The Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, which is an unusual church-within-a-church, was the brainchild of The Ven. Dorotea de Chopitea. The wealthy widow of the Chilean consul to Barcelona, de Chopitea helped to sponsor a number of Salesian projects in the city, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Mount Tibidabo and the establishment of a shrine dedicated to Mary, Help of Christians. She was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1983, and her cause for sainthood is under investigation.
The idea for a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother under her title of Help of Christians germinated from conversations de Chopitea held with St. John Bosco, during his visit to Barcelona in 1886. For some time prior to his visit, de Chopitea had been a strong supporter of Salesian educational efforts and spirituality in Barcelona. Bosco suggested to de Chopitea that a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother as the helper of all Christians would be a fitting centerpiece for the Salesian vocational-technical academy which de Chopitea had helped to found in 1884.
Construction on the inner shrine church began in 1889, but was suspended several months later as work was more urgently needed on some of the facilities at the Salesian school. Indeed, much of the original interior decoration for the shrine was created by the students at the Salesian technical school. With construction at the school completed, work resumed at the shrine in March of 1891, but by this time de Chopitea was seriously ill. She came to see the progress of construction on the church, but could not alight from her carriage and see anything other than the scaffolding and so on due to her ailments; she died a few weeks later.
Construction of the shrine and the exterior church connected to it was entrusted to Enric Sagnier, a preferred architect of Barcelona’s Archdiocese during this period who was himself a lay Salesian. The outer church was completed in 1901, but neo-Gothic exterior of the building took considerably longer to build. The final decoration of the facade was only completed in 1918.
As one might guess, all of the beautiful interior decoration of the shrine church was destroyed by the Leftists in 1936. Indeed, two Salesian priests who were alumni of the school-parish were executed by the Leftists; they were subsequently beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001, along with a number of other Salesian priests killed under similar circumstances. Much of the shrine was restored beginning in 1939, but the parish suffered a serious fire in 1970 which required additional restoration and a number of items were permanently lost.