The ancient Romanesque church of Sant Pau del Camp usually holds claim to being the oldest standing church in the city of Barcelona, a title for which it competes with the Chapel of En Marcus and Sant Pere de les Puelles. The first documentary evidence of Sant Pau del Camp occurs in the 4th century, when a church dedicated to St. Paul is described as having coming within the newly expanded city walls. The term “camp” means “field”, indicating the fact that the site was originally set outside the city; a similar building title recording the original site of a congregation can be found in the example of London’s famous church of St.Martin-in-the-Fields. Something reasonably substantial was probably built on the site, since column capitals and other sculptural items from the Visigothic period (7th and 8th centuries) can be found in the facade and in odd corners of the present structure.
For such a central institution, there is spotty information about the site before the tenth century, but the tomb of Guifré II, Count of Barcelona, who was buried there in about 914 A.D., indicates that some significant religious community existed and continued here during his reign, otherwise the ruler of Catalonia would likely not have been buried there. The complex was destroyed by the Moors during a raid in 985 A.D. and records indicate the site had been abandoned by 991 A.D., perhaps explaining a lack of information due to the destruction of archival records.
In 1096 Catalan nobles Geribert Guitard and his wife Rotlendis offered the site to the Benedictine monks of the Monastery of Sant Cugat, in the northern suburbs of Barcelona. They, in turn, offered the site to the Pope, and in 1117 the monastery was re-founded as a dependent of Sant Cugat, as documented in a bull of Pope Urban II. Although the Pope ordered that the Bishop of Barcelona and members of the City Council look after the monks, in practice they were largely administered by the Benedictines in Sant Cugat.
Construction on the new church probably began around 1127 and continued until the end of the 1200’s. The cloister was completed about 100 years later, and outbuildings continued to be added as needed. For many years the Catalan noble family of Bell-loc were the protectors of the monks, and their names appear in a number of the graves on the site. It would be interesting to learn whether the great Anglo-French Catholic writer Hillaire Belloc was descended from these.
In 1577 Pope Gregory XIII issued a bull ceding control over Sant Pau del Camp to the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat. This move proved to be unpopular with the resident monks, and so in 1593 this union was terminated. In 1616 the Monastery was united with the Monastery of Sant Pere de la Portella, which lay close to the Pyrenees, and apparently most of the Benedictines from Portella decided to leave the mountains and move down to better accommodations at Sant Pau del Camp.
The 19th century essentially killed off the monastic community here, as it did in many other places in the city. In 1808 during the Napoleonic wars, Sant Pau del Camp was occupied and turned into a hospital, and later a barracks, which it remained until 1814. The monks returned briefly, but in 1820 the monastery was closed and the chapel became a parish church.
Sant Pau del Camp continued to be simply a parish until 1828 when the monks again returned, only to be finally expelled in 1835. The chapel became a parish church again, and the rest of the complex was sold off as public property, with most of the buildings eventually being torn down. Fortunately, in 1896 the cloister was saved and re-integrated to the building. Like many others, the church was burned by Leftists in 1905 and in 1936, but was subsequently restored and parish life restored.