Religion, throughout human history, has been the inspiration for brilliant and luminous works of literature, philosophy, sculpture, painting and architecture. From the sands of ancient Egypt to the streets of modern day Barcelona, sacred traditions are embodied, expressed and preserved in places of worship and pilgrimage. The following is a list of 25 of the most impressive works of religious architecture following a historical timeline. While this list is most certainly incomplete, and many more sites could be included, those presented below offer a diverse collection of the world’s most glorious and awe-inspiring edifices.
Great Pyramid of Giza
As the most ancient of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza is also the most ancient architectural site on our list. Although the oldest, it is also one of the only Wonders to remain relatively intact. It is believed to have been built around 2560 B.C. and although the pyramid was believed to be a tomb, the pyramids played a significant role in the religious beliefs and practices of the Egyptian people. The pyramid was the place of rebirth for the ka or the soul. Egyptians believed that the comfort of the soul after death depended on how the body was preserved. What remained with the body could be enjoyed in the afterlife. Built by farmers during the flood seasons, the pyramid is made of stones weighing over 2 tons each. The amazing phenomenon of transporting and hoisting these huge stones to an amazing original height of 481 feet has been the matter of conjecture for some time. Until the early 20th century this impressive structure was the highest in the world. The mathematical precision with which the pyramid was built exceeds that of any other. Although the pyramid covers a massive 13 acres, the level of each corner base stone is no more than one-half inch lower or higher than the others. The measurements throughout the pyramid show that the constructors were likely aware of the exact size of the earth as well as precise mathematical measurements such as pi and the Golden Mean far before they were so named.
Although the main structure remains, the Parthenon has undergone much deterioration over the past two thousand years. The remains, perched atop the Acropolis, however, indicate that the original temple dedicated to Athena must have been impressive indeed. Archaeologists estimate construction ended in 438 BC, and scholars hold that the Parthenon is the best example of Greek architecture. Built of limestone, the Temple measures 228 by 101 feet. Eight outer columns line the front and rear of the building and 17 of the sides. The inner area, or cella, of the building is 98 by 60 feet. Originally housing a large statue of Athena, the inner area of the religious site, some suspect, was designed to function in a manner similar to a theater. In addition to the grandeur of the edifice itself, statues taken from the Parthenon remain priceless artistic and cultural treasures, giving witness to the Athenians’ vision of society.
The Pantheon in Rome, Italy is one of the most well preserved piece of architecture from the time of Ancient Rome. This is partly because it has been in constant use since it was built around the years 118 to 125 by the Emperor Hadrian. Architecturally, the Pantheon has some pretty impressive features. One of them are the 40 ft. granite pillars which are the first thing you notice as you approach the building. Another is the vast dome which opens up into the heavens and still remains the largest unsupported concrete dome ever built. The diameter of the dome and the height to the peak measure exactly the same at 43.3 meters. At its peak is an “oculus“, an opening to the sky that serves as the only natural light to the building. When it rains, an almost invisible drainage system in the floor channels the water out of the building. With both Roman and Greek inspiration, the Pantheon has been a main source and influence of western architecture. Its name, literally meaning “everything divine” signifies its original purpose as a temple of worship to all Roman gods. In the 7th century the Byzantine emperor gave the building to Pope Boniface IV who converted the temple to a Catholic Church dedicated to the holy virgin Mary of all the martyrs. It is said that cartloads of relics from the catacombs were moved at this time to a basin under the high altar. The Pantheon is still used as a Catholic Church although it also has functioned as a tomb for Renaissance artists and Italian kings.
