The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Help is one of those teeny-tiny little off-the-beaten-track churches that one stumbles across when wandering through the old city in Barcelona. For many years it was associated with the very ancient convent of Sant Pere de les Puel.les, which stands nearby. Today it is a center for Franciscan spirituality in downtown Barcelona.
The earliest mention of a group of Barcelona citizens desiring to build a shrine to an image of Our Lady under this title dates from 1516, and the image of the Virgin which is honored by the members of the shrine dates from about this time. The local organization gathered together to try to address the needs of the poor, elderly, and suffering in the area, under the appropriate patronage of Our Lady of Help. The first actual building on the present site was not completed until 1546. This building, which unfortunately suffered from structural problems, was replaced with a second shrine in 1800.
In 1835 the little church with its revered image of the Virgin became home for a group of Capuchin Friars, when they returned to Spain following the expropriation of monastic land by the previous leftist Spanish government. In 1884, the Archdiocese decided to turn over administration of the shrine over to the Capuchins, who have held charge of the shrine ever since. This custodianship has not been without tragedies, however.
In 1909 the entire shrine and the friars’ rooms were burned down to the ground by Leftists, and the 500-year-old image of Our Lady received some minor damage. With the help of the Archdiocese and architect Bonaventura Bassegoda, the shrine was rebuilt by 1912. In 1936 the shrine was partially destroyed by the Leftists, again, who this time also managed to murder two of the Capuchin fathers.
The Capuchins had entrusted the image of the Virgin to one of the local ladies who supported the shrine, and it was hidden away in her home until the end of the war when it was returned to its church and the building restored. In 1961, Our Lady Help of Help was proclaimed the Patroness of the Sant Pere district, where the shrine stands, and in 1998 a ceremony was held to mark her canonical coronation. The shrine is by no means luxurious, but in addition to celebrating the mass, it continues to serve as a site for lectures and discussions on Franciscan spirituality, as well as ministering to the needs of the Sant Pere district. In fact, because of the shrine’s members’ dedication to serving the needs of the poor, the shrine was awarded the city’s Gold Medal of Honor in 2004 for services to the community.