There’s no more unusual setting to celebrate today’s Feast of the Holy Family than Barcelona, Spain and the towering unfinished sandcastle known officially as the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.

In 1882, the plan was hatched to build a vast place of worship in reparation for the revolutionary and liberal leanings ofthe city. The modern artist Antoni Gaudi dedicated his life to the project, living in the building, attending Mass daily, and giving up his personal wealth. When people pressed him to pick up the pace, he responded, “My client is not in a hurry.” (Gaudi’s cause for beatification is moving along, and he could be the first professional artist and architect to be beatified.)

The Spanish Civil War, a disaster for the Catholic Church in which thousands of priests, brothers, and nuns were murdered, halted work in 1935. In the 1950s work began anew, speeded up by computers in the 1980s. Still, the final stage of construction is not due to end until 2026. If the original methods had stayed in place, it would take several hundred more years to complete the plan.

So far there are eight towers, with four to go. The highest steeple is three feet shorter than the nearest hill, since the architect didn’t want his work to surpass God’s artistry. The three faces of the basilica each have three doors, with the faces named Passion, Nativity, and Grace. The interior is crammed with geometric figures that almost seem to spin, crazy-quilt windows, spiral staircases, and jumbles of statues and figures. Although inspired by ancient Gothic cathedrals, the style is called Expressionist, and very little is left unexpressed by the masonry.

If you can’t afford a visit, Sagrada Familia maintains a web site, and virtual visits are free.

-Rev. James Field