The greatest remaining example of Byzantine Architecture, the Temple of the Holy Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia) in present-day Istanbul is a work of extraordinary religious architecture. It remained unmatched for a thousand years after its construction. Built in AD 537 at the request of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the Hagia Sophia was the largest Cathedral in the world. Only in 1520 with the construction of the Cathedral of Seville, Spain (1520) was the Hagia Sophia overtaken in dimensions. Constructed in rectangular shape, the Hagia Sophia is an ample 230 feet wide and 246 feet long with a massive 182 foot high dome overshadowing the Nave–the area where worshipers congregate. The interior of the Hagia Sophia bears the marks of both Christian and later Islamic influences. For the first 900 years of its existence, the Hagia Sophia served as a place of Christian worship. It was filled with an overwhelming variety and number of icons, most notably in the form of mosaics. Images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are the most prevalent. However, other saints and imperial dignitaries and patrons are also represented among the Hagia Sophia’s art. When the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Cathedral was converted into a Mosque. Because of Islamic prohibition of representative imagery, much of the Christian iconography was plastered over, and replaced by Islamic calligraphic religious symbols. Minarets were also added shortly following the institution of Muslim rule. As a place of Muslim worship, the Hagia Sophia represented some of the highest expressions of Islamic art. In 1931 the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum. Since that time restoration efforts have been underway upon the interior of the building. Effort is being given to both uncover the earlier Christian mosaics while also minimizing damage to the later Islamic art. In the Hagia Sophia of today, both Muslim and Christian art and architecture exist side by side, giving witness to this architectural wonder’s varied history and its remaining religious, cultural and historical importance. Upon completion of the Temple of the Holy Wisdom, the emperor Justinian is reported to have exclaimed, “I have out done you, Solomon”! In terms of architecture wizardry, integration and innovation, Justinian was certainly correct. He may also have been speaking a truth about the overwhelming mystical atmosphere evoked by the Hagia Sophia. For, in 987 the massive proportions and abundance of the religious imagery caused representatives of Vladimir I of Kiev to reportedly have proclaimed: “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth… nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it.”
Legend holds that Shwedagon Pagoda was built over 2,500 years ago by two brothers named Taphussa and Bhallika who were from what is current-day Afghanistan. They are reported to have met the Gautama Buddha, and with relics from the Buddha as well as guidance from other spiritual beings, the two brothers were able to locate the relics of the previous Buddhas. This place of discovery served as the location of Shwedagon Pagoda. Historians and archaeologists hold, contrary to the legendary account, for a more recent dating of construction the Shrine sometime during the 6th century. Regardless of when it was built, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a very sacred place for Theravada Buddhism. Built upon a hill overlooking the surrounding city, the Shwedagon Pagoda’s 368 foot high golden spire lights up the landscape, drawing the onlooker’s eye. The interior design and art is reflective of both Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. As a monument to both Buddhism and Burmese culture, Shwedagon Pagoda is an impressive example of religious architecture.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Covering a vast 88 acres, the Mosjid al-Haram is the largest Muslim mosque surrounding Islam’s oldest and holiest place, the Kaaba. The Kaaba is said to be a house built by Abraham and his son Ishmael around 2130 BC with a black cornerstone that was supernatural in origin. This stone is still an essential part of the worship and ritual of the current Kaaba though it has now been broken into many pieces. Muslims all over the world face the direction of the Kaaba during prayer. After his victorious return to Mecca in 630, Muhammed and his son-in-law broke the pagan idols that had been erected and built the Mosjid al-Haram to surround the mosque. Renovations and additions gradually ensued until 1570 when Mimar Sinan was commisioned by the Sultan to renovate the mosque. Since 1955, more renovations were completed including many more minarets, gates and modern heating and cooling. A current expansion is in progress to increase the capacity of the Mosque to 2 million worshipers.
