The parish church of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady is Barcelona’s newest basilica, bringing the city’s present total to eight. Named by Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of the Assumption 2009, it is actually one of the city’s oldest existing ecclesiastical buildings. The story of how it arrived at its present status, despite years of neglect, decline, and near-demolition, is a testimony to its parishoners and to the faithful in Barcelona to not only have this beautiful structure survive, but thrive.
The original monastic community of Benedictine sisters of Sant Vicenç de Jonqueres was founded in 1214 in the town of the same name, located just outside of Sabadell, a city situated about 10 miles from Barcelona. Apparently the sisters had some problems getting organized, and in 1261 following appeal to the Bishop of Barcelona, they were invited to move to that city. The nuns left their quarters in Jonqueres temporarily for Sabadell in 1273, while suitable buildings were located. The actual move was not completed until 1293, when the nuns took up residence on what is now the Carrer de Jonqueres, on the edge of the Gothic Quarter.
Their new convent was named Santa Maria de Jonqueres, recalling their origin but distinguishing themselves from the parish of Saint Vincent where they had experienced so many problems. By 1300, with the construction of the first permanent chapel on the site, the convent was officially renamed Sant Jaume de l’Espasa, since the nuns had adopted the Rule of St. James of the Sword, better-known as the famous religious-military order of Santiago. However, the community continued to be referred to colloquially as Santa Maria de Jonqueres.
The community quickly became associated with the daughters of the noble families of Barcelona, and grew extremely wealthy. Their original holdings were enormous, covering numerous square blocks of the old city. The two-story cloister was completed before 1400, and in 1448 the consecration of the enormous Catalan Gothic monastic chapel, which replaced the simpler version that had been built between 1293-1300, took place with great fanfare.
The nuns were expelled and their community dissolved in 1810, during the Napoleonic period, and in 1820 the convent was converted into a military hospital. The site subsequently became a prison, and still later a military depot. In 1867, the chapel itself was named a parish by the Archdiocese, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the remains of the convent, which were in very poor repair by this time, were finally torn down in 1868.
During Barcelona’s expansion in the mid-19th century, the complex was slated for demolition because it lay along a proposed route to connect the northern part of the new city to the seafront. Fortunately, due to foresight by the Archdiocese and the local gentry, between 1869 and 1871 the former chapel and the cloister were moved, stone by stone, from their original location in the Gothic Quarter to their present site in the Eixample, the 19th century grid-like district which houses much of Barcelona’s famous 19th and 20th century buildings. The church was then re-consecrated in 1872 and became the first parish in this new district of the city. In 1879, when the Church of St. Michael was torn down in order to make way for the expansion of City Hall, the portal of the church went to the Basilica of La Mercè, but the bell tower was given to the parish of La Concepció.