Like the newly-designated Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the parish church of Saint Raymond of Penyafort located on the Rambla de Catalunya began its life as something else than what it is now. Although dedicated to Saint Raymond today, the church has gone through many name and purpose changes, and originally stood several miles away from its present location. Thanks to the efforts of Barcelona’s citizens, it is a beautiful and fortunate survivor of the Middle Ages, after a very circuitous path.
It is known that a pilgrimage church dedicated to Santa Eulalia del Camp (“Saint Eulalia-in-the-Fields”) was established north of the city in the seventh century. The first mention of this comes from Quiricus, Bishop of Barcelona from 658-667 A.D. When he was transferred to Toledo to become bishop there, Quiricus sent funds for the establishment of a church dedicated St. Eulalia and in the keeping of the Augustinian friars, to be built on the ruins of an old temple dedicated to Venus which stood in the fields outside the city walls. There is little mention of this community again until 1155, when Bishop Guillem de Tarroja re-founded and rebuilt the place, asking the Augustinian friars to return to the complex with the purpose of providing a community of regular canons from Santa Eulalia del Camp.
In 1347 when Maria d’Aragó, daughter of King Pere III, died, she left a monetary legacy in her will to found a new Dominican convent in Barcelona. The community was to be dedicated to St. Peter Martyr, the great Dominican opponent of dualism, who was killed by the Cathars in April of 1252 and canonized in March of 1253 – the fastest canonization in Church history. It was the Princess’ nephew, King Pere IV, who laid the cornerstone of the new building in 1351, close to the waterfront and the medieval shipyards. During this same time period, the church and the cloister at Santa Eulalia del Camp, in the hands of the Augustinian monks, was being built in typically clean-edged, Catalan High Gothic style.
The first Dominican nuns began to arrive later in 1351 from Languedoc, the part of Catalonia now in France, to help get the new community on its feet. At first they were lodged in temporary quarters near Santa Maria de Jonqueres, whose church is now the aforementioned Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. In 1354 they moved to quarters next to the monastic building their community would later come to own, the complex of the Augustinians at Santa Eulalia del Camp.
By 1357 the new Dominican waterfront monastery was completed, and the nuns moved in. Unfortunately, despite the picturesque setting by the sea, the port area proved to be too dangerous and within two years, the nuns had to move to new quarters within the city walls. Work began on a new monastery in the western part of the city, near some of the newer monastic communities and the city hospital, and by 1371 the new home for the itinerant nuns was completed.
In 1423 the nuns abandoned this new structure – which was bought by the Poor Clares thirty years later and named Santa Maria de Jerusalem – and purchased the old monastery of Santa Eulalia del Camp. Three years before, the Augustinians of Santa Eulalia del Camp merged their community with that of their neighbors and fellow Augustinians, the Canons of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of the Monastery of Santa Anna. In some respects this was a homecoming for the Dominican community, who had lived and worshiped here while their original home was being built 70 years earlier. The nuns dedicated their new home to the Mare de Déu de Montsió, because one of the chapels in the monastic church, dedicated to Our Lady under that title, was popular with the local residents.
During the anti-clerical uprisings of the 19th century, the nuns had to abandon the monastery twice. Severe damage was done to the structure during these periods, and because of this and the expansion of the Barcelona city grid in the 19th century, in 1882 the church and the cloister of the monastery began to be disassembled, stone by stone, and moved to the new boulevard known as the Rambla Catalunya. By 1888 the nuns were able to move into their newly-renovated and newly-relocated home, and remained there until the Civil War in 1936-1939, when they had to flee once again.
Following the destruction wrought on the complex by the Leftists during the Civil War, in 1947 the nuns decided to move out of the city altogether, settling in the Barcelona suburbs at an old country estate in Espluges. The nuns left their beautiful church behind but, bizarrely enough, they took their equally beautiful cloister with them to their new home. (One can only imagine the conversations that went on between the Prioress and the Cardinal-Archbishop about that project.) The parish of Sant Ramon de Penyafort was then established by the Archdiocese in the old church which the Dominican nuns had left behind.