The origins of the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Família go back to 1866, the year when Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer founded the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of St Joseph, which from 1874 promoted the construction of an expiatory church dedicated to the Holy Family. In 1881, thanks to generous donations, the Association bought a plot of land with a surface area of 12,800m² between Carrer de Marina, Carrer de Provença, Carrer de Sardenya and Carrer de Mallorca for the site of the church.
The foundation stone was laid on 19 March 1882, the feast of St Joseph, at a solemn event presided by the bishop of Barcelona, Josep Urquinaona. Building then began with the crypt beneath the apse after a neo-Gothic design by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. A short time later, owing to disagreements with the promoters, he resigned and the commission was handed over to Antoni Gaudí.