The sacred Mayan site, Chichen Itza, is home to that culture’s greatest work of religious architecture. The Temple of Kukulkan, named for a feathered serpent deity and known since the time of the Spanish Conquest as El Castillo, presides over the North Platform of the ancient Mayan city. At just under 100 feet tall, Kukulkan’s step pyramidal structure comprises an ascending series of nine square terraces each about 8 feet high. At the pinnacle of the stacked terraces, stands a 20 foot high temple whose sides are about 181 feet. Like many mesoamerican cultures, buildings were often made right on top of previous structures. Chichen Itza is no exception, making it difficult to determine precisely when the Temple was constructed. Archaeologists estimate that Mayan civilization was present at Chichen Itza for about a thousand years before Spanish exploration. Mayans were very interested observers of the movement of the stars and planets and built elements of this interest into their buildings. Featured as well are images of serpents, jaguars and other native and sacred animals. Chichen Itza is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Lower Normandy, France
Considered during the late medieval and renaissance periods a Wonder of the Western World and currently hosting around 3 millions tourists per year, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most impressive works of religious architecture in the world. Mont-Saint-Michel is located upon an island a little over one-half mile into a bay off the northern French coast near Avranches. Its complex of buildings rests upon a rise of about 250 feet above sea level and has a varied history. The fortification potential of the site was recognized early on. In 709 the Archangel Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Armies, is reported to have requested that a church be built on the site thereby establishing the location as religious location. During the following centuries, a Benedictine Monastic community took up residence at the site and several Church building projects were carried out, culminating in the impressive combination of Abbey and Church that now stands. In the 14th century the site was fortified during the Hundred Years War, and was said to have been able to withstand a siege for up to 30 years. In the 19th century the Abbey was converted to a prison, and in 1966 a religious community returned to the location, bringing the Church back to religious use. Historically, Mont-Saint-Michel ranked with Santiago de Compostella in Spain and Rome itself as a primary place of pilgrimage. In 1979 Mont-Saint-Michel was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Chartres Cathedral is considered one the greatest achievements of French Gothic Architecture. Fortunately for us, it is very well preserved. The Cathedral was constructed, in the main, between 1194 and 1250. The architectural innovation of flying buttresses, featured predominately in the edifice, facilitated the larger and higher stained glass windows for which Chartres is known. The facade of the building is packed with religious imagery. All this combined with its two towers (349 ft and 377), make the Chartres Cathedral an overwhelming yet beautiful instance of religious architecture. Built in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and reported to house the Sancta Camisa (the garment Mary wore at Jesus’ Nativity), the sacred relics and the architectural beauty of Chartres has continued to draw pilgrims from the twelfth and thirteen centuries through to the present. Chartres is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Amiens Cathedral is located about 75 miles north of Paris. It is one of the largest and most impressive churches in the world. Although there is no extant record of the construction of the Cathedral, all agree that the Church was in the main completed by the mid-1200s. One source claims a 1266 completion date with additions and modifications continuing until 1288. The Gothic flying buttress is employed, helping stabilize the walls of the Cathedral. This contributed to the architects’ bold design of the inner vault, which ascends to a height of 139 feet. Amiens Cathedral is the largest French cathedral in terms of intereior space, estimated at 260,000 cubic yards. In common with other churches of the period, Amiens contained many stained glass windows. Unfortunately, most were destroyed. However, the Cathedral has preserved a renowned collection of Gothic sculptures. Perhaps most notable is the great tympanum on the west facade of the building. In 1981 Amiens Cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is an impressive example of religious architecture. It was completed around 1345 and boasts a massive 59,000 square foot total surface area. It is considered one the best examples Gothic architecture. The architects of Notre Dame were some of the first to employ the flying buttress which allowed higher and thinner walls. This, in turn, made possible larger windows of stained glass. Notre Dame is famous for its statuary, especially its gargoyles. Its 387 step climb provides a stunning view of Paris. John of Jandun, a French philosopher, theologian and political writer said of the cathedral, “In fact I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.”
