The Jesuits have always had a close historical attachment to Catalonia, since St. Ignatius of Loyola came to the holy mountain monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat and renounced his secular life in favor of a life of service to God. Indeed, he penned his Spiritual Exercises in the city of Mataró, not far from Barcelona. While the Betlem church on the Ramblas is the largest and most famous of the Jesuit churches in the city, the magnificent church the Jesuits built in the 19th century to the Sacred Heart of Jesus holds a great relic of St. Ignatius’ conversion, as will be explained below.
The domed Sacred Heart or “Sagrat Cor” church on Carrer del Casp should not be confused with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart atop the mountain of Tibidabo, built with the encouragement of St. John Bosco. That structure was intended to be an expiatory temple and pilgrimage site. Rather this Neo-Byzantine church, along with the attached school and the Jesuit residence were a collaborative effort between architects Joan Martorell Montells and Camil Oliveras i Gensana at a time when Barcelona’s residential population was expanding exponentially and needed new Catholic schools and parishes.
Sagrat Cor is one of the very few Barcelona churches that survived anti-Catholic destruction by Leftists during the Civil War in the 1930’s, retaining its original, very richly decorated interior. This reason alone would make it worthy of pilgrimage, particularly among those interested in the more eclectic styles of 19th century architecture and design. Although based in part on Byzantine models, the design also has significant elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
When St. Ignatius made his pilgrimage to Montserrat in 1522, as a token of his conversion he left behind his sword before the image of Our Lady of Montserrat. The sword was preserved at the monastery for many years, until it was given to the Jesuits in 1907. It was then subsequently placed into a bronze and crystal reliquary, and set into the altar dedicated to St. Ignatius inside this church, just below the statue of the great Basque saint. This is such an important piece of Jesuit and indeed of world history, as a result of what St. Ignatius’ conversion brought about, that it is surprising that the presence of this amazing relic at this church is not better known.