It is an unfortunate fact that many of the convents and monasteries in the old, historic nucleus of Barcelona did not survive the first wave of Leftist iconoclasm that led to the destruction of these religious communities under Napoleon, and later under secular Spanish governments inspired by his infernal example. Unlike other large cities on the Iberian Peninsula such as Madrid or Seville, the religious orders that exist in Barcelona today are often housed in late 19th or early 20th century buildings, located far from the urban core, rather than in their original locations. The remains of the large convent of Our Lady of the Angels is an example of what happened to a thriving community of Dominican nuns in Barcelona, destroyed within a century thanks to such interference.
The first mention of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels comes from 1473, when a building under this title is mentioned as existing in the fields outside of the city walls, where the present Ciutadella Park stands. In 1485, this chapel was given into the care of the Dominican sisters, who began to build an enormous convent around the chapel a few years later. Unfortunately, because the site was located well-outside the safety of the city, after numerous encounters with robbers and brigands, by about 1550 it was determined not to be a good place for a group of women to live by themselves.
The solution was provided by the City Council who a few years later turned over to the Dominicans a chapel located on a street known as “The Foot of the Cross”, within the city walls on the western side of old Barcelona. Safe within the city, the Dominicans began to build a new convent of Our Lady of the Angels, creating a large structure that dominates the square of the same name. Architecturally, it is something of a jumble sale, a mix of Late Gothic and Renaissance styles, and one cannot help but wonder what the original, grand building outside the city must have looked like. However, the sisters continued to live here for the next 250 years.
After Napoleon and the later Spanish version of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 19th century, the convent was initially turned into a jail, as happened with several other monastic houses in the old districts of Barcelona. With gradual regrowth in tolerance for the Church, the building was subsequently given to the parish of Sant Antoni Abat nearby, and served as a mission parish under the protection of that parish. The nuns were thus able to return until the Tragic Week of 1906, when the complex was burned by the Leftists and the Dominicans once again had to flee. After this final expulsion, they did not return.
The complex was sold off and then used mainly as a warehouse, until it was purchased and restored by the city government for use as a conference and exhibition space in 1984. In 1995 Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MACBA, was built next door, and since 1999 the old convent has been the home of FAD, which despite its “faddish” name is Barcelona’s century-old institute for the promotion of those wanting to study and exhibit contemporary arts, architecture and design. The former chapel of the convent is an exhibition space and concert hall used by the Contemporary Art Museum.