Permanent permit purgatory


“My client is not in a hurry.”

— Antoni Gaudí, architect

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Visitors to Barcelona, Spain may find themselves drawn to any one of the city’s many wonderful landmarks. The city is home to no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and chief among them is the “Expiatory Church of the Holy Family,” better known as the “Sagrada Familia.”

The church was the inspiration of a Spanish bookseller, who found himself moved to dedicate a church after a visit to the Vatican. Construction began in 1882 on a design by Francisco de Paula del Villar. But Villar lasted only a year on the project and was then replaced by the legendary Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí.

Many famous landmarks have taken decades, or even centuries, to build. Construction of the leaning tower of Pisa spanned 199 years. St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow took 123 years. The Chichen Itza took 400 years to complete, as did the Angkor Wat. It is estimated that construction on different sections of the Great Wall of China spanned two thousand years.

So, the fact that we’re at 137 years and counting on the Sagrada Familia isn’t actually all that shocking. But it is, certainly, the most modern of the buildings on that list. And in this age of instant communication and immediate information, we’ve come to expect that things will be done quickly.

As it turns out, even the Spanish, in the late 19th Century, were a bit perplexed as to why it was taking so long. Gaudí, a bit tongue in cheek, and a bit tired of being asked about the slow pace of construction, noted that God was patient when he responded to one inquiry by saying, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Like all construction projects, the building of a cathedral in Spain requires that the city complete inspections, verify construction methods, and issue permits. It’s really no different than if you were building right here in Delaware. In fact, the City of Delaware’s website contains more than a dozen permit forms on its Planning and Community Development Department page. There, you can find permits for minor alterations, residential construction, decks, fences and sheds, sewer taps, water taps, and even one for requests to sell items or have a seating area on a public sidewalk.

The Sagrada Familia has had plenty of good excuses for the delay in completion. Gaudí was run over by a streetcar in 1926 and left to die when passersby thought he was a beggar and refused to help him. The Spanish Civil War in 1936 further delayed construction. And since Gaudí’s death, no fewer than five additional architects have been on the project. But one other thing — a pesky, perpetually pending, purgatory producing permit has pestered the project permanently.

Last month, the city of Barcelona announced that it had finally approved the main building permit for the church, which had been pending (for reasons that no one really seems to know) since 1885. That means the building permit is older than the Statue of Liberty. To secure the permit, which is good through 2026, the foundation that funds construction will pay more than $5 million in fees to the city. Keep that in mind when the City of Delaware charges you $30 to put up a shed.

At the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926, the cathedral was less than one quarter complete, and only one facade had been built. (The architect is buried in the church crypt). Nearly a century later, the church is still only about three-quarters complete, and it is doubtful that construction will be finished before the newly issued permit runs out. The original design was for the church to have twelve spires- one for each of Jesus’ disciples. Four are complete, four are partially complete, and construction on the remaining four has not even begun.

If the work isn’t done by 2026, let’s hope that renewal of the building permit doesn’t take another 134 years.

By David Hejmanowski

Contributing columnist

David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

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