In July 1936, a nationalist military coup was launched from Spanish Morocco, setting off the Spanish Civil War. In Barcelona, anarchist labor unions quickly seized control of the city. Churches and other religious buildings were among the most popular targets in the celebratory violence that followed, and this time, the Sagrada Família did not escape unscathed.
On July 20th, members of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) torched the temple’s provisional school, laid waste to Gaudí’s former studio—destroying countless drawings, photographs, plans, and other papers—smashed the construction site’s model and sculpture studios, and set fire to the crypt. The vandals also smashed the lid of Gaudí’s tomb. The FAI rebels returned later that day with dynamite, intending to obliterate the Nativity façade. For whatever reason, they did not go through with their plan, and the Sagrada Família was left severely damaged, but standing. In the final pages of his Homage to Catalonia (1938), novelist George Orwell—evidently not a Gaudí fan—alluded to the failed dynamiting with some regret.
“I went to have a look at the cathedral—a modern cathedral and one of the most hideous buildings in the world,” he wrote. “Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution—it was spared because of its ‘artistic value,’ people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.”
While the damage to the building may not have been irreparable, the Sagrada Família’s community was terrorized and decimated. All in all, amid the anti-Catholic violence of the Spanish Civil War, 12 people involved in the operation and construction of Gaudí’s building were killed, according to van Hensbergen. And a little over two years after the outbreak of the Civil War, Sugrañes died. He was just 59, and many blamed his death on the despair brought on by the bleak outlook for the Sagrada Família.
In March 1939, less than two months after Franco’s victorious troops had marched into Barcelona, Francesc de Paula Quintana was named the Sagrada Família’s new chief architect. An assistant to both Gaudí and Sugrañes, he’d spend most of the following decade repairing the extensive damage wrought during the Civil War and plotting a course forward.