La Bonanova

La BonanovaEsglésia de Sants Gervasi i Protasi i de La Mare de Déu de la Bonanova
Built: 1940-1942
Founded: Before 987 A.D.
Function: Parish church
Address: Plaça Bonanova 12

One of the oldest and most important parishes in the northern end of the city of Barcelona is nowadays often referred to simply as “La Bonanova”, in part because it has changed quite a bit since it was first founded, sometime before the 10th century:

Saints Gervasius and Protasius (Sants Gervasi i Protasi, in Catalan) were twin brothers and early Christian martyrs, killed in Milan during the persecutions of the Emperor Nero or of Marcus Aurelius, depending on the book of saints you happen to be reading. Their relics were later enshrined in Milan by St. Ambrose, in a ceremony written about by St. Augustine in his “Confessions”. Their resulting popularity helped spread devotion to them through Lombardy, Gaul, and eventually to Catalonia.

The area which the church serves originally consisted of two different neighborhoods. The older of the two was a small village called Sant Gervasi de Cassoles. The first written documentation of the parish is in a royal survey of the district dating from 987 A.D., when a hamlet of seven houses and a chapel dedicated to Saints Gervasius and Protasius is mentioned as being located at the site. Although the old chapel has long since disappeared, the site of that original chapel is where the present church stands today; for well over one thousand years, Christians have been celebrating the sacraments on this spot.

The next written records about the church date from around 1150, when a new and larger church dedicated to the twin saints was dedicated on the site of the previous chapel. After this, the record remains silent until the beginning of the 18th century, when one of the side chapels in the church was dedicated to La Mare de Déu dels Afortunats, or The Mother of God of the Fortunate. Devotion to Our Lady would soon come to change the name and the character of the formerly tiny parish.

The fortunate in this case were those who discovered an old statue of Our Lady hidden nearby in the mountains, and brought the image back to the church for veneration. The image eventually came to be known as the Mare de Déu de la Bonanova (Mother of God of Bonanova) after the nearby neighborhood of that name. Because of its location outside of the city and up in the foothills of the mountains that ring Barcelona, the area adjoining Sant Gervasi, which became known as “La Bonanova” or “Good News”, was a preferred spot for the newly rich to build their suburban mansions. The two districts were later joined to the city and united on an administrative level as “Sant Gervasi – La Bonanova”. (Unfortunately St. Protasius has always seemed to get the short end of the stick compared to his brother.)

At the parish level, devotion to the miraculous image of Our Lady became so great that eventually her popularity supplanted those of the twin brothers for whom the church had originally been named. Tragically, the church was burned by French troops during the Siege of Barcelona in 1706, one of the earlier phases of the Wars of the Spanish Succession, when the Catalans chose to support the Hapsburg claimant to the Spanish throne over the Bourbon Felipe V. The church was finally repaired in 1765, and devotion to Our Lady continued to grow until 1883 when, on completion of an even larger, Neo-Baroque church building on the site to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims, she was officially named the co-patroness of the parish by Pope Leo XIII, alongside Saints Gervasius and Protasius.

As was too often the case, the Leftists turned their fury at the Church on the parish in 1936, burning and pulling much of it down. The process of rebuilding began in 1939-1940, resulting in the Italian Renaissance-style church as it stands today. The parish continues to hold its annual week-long festival to coincide with the Feast of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius on June 19th, during which the statue of Our Lady, enthroned above the sanctuary area of the high altar, is taken down and processed through the neighborhood.

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