The church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has, since its founding, been in the hands of the Claretian Order, named for the founder St. Anthony Mary Claret. The massive building was designed by architect Joan Martorell i Montells. Martorell was not only a very talented architect in his own right, but had an important influence on the history of architecture which he could not have anticipated.
In the mid-19th century, Martorell was, in addition to maintaining an active architectural practice, serving as a university professor at Barcelona’s school of architecture. When the St. Joseph Society was looking for a new architect to take over the building project of the Sagrada Familia, after the work of the previous archtiect was found inadequate, Martorell nominated his former pupil Antoni Gaudí i Cornet for the job. The rest, as they say, is history.
Martorell was particularly highly-regarded in his day for his sensitive restorations of Gothic buildings, as well as in creating new church designs reflecting back on the history of Christian architecture. As a result, he was a particular favorite of both the Archdiocese of Barcelona and the religious orders in the city. At one point, he even presented a popular design for the completion of the facade of the city’s Cathedral, but this was ultimately rejected in favor of building the present facade, to the originally intended 15th century design.
The church was originally built to serve as the chapel for the Claretians, whose residence is on one side of the building, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary school, which stands on the other. While it still serves these purposes today, it was later raised to the level of a parish for the community. Unusually for Martorell, the building is a rather vibrant Neo-Byzantine style mixed with some trace Gothic elements, unlike his more typical, pure Neo-Gothic work. The end result here even has some Hispano-Moorish elements, a style known in Spain as “mudèjar”.
Martorell died in 1906 before the church could be completed, and work continued under the direction of his son. In 1909 during the “Tragic Week”, when many religious communities in the city were persecuted by the Leftists, the church was sacked. However, construction soon resumed and was completed in 1913.
Twenty-three years later, in 1936, the church was again burned by Leftists, who turned it into an automobile repair shop and storage depot; one can still see the scars of the canon fire which was turned on the church in a failed attempt to knock it down. Fortunately, Martorell’s work was far too solidly built for the structure to give way. After the Civil War, restoration began in 1938 and was completed by 1940.