The Night of St. John, celebrating the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, is a huge celebration in Barcelona. Not only does June 24th fall at the beginning of summer, but it also comes at the end of the school term for children. And understandably, nowhere are there more outdoor parties, fireworks, and festivities than in the area around the parish of Sant Joan Baptista, in the Gràcia district of the city.
The village of Gràcia, just north of Barcelona city center, has long since been swallowed up and incorporated into the fabric of the city. During the 18th century it was the site of a popular excursion point, as well as the country villa of the widow of one of Spain’s wealthiest viceroys to its former colony of Peru. After her death, the villa became the property of a community of Capuchin Friars, who served the working-class community of Gracia until the Archdiocese determined that their mission could become a full-fledged parish.
The old villa was torn down in 1868, but construction on the church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, lasted until 1878. The facade design made a clear reference to earlier Barcelona churches such as that of Santa Maria de Jonqueres (now the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) and La Mare de Deu de Montsió (now the church of Sant Ramon de Penyafort.) At the turn of the last century, the interior was decorated with work by a number of Modernista architects, including Francesc Berenguer i Mestres, one of the more talented pupils of Gaudí, who designed the Blessed Sacrament chapel.
Unfortunately, much of the church apart from the Blessed Sacrament chapel was destroyed by Leftists in 1909, during one of their inevitable bouts of lawlessness. It was rebuilt only to suffer destruction and desecration at the hand of the descendants of the same Leftists 30 years later during the Civil War. In a 1938 inventory of churches and religious property commissioned by the Generalitat, Catalonia’s regional government, the state of the church is described as follows: “Along with the rectory in the same fabric of the building, it was burned and now serves as the warehouse of the Painters’ Collective of the district, in accordance with the joint commission on housing.” Fortunately, after the War reconstruction of the church was completed in 1951.