Although the Convent of St. Catherine no longer stands, those interested in the history of the Dominican Order may still want to pay a visit to the site of the first Dominican convent in Barcelona. Saint Dominic was born in the Kingdom of Castile, in Central Spain, but because of Barcelona’s prominence during the Middle Ages he passed through the city on numerous occasions. The Dominicans were invited to Barcelona in the 13th century by Bishop Berenger de Palou, and in 1219 St. Dominic himself arrived to found their first monastic house for women in the city.
The location of the original convent was in a building in the heart of the “Call”, the Jewish ghetto in the old city. Today the street on which the first convent stood is named “Sant Domènec del Call”, reflecting the saint’s presence in the neighborhood. In 1223, four years after the foundation of the house, the nuns were ceded the old chapel of St. Catherine located just outside of the then-city walls, a short distance from the Cathedral.
The Dominicans remained in the Jewish quarter while construction began on a new building at the site of the St. Catherine Chapel, sometime around 1243. By 1268 records indicate that the City Council was holding meetings in the Chapel of the Holy Virgins located at the new convent, a practice which continued until 1369 when the local government’s new digs in Barcelona’s City Hall were completed. This convent building stood until 1835, when it was destroyed in a fit of iconoclasm by the Left.
Today the only real memory of the place is preserved in the name of the covered market food hall which now occupies the site, known as the “Mercat de Santa Caterina” or “St. Catherine’s Market”. Interestingly enough, excavations beneath the site of the present-day market when the building was being renovated a few years ago revealed not only the remains of the old Dominican convent, but also of remains from human settlements dating back more than 4,000 years. These ruins can still be visited today, through tickets purchased at the City History Museum.
The original home of the Dominicans in the Call underwent significant changes after the Dominicans moved out, particularly during the 15th-17th centuries. Today the building features a plaque made of glazed tiles, commemorating the visit of St. Dominic and the founding of the original convent in 1219. However the building as it is exists today would be unrecognizable to him.