The Sagrada Familia blocked off during the fire (image via

On April 19, Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia Basilica, designed by famed Art Nouveau and proto-surrealist architect Antoni Gaudi, caught fire. A fire burned inside the structure for over 45 minutes before firefighters could put it out, destroying the church’s sacristy (the chamber where priests put on their robes) and badly damaging the crypt.

1,500 visitors were evacuated from the basilica, which hosts over 2.5 million tourists annually. Only 4 had to be treated for smoke inhalation, reports the Guardian. A suspected arsonist, who is reportedly mentally ill, has been arrested. Bizarrely, the fire started when the arsonist sprayed priest robes hanging in the sacristy with a flammable liquid and set them on fire.

“All the robes and furniture in the sacristy were lost,” local fire chief Miguel Ángel Fuente said.

This isn’t the first time the basilica has been victim to arson. In 1936, anarchists broke into the building and burned the majority of Gaudi’s original models and designs for the structure. Construction of the basilica, begun in 1882, still isn’t complete, but architects continue to work with the plans Gaudi left behind after his death in 1926 to finish the structure.

Still, no one is yet willing to say when the legendary project will be done. The reasoning behind the arson is not yet clear, but the fact that the basilica was consecrated just last November and active services began recently may be relevant. Click through to the Daily Mail’s article for more photos and details.

Smoke billows out of the Sagrada Familia (image via

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...