This very pretty church in the NW corner of Barcelona is one of the few places in Barcelona where mass in English is held every Sunday, so English-speaking tourists will often find their way here. Because of its garden surroundings (and ease of parking) it is also a very popular site for weddings. More importantly for our purposes however, the parish has a bit of an interesting history behind both its somewhat unusual name and appearance.
In 1920, the Marquis of Montsoliu and his wife, devout Catholics both, decided to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat in Barcelona. Despite her status as Patroness of Catalonia, there was no church dedicated exclusively to Our Lady of Montserrat in the Catalan capital, although the Cathedral and most of the city’s parishes had side altars honoring her. This initial idea expanded to encompass a proposal for establishing a kind of satellite monastery of the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, which would be attached to the residence of the Marquis.
The initial architect, Nicolau Rubió i Tudurí, proposed a modified neo-Romanesque structure, which would have been appropriate given that the image of Our Lady of Montserrat honored in the Basilica at the Abbey is an 11th century Romanesque sculpture. The monks were pleased with this design, as it would evoke their medieval surroundings at Montserrat. Unfortunately, the Marquis wanted something in a High Renaissance style, given his own personal taste, and as his financial backing of the project was paramount, matters were initially at an impasse.
The architect’s solution was to find a point somewhere in the middle, and try to emulate a Tuscan style based on Brunelleschi which, though clearly part of the Renaissance, still had certain medieval qualities to it. As the scale of the project grew, the initial plan to attach the monastery to the Montsoliu estate was abandoned, and a new site nearby was purchased. Construction began in around 1921-1922, and continued until 1936, when the architect fled into exile at the start of the Civil War.
After the war, work resumed in 1939 under the direction of architect Raimon Duran i Reynals, a friend and contemporary of Rubió i Tudurí. Although he kept to the general designs of his predecessor on the project, Duran i Reynals shifted some elements of the design to a more obviously neo-Renaissance appearance than the early Tuscan design which the parties had agreed to originally. This shift would prove to be the undoing of the project to provide the Benedictines at Montserrat with a presence in Barcelona.
When the building was finally completed in 1949, the monks from Montserrat refused to take possession of the building. They complained that the final product was far too grand and ostentatious, and not at all what they had agreed to. As a result, despite decades of work, the community in Pedralbes was left with a monastery, complete with a double Florentine-style cloister, which the monastic community for which it was built did not want. The Archdiocese then took over possession of the building, in order to turn it into a parish.
In 1945, prior to the completion of the project, another parish dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat had already been built and consecrated in another part of the city. Although a Monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat might have been distinguishable from a parish of the same name, having two parishes in the same city with the same name was not practical. Thus, the original intent of the Montsoliu family to build a church dedicated to the Virgin under her Catalan title was thwarted by timing. Instead, the new parish was officially named for Mary, Queen of Heaven.
Visitors to the church today who are familiar with Florentine architecture will no doubt spot many of the reference points which the architects used in designing the building, including the Pazzi Chapel, the Baptistery, and the Foundling Hospital. While not in general direct copies of any of these structures, the architects used their imaginations to come up with ideas of how the church might have looked had it been commissioned from Brunelleschi or his contemporaries working at the time. The end result is not always successful, but in its garden setting, surrounded by trees, flowers, flights of stairs, etc., the overall effect is one of Renaissance tranquility.