Just off the Ramblas in the Raval district, close to the old convent of Santa Maria dels Àngels, Barcelona founded a central orphanage in 1370 for the abandoned children of the diocese, thanks to a generous gift from a local merchant. The present chapel of Our Lady of Orphaned Children was built in 1578, remodeled in 1680, and then remodeled again in 1785, but there is a harmoniousness to the architecture, which is both simple and predominantly classical. At the entrance to the chapel, facing the street, is a slot for making donations to the orphanage, and this was also where babies and children up to the age of 13 could be left anonymously.
Apparently the orphanage was never particularly successful, except as a source for Dickensian stories of horror. The death rate for children left at the orphanage was nine out of ten. Numerous reports speak of extremely poor living conditions at the site, which seem to have been neglected by the City Council. In 1645, an enormous fire destroyed part of the complex, and the administrators had to beg for funds to begin rebuilding. By 1692, much of the complex was still in such poor repair that another section of it had to be demolished.
In 1848 the property was turned over to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who used it as a school for several years, until they moved to larger quarters elsewhere in the city. The complex then became a monastery for the Carmelite Sisters of Charity from 1875 until 1910. Subsequently, the Barcelona Women’s Library and Cultural Institute occupied the site.
In 1936, much of what remained, including the chapel, was torched by the Leftists in their insatiable urge to destroy anything Christian and unprotected in Barcelona. The Womens Institute returned after the war, and the chapel was restored to some extent, although its interior decoration was lost. In 1988, the Center for International Studies moved in, using the former chapel for their publications offices, and by 1995, the few remaining portions of the old orphanage were demolished. Although no longer used for worship, the Center for International Studies has given this historic former chapel, which was never a very happy place, a new lease on life.