing for religious services to be held. The church was commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI on Nov. 7, 2010, with 6,500 people in attendance and another 50,000 worshipers outside.

While the Sagrada Familia is still under construction, it’s worth a visit now. It’s inspiring for both Christians and admirers of great architecture. Visitors should book a tour online well in advance because tickets are limited. Include the tower visit, which offers a spectacular view over Barcelona.

Antoni Gaudi Timeline

• Born — June 25, 1852 in Reus, Catalonia, Spain

• Education — Studied architecture in Barcelona from 1873-1878

• Famous works — Between 1984 and 2005, seven of his works were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

• Nickname — “God’s architect”

• Died — June 10, 1926, Barcelona

• Buried — Crypt of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

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