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Salisbury Cathedral is the most impressive example of early English Architecture. Its official name is the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Begun in 1220 and taking less than 40 years to construct the main edifice, Salisbury boasts many remarkable features. Laid out in the form of a cross, the Cathedral measures 442 feet. Its single tower with spire is the tallest in England at 404 feet. Its West facade is ornamented with a multitude of impressive statuary, depicting religious and political personalities. The interior of the Cathedral is known for its high arched ceiling and stained glass, which provide the setting for impressive statuary as well. In addition to the beauty and size of the Cathedral Church itself, Salisbury also has Britain’s largest cloister and cathedral close (80 acres). It houses the world’s oldest working clock (1386) and possesses the four best surviving copies of the Magna Carta.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of religious buildings built in the early 1400s by the Yongle Emperor who was responsible for building the Forbidden City, also in Beijing. Because of its early and masterly design, the Temple of Heaven has had a major influence on all Eastern architecture over the last 600 years. The complex covers over one and a half miles and consists of three groups of highly symbolic construction. The first is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests which is pictured above. The Hall of Prayer is an inspiring triple-gabled circular building which is 120 high and built on three levels of marble stone. It is made exclusively of wood with no nails. The second construction is the Imperial Vault of Heaven which is a single-gabled building resembling the larger Hall of Prayer. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall which is named the Echo Wall. It is said that a whisper at one end of the wall can clearly be heard at the other. The two buildings are connected by a raised walkway that slowly climbs to the Hall of Prayer. The third building is the Circular Mound Altar, again with three levels of marble stones, on top of which the Emperor’s voice would be mysteriously magnified as it made its way up to heaven. The various elements of the Altar, including the steps, are all related to sacred numbers and symbols. The Altar was built in 1530 and rebuilt in the 1700s. The Temple of Heaven was made into a public park in 1918 and inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
Monasteries of Meteora
Meteora, Greek for “suspended in air”, is home to, after Athos, the second most important network of Byzantine monasteries in Greece. Although the limestone peaks supporting the monasteries had been inhabited for thousands of years, in the 11th century ascetic monks began establishing communities and undertaking construction projects on the plateaus. By the year 1500, 24 such houses had been built. Today only six monasteries survive. However, the breathtaking altitudes of the remaining buildings, averaging in height around 1000 feet above the surrounding plain, remain marvelous architectural feats. Moreover, frescoes in the monasteries are considered key examples of developments in Byzantine Orthodox religious art. In the 1920s better ladders and/or bridges were cut into the stone of the mountain. Prior to this, access to the Monasteries was difficult and perilous. Monks, pilgrims and visitors used long ladders tied together for climbing or nets in which to be dragged up to the sometimes 1200 foot cliffs. Today, of the six monasteries, four house men and two are home to women. Each monastery currently has fewer than ten residents. The magnificent Meteora monasteries are now included in UNESCO World Heritage List as being of universal cultural value and outstanding artistic achievement.
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed
Commonly known as St. Basil’s Cathedral, its official title is Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. Although not large, St. Basil’s Cathedral, located opposite the Kremlin in Red Square, Moscow, evokes a sense of wonder at its ornate beauty. With a foundation of white stone and red brick facade, the ten domed chapels reach up to 156 feet. Ascending toward the heavens and splashed in vibrant blue, green, red and gold, they give St. Basil’s a unique appeal. Architectural historians find no similar architectural examples among Byzantine churches. However, there is speculation about remote Islamic influence, especially with respect to the domes. The church was constructed by order of Ivan IV (“the Terrible”) from 1555-1560/1 to commemorate the capture of the Tatar domains of Kazan and Astrakhan. Legend reports that St. Basil was apparently so beautiful that Ivan commanded the eyes of the architect be put out so that he could never build another edifice to compare to St. Basil. Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat because of both its unique design and brilliant colors merits inclusion in any consideration of the most impressive examples of religious architecture.
Lhasa, Tibet, China
Potala Palace, named after Mount Potalaka, was the mythical dwelling of bodhisattva Avolokitesvara, and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas until 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India. Its construction began in 1645 and it was built at an altitude of 12 thousand feet. The Palace is almost literally on top of the world. In combinations of red and white the palace complex housed offices, a printer, a seminary as well as many shrines. The structure is massive having thirteen stories of buildings, measuring 1300 feet by 1150 feet. To protect against earthquake, its foundation is 16 feet thick at its base. Universally regarded as a masterpiece of Tibetan religious architecture and art, Potala Palace contains more than a thousand rooms and thousands of shrines and statues. In 1994 the Palace was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In every respect–location, architecture, art and religious importance–Potala Palace ranks as one of the most impressive religious structures in the world.
Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir
Originally built in 1656, Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir is the oldest Jain temple in the historic city of Delhi, India. The temple has gone through many alterations and expansions since the 17th century to become the temple that it is today. Popularly known as Lal Mandir or “Red Temple,” one of its striking aspects is that it is constructed of red sandstone which makes a beautiful contrast with its white towers and marble accents. The architecture is full of intricate carvings and gilded artwork along with paintwork in the antechamber that surrounds the main shrine to Parshvanath. Interestingly, it is well known for a free veterinary hospital for birds called the Jain Birds Hospital. Here all birds can be treated for sickness and nursed to health at no charge. This is a service inspired by the Jain motto “Live and let Live.” The aviary hospital also has an intensive care unit and research laboratory. The hospital is committed to freeing all of the birds once they are healed. When visiting the Jain temple, one is required not to wear any shoes or leather in honor of the animals. The carved and gilded artwork glistening in the butter lamps makes this a small sacrifice for those seeking to admire the peaceful glory of this magnificent work of architecture.
Paro Valley, Paro District, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang, located in the kingdom of Bhutan, is nestled against the face of a 10,000 foot high cliff. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery, extending to the edge of a shelf in a cliff is an architectural marvel in both its location and its religious beauty and symbolism. Legends differ with regard to the development of monastic life at the monastery’s location. However, it is commonly agreed that the ultimate inspiration for bringing monastic life to its cliff side haven lay with Guru Padmasambhava, an eighth century Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan and is said to have meditated in a cave at the site. The monastery in its modern form was completed in the 17th century. Unfortunately, in 1998 fire destroyed the monastery, which was shortly after rebuilt. Home to Tibetan Buddhist monks and a destination for pilgrims and seekers of all faiths and cultures, Paro Taktsang is surely one of most impressive examples of religious architecture in the world.
Sri Harmandir Sahib
The Sri Harmandir Sahib is a central place of worship for the Sikh religion. Its shining gold and marble are majestically reflected in the surrounding water as a symbol of human brotherhood and equality. The name Sri Harmandir Sahib literally means the “Temple of God” and the four different entrances signify that people from all walks of life are welcome to visit, worship and find peace at the Temple or gurudwara. Over 100,000 people visit the shrine daily and some also eat at the free community meal and kitchen that are a traditional aspect of all Sikh gurudwaras. The original gurudwara was finished in 1604 but was extensively damaged in the mid-1700s by an Afghan army. A Sikh army was sent out to destroy the Afghan army and the temple was repaired in 1760. The current decorative gilding and marble work which are the most striking aspect of the Sri Harmandir mostly date from the 19th century. The beautiful Darshani Deorhi Arch which leads into the causeway is 200 feet high and 20 feet wide. Facing the Arch is the Akal Takh, which is the highest seat of earthly authority of the Sikh religion. It shines white and gold as a symbol of justice and discernment.
St. Peter’s Basilica
As one of the largest Churches in the world and the largest in Europe, St. Peter’s Basilica has long been considered one of the finest representations of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The original church was built by Constantine around 325 A.D. and was built over a small shrine considered to be the burial place of the first pope, St. Peter. In desperate need of repair, the church was rebuilt during a 120 year period in the 15th and 16th centuries. This was influenced first by Pope Julius who wanted to build the grandest church in Christendom. There was a competition among architects and the design of Donato Bramante was chosen. This plan was in the form of an enormous Greek Cross with a dome inspired by another site on our list, the Pantheon. Many other artists left their mark on this famous basilica, one of which was Gian Lorenza Bernini, whose most famous contribution is the Piazza san Pietro, designed in an oval shape as a perfect ellipse. Eventually Michelangelo took over the site and as the art historian, Helen Gardner, put it: “Without destroying the centralising features of Bramante’s plan, Michelangelo, with a few strokes of the pen converted its snowflake complexity into massive, cohesive unity” which is what it is today. The dimensions themselves are massive: 614 feet long, 145 feet high climbing to 385 inside Michelangelo’s dome. A most impressive pulpit for the Pope of the Catholic Church.