The Royal Chapel of St. Agatha is part of the main royal palace of the Catalan kings, known as the Palau Reial Major, located just to the SE of the Cathedral. It sits atop a well-preserved section of the old Roman walls that originally surrounded the city. The chapel’s thin, 120-foot tall bell tower is one of the many that mark the “Gothic Quarter” at the heart of the oldest part of town. Although Gothic detail was later added toward the top of the belfry, much of the existing tower structure was one of the original Roman watchtowers.
Construction of the present chapel began in 1302, during the reign of Jaume II and his wife Blanche of the French House of Anjou, to replace a smaller Romanesque chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The choice of the Sicilian martyr St. Agatha as the patroness of the new chapel was likely a conscious choice by Jaume II to reflect his rule over the Kingdom of Sicily, and relics of the saint were housed here. The new structure, built in part to the King’s design, features lofty vaults and buttresses in the then-new Gothic style. The intermingling of the four bars of the Catalan royal house and the fleurs-de-lis of the French royal house throughout the vaulting bear testament to the close relationship between Catalonia and France at the time. Sadly, the first major event to take place here upon the chapel’s completion was Blanche’s funeral in 1310.
After more than four centuries of care by members of the Mercedarian Order, the chapel ceased to host religious functions during the political upheavals of 1835, when many other churches, monasteries, and chapels around the city suffered similar fates, and in 1844 it was sold to a factory owner for industrial use. Fortunately, in 1866 it was named a National Monument, and restoration and preservation efforts began. It subsequently became part of the City History Museum, which it remains today.