The interior of the Sagrada Família during the consecration performed by Pope Benedict XVI in November last year. Photograph: AFP/ Getty Images

The first question, on entering the completed interior of the church of Sagrada Família, is: “Is it really there?” We have been so long accustomed to the idea that Barcelona’s most famous landmark is a permanent ruin, unfinished and unfinishable, that it comes as a shock to find it is now keeping out the weather, for the first time in its 130 years of making. The canned ecstasy of the Hallelujah Chorus plays on the PA system and sunbeams pierce its forest of columns with such dazzle and precision that, you think, they must be digital. It is like walking into the Colosseum and finding it all there, with awnings, crowds, sand, blood, beasts, gladiators and thumb-turning emperor which, being clearly impossible, would most easily be explained as a video game in three dimensions.

The second question is: “Is it really Gaudí?” The great Catalan architect famously adjusted his buildings as he went along, modifying details in response to unusual stones found in the quarry and forever testing his ideas with full size mock-ups. He had a donkey hoisted up the facade of the church, to see how it would look in a sculpted nativity scene, and made plaster casts of temporarily anaesthetised turkeys and chickens and, so he could model a Massacre of the Innocents, of stillborn babies. In the interests of spiritual research, he attended a death at a hospital and claimed he could see the moment when the soul of the departed met the holy family. Gaudí was fatally hit by a tram in 1926 and no subsequent architect working on the church has come close to matching his fanaticism or genius.


Rowan Moore