Santa Anna is one of the major parishes of Barcelona, not only because it has one of the oldest and most architecturally interesting churches, but it also has a fascinating history. It was founded in 1141 for the Canons of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, under the Augustinian rule and with the patronage of Count Ramon Berenguer I, then ruler of Catalonia. Its construction from the 12th through the 14th centuries resulted in an interesting mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, but with a very clear reference on the interior to the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
In 1420 the monastery was united with that of the Augustinian friars of Santa Eulalia del Camp, whose monastery stood nearby but whose numbers were declining. Their monastery was handed over to the Dominicans, and the friars moved in with the canons at Santa Anna. For a time, the complex used the name of both Saint Anne and Saint Eulalia.
In 1592, after 450 years of history, the canons decided to formally leave the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, although the Knights of the Order continue to hold annual events in the church to the present day. By a Papal Bull issued by Clement VIII in 1595, the complex became a secular collegiate church. In 1608 a Bull by Paul V brought Santa Anna under the direct oversight of the Holy See, under which it remained until 1835 when it was given to the diocese and became a parish.
In the 1870’s during the construction of the expanded city grid, some of the structures on the site had to be torn down. The church was declared a National Monument in 1881, and a new and larger church was begun next to the old one in 1887. This church was completed in 1914, but only had a short-lived existence as it was burnt by the Leftists in 1936, and had to be demolished in 1938.
One of the best aspects of visiting the church, which gives the pilgrim a feeling of stepping back in time, is the way that it is approached. Along Santa Anna Street, which is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the old city, one enters through a massive Gothic gate that stands at the entrance to the tiny square on which the complex is located.