The Congregation of the Mission, a religious order founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1624 and more commonly known as the Vincentians, arrived in Barcelona in 1704, and took up residence in the Raval district, traditionally the home of Barcelona’s immigrant communities and the urban poor. They named their community the Casa de Sant Sever, after St. Severus, Barcelona’s martyred 4th century bishop. The order continued to grow in size until 1808, when the buildings were appropriated by the French for use as a military hospital during the Napoleonic wars.
After Napoleon was defeated the Vincentians were able to return in a partial fashion, part of the complex having been turned by the authorities into a tobacco factory. In the early 1930’s the brothers were in such precipitous decline and the buildings in such a poor state, that they decided to sell them to the local authorities. Their former home was turned back into a military hospital, which it remained until 1940 when a new military hospital was built in the Vall d’Hebron district far outside the city center.
Unfortunately the Vincentians only had a short time to enjoy their new digs. In 1933 they built a new home for their community, close to Sant Pau del Camp, using the proceeds of the sale of the convent. However in 1936 this building was completely destroyed by the Leftists, as indeed was much of their old convent.
After the war the city razed the remains of the newer convent to create a public square, and the same fate befell most of the old establishment as well. Only the inner, earlier of the two large chapels which originally stood on the site, and part of the cloister were preserved. The existing chapel was built between 1710 and 1746 in a Baroque style, and dedicated to St. Severus and to St. Charles Borromeo. It features an enormous dome covered in a mosaic pattern of roof tiles, unusual for Barcelona church architecture, as well as twin bell towers at the entrance portico typical of the style of counter-reformation churches of the period.
After restoration, the chapel was turned over to the Mercedarians, who re-named the building in honor of their founder, Barcelona’s St. Peter Nolasco, and the church remains in their care today.