The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi is one of the major parish churches of Barcelona, a beautiful example of Catalan gothic in its purest architectural form. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral, and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, it is one of the most-visited churches in the city. It is also the home of one of the longest continuously existing Christian communities in Spain.
The present Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine is a Gothic structure built in a style known as a “fortress church”, typical of Catalan architecture in the 14th century and so-called because of its imposing appearance, not unlike a castle or military fortress of that period. The “pine” refers to the grove of Mediterranean scrub pines that used to cover this area, which originally spanned the area from the Roman walls to what is now the Ramblas. Since then one of these types of pine trees has always been planted in front of the Basilica.
The foundations for the parish date back to at least 413 A.D., when some type of structure for Christian worship is mentioned as being located in a scrub pine grove just outside of the then-city walls. Since the still-extant Roman cemeteries of the Plaça de la Vila Madrid were located only a few hundred feet away, it is possible that the site had become a popular place for Christians to worship in catacombs. By 987 A.D., documents indicate that an early Romanesque church dedicated to St. Mary of the Pine stood on the site.
The front facade of the present Basilica features a Romanesque-era portal from the earlier church at street level, but the rest of the structure dates from the 1300s, including the figure of the Madonna flanked by two pine trees. The Basilica is a single nave church with chapels tucked between the buttresses, and has a polygonal apse. The bell tower at the rear of the Basilica was begun in 1379 and completed some decades later.
The most notable feature of the architecture however, and which completely dominates the facade, is the gigantic rose window, a full 10 meters in diameter. It was completely restored in 1940 thanks to the efforts of the great Catalan architect Josep Maria Jujol, a pupil of Gaudí. By sheer luck, Jujol and his students had sat down and drawn detailed plans of the window prior to the Civil War. The parish was able to use the plans to reconstruct their lost window directly from an architect’s plans, rather than from photographs or simply a best guess.
Inside, the church is vast and very dark, making the light from the rose window (particularly in late afternoon) all the more stunning. Most of the interior decoration was destroyed by the Left during the Civil War in 1936. As with other Barcelona churches, this desecration only removed much of the 18th and 19th century Baroque and neo-Gothic overlay, and returned the building to its Cistercian Gothic simplicity.
Ironically enough the Baroque choir stalls, which were installed in 1711, managed to survive the Civil War because they were in storage. In 1868 the old Baroque stalls were replaced with new ones in a Neo-Gothic style. These were burned by the Leftists in 1936, so following the war, the older Baroque stalls were taken out of storage and put back into place.
The Choir of the Basilica was founded sometime before 1632, and was highly regarded in Barcelona until it was forcibly dissolved in 1936 during the Civil War. It was re-founded in 1994 by members of the parish who were passionate about early music. In addition to participating in the mass, particularly on high Feast Days, and holding concerts at the Basilica, every Saturday morning it performs a Motet before the 11:00 a.m. Daily Mass in the Precious Blood Chapel of the Basilica.
Among the saints associated with the Basilica are:
– St. Joseph Oriol (1650-1702) served as a parish priest at the Basilica from 1687 until his death. He is buried in the Basilica and was canonized by Pius X in 1909. The side entrance to the Basilica, as well as the square facing it, are named for him. There is also a Basilica named for him elsewhere in the city.
– St. Joaquina Vedruna de Mas (1783-1854) was born and raised in the parish. She was baptized, received first communion, and was married at the Basilica. After she was widowed in 1817, she went on to found the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. She was canonized by John XXIII in 1959.
– Blessed Maria Angela Astorch (1592-1665), known as the “Mystic of the Breviary”, was born and raised in the parish. She later became a Capuchin Poor Clare and was known to be a profound spiritual director, have a deep understanding of the Divine Office, and had visions in which she spoke with her Guardian Angel. She was beatified in 1982 by John Paul II.
– Blessed Mercedes Prat (1880-1936), was born and raised in the parish. After the death of her parents she helped raise her younger siblings, before entering the Teresian Sisters at the age of 24. In 1936 she was arrested by the Leftists for being a religious sister, taken out of the Mother House, interrogated overnight, and then shot – but not before she forgave the firing squad. She was beatified in 1990 by John Paul II.
– Brígida Terré (1426-51), who was born and raised in the parish, founded the Order of Hieronymite Sisters of Barcelona in 1426. Her cause for beatification is presently being investigated.