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the most famous and holiest of Hindu Temples. Located on the banks of the holy Ganges river, the city Varanasi, where Kashi Vishwanath is located, is the holiest city in Hindu history. A pilgrimage to this holy city, river and temple are desired at least once in the life of a Hindu. Therefore the temple has around 3,000 visitors a day and on special occasions can reach up to a million. Because of the popularity and beauty of the temple, many other Hindu temples have been built in imitation of the holy Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The most impressive aspect of the Temple are the three shining domes which are covered with pure gold. The gold for these domes was donated by Maharajah Ranjit Singh after its final building in 1780. True devotees to Lord Shiva reverence the Temple and it is said that those who die naturally within the Kashi Vishwanath Temple have the mantra of salvation breathed into their ears by Lord Shiva.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Attracting over 3 million visitors per year the Taj Mahal stands simultaneously as a monument to hope beyond death and the power of human love. Located in north central India, the Taj Mahal is by common consent the finest example of Mughal Architecture. It was commissioned by the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan (1592-1666), upon the death of his wife, the Empress Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631). The Taj Mahal was to be the Shah’s monument of love to the Empress who died while giving birth to their 13th child. The entirety of the mausoleum was finished in 1653. Rooted in the Islamic faith of the Shah and the Empress, yet constructed within the surrounding Hindu context, the Taj Mahal incorporates the architectural and artistic developments flowing out of the Delhi Sultanate. This saw a combination of local Hindu with Islamic forms of architectural expression, according to the rulers of the day. Luminous white characterizes one’s first encounter with the Taj Mahal. From its base to its marvelous 145 feet high dome and 130 feet high minarets the Taj Mahal’s size and grandeur evoke awe. The vast color and shape as well as the carvings and filigree reflect skilled artistry showing Hindu and Islamic influences and values. Side by side with carved calligraphic quotations from the Quran the visitor finds tracings of vegetation and flowers, notably the lotus and iris. The latter reveals the presence of Hindu belief, organically flourishing in the work of the Hindu artisans and laborers. The beauty, size, structure and detail of the Taj Mahal remind one of the deceased’s house in paradise, the throne of God, in Islamic belief, on the Day of Judgment.
The Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue, or the Dohany St. Synagogue, in Budapest, is the largest synagogue in Europe, second in the world to the Temple Emanuel in New York. Built over 150 years ago in the Jewish District and consecrated on September 6, 1859 as a place of worship for Neolog Judaism, the Great Synagogue retains traditional Jewish style integrated with Byzantine-Oriental and Muslim aesthetic qualities. Because it was constructed upon an asymmetric lot, the street facing facade does not give the impression of great size. However, its twin almost minaret-like towers give the building a sense of wonder and grandeur. Moreover, the Synagogue can hold up to 3,000 seated with standing room for another 2,000 people. Its interior is decorated in gold and red, giving the space a vital and luminous feel. The Great Dohany Street Synagogue remains the most important religious center for Neolog Jews in the world.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Ipiales, Nariño, Columbia
Las Lajas Sanctuary stuns its viewers on account of both its structural beauty as well as its uncommon setting. Included in the construction of a bridge spanning a canyon, the Basilica Church rests across the Guaítara River. The Church is relatively new (finished in 1949) and built in the style of the Gothic Revival. The current Church replaces earlier shrines stretching to the 18th century, which were dedicated to an apparition of the Virgin Mary in which the two Amerindian women were saved during a dangerous storm by the intercession of Mary. Attached to the miracle and apparition is an image of the Virgin set in a stone, which attracts visitors and pilgrims to this day.
Temple of the Sagrada Familia
With the first stone laid in 1882, the Temple of the Sagrada Familia was designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi, a highly gifted mathematician, spent 40 years designing the church but did not live to see it finished. He said before his death, “It is not a disappointment that I will not be able to finish the temple. I will grow old, but others will come after me. What must be always preserved is the spirit of the work; its life will depend on the generations that transmit this spirit and bring it to life.” The work is still in progress and is expected to be finished in 2026. Combining the traditions of Gothic and Byzantine architecture with a new and personal style, Gaudi created a structure that was inspired by nature but infused with the central theme of light and color. The building has an ordered Christian symbolism which is shown in its 18 towers. One represents Christ, one the Virgin Mary, 4 signify the Gospels and the remaining 12 are for the 12 apostles. Gaudi intended to create an atmosphere of introspection, thus the skylights and windows which provide architectural relief are filled with glass of greens and golds to bring light, harmony and peace to those inside.