Sant Martí de Provençals

Sant Martí de ProvençalsEsglésia de Sant Martí de Provençals
Built: 1400-1688
Founded: Between 400-500 A.D.
Function: Parish church
Address: Plaça Ignasi Juliol

This very ancient parish, named for St. Martin of Tours, may take its name from two different sources, lost in the mists of time. Pious legend recounts that St. Martin himself visited here during his lifetime, and that the house in which he stayed was used by the early Christians as a kind of primitive church. However attractive the story, this seems somewhat unlikely. It is more likely that the popularity of Saint Martin among the Frankish troops, and their conquest of Catalonia from the Moors, has more to do with the choice of this particular patronage.

With respect to the question of “Provençals”, there are various theories. First there is the fact that the area once stood in agricultural lands around the ancient Roman colony of Barcino, which later became Barcelona, and on maps of the period was marked as “agri provintiales”. The second possibility is that the district was named for settlers from Provence, in Southern France, who arrived with Frankish troops in 801 A.D.

In any case, while the origin of the first church dedicated to St. Martin on the site is unknown, it is believed to have been built sometime in the 5th Century A.D. The building which stood on the site was destroyed during Al-Mansur’s raid on Barcelona in the year 985 A.D. The ruined church was rebuilt by the Counts of Barcelona by 1010, and this building stood until the 1400’s. It was then replaced by the present structure, as the parish came under the patronage of the Canons at the (now-Basilica) of Santa Maria del Mar. The altarpiece of St. Martin, attributed to French painter Antoine de Lonhy, who also designed the windows for Santa Maria del Mar, is now kept in the National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.

Further additions were made to the church in the 17th century, adding a Baroque overlay to the Gothic bones of the building, until its completion in 1688. Although the church suffered some significant damage in the 20th century due to the various Leftist uprisings which took place, it has always come back and been restored by the parishioners. The area is now home to one of Barcelona’s largest immigrant communities, giving it a much higher population than it enjoyed for most of the 1500 years the parish has stood at this site.

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