St. Patrick, or Sant Pacià as he is known in Catalan, is a saint whose popularity around the world as a patron for churches is well-known; Barcelona is no exception. One of the more interesting aspects of this pretty church dedicated to St. Patrick, lavishly decorated both inside and out, is the fact that its floor mosaic and significant parts of the interior were designed by Catalonia’s great architect, Antoni Gaudí. Surprisingly, perhaps because it is not in the center of town, it is not very well-known, even among Gaudí aficionados.
Today the neighborhood of Sant Andreu de Palomar is home to some 50,000 people, and an important transportation center. However the surrounding area was sparsely populated until Barcelona’s industrial revolution dramatically increased the size of the local population. Subsequently, it was formally absorbed into Barcelona at the end of the 19th century, along with many other formerly far-flung corners of the city.
In 1850 the pastor of the local parish church, naturally enough dedicated to St. Andrew, asked two of his sisters – both members of the RJM’s or Religious of Jesus and Mary – to come from Lyons and found a convent and school to serve the needs of young girls in the expanding neighborhood. The school quickly outgrew its original location in the center of the burgeoning district, and in 1857 the sisters obtained some abandoned farmland to build a new, larger complex.
The present Neo-Gothic church was built by architect Joan Torras i Guardiola between 1876-1881. It is a stately building in and of itself, but what is particularly interesting to the armchair architect is its interior. The decoration of the church was one of the very first important commissions awarded to the young Gaudí in 1879 and completed by 1880, several years before he received his first residential commission (his “Casa Vicens” of 1883.) Gaudí was responsible for the complicated geometric design of the marble mosaic floor, as well as elements of the side chapels, the high altar, and the choir. It is no accident that Torras i Guardiola was one of Gaudí’s professors, and probably helped his young pupil to obtain the commission for the church decoration.
Less than a decade after the complex was finished, the sisters decided to move to another part of the city, and the complex was sold to the Marist Brothers, who had only recently arrived in Barcelona. The Marists continued the educational efforts of the school, which was now changed to admit only boys and young men, until a Leftist uprising in 1907. The brothers managed to escape before the entire complex was sacked and torched in a fit of anti-Catholic violence, but because of the costly extent of the damage they never returned.
The building then lay either abandoned or rented out as a storehouse for a number of years, until in 1923 the Archbishop decided to have the church restored and found a parish on the site. Masses resumed in 1924, and in 1929 the parish celebrated the construction of a new rectory and bell tower to replace those damaged during the 1907 revolt. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the church’s troubles.
In 1936 the church was confiscated by the Leftists at the start of the Civil War, and a number of the newly-restored interior elements were removed and stolen, burned, or otherwise destroyed. The church itself was turned into a public dining hall, but fortunately was not burned or vandalized, and did not suffer any structural damage. As a result, at the end of the war in 1939 it was able to resume parish life comparatively quickly.