Santa Llúcia is probably the best-preserved Romanesque ecclesiastical structure still standing in Barcelona. While the redecoration of the interior occurred from time to time as tastes changed, from an architectural standpoint the survival of this beautiful little chapel in virtually pristine shape over the past nearly 800 years is truly marvelous. I would speculate this has something to do with its style: by the time the chapel was built, the Romanesque style with its barrel vaults, curved windows, and dark interiors was already nearly out of fashion, and the Gothic style was beginning to take hold. For example, only a couple of decades after the construction of Santa Llúcia, the old Romanesque Cathedral just down the street was torn down and construction began on the Gothic style Cathedral one admires today.
Because the cathedral cemetery was located in this area, just outside the northern end of the old Roman walls, there is evidence that some type of funerary chapel had stood here since at least the 10th century, if not earlier. The present building was constructed between 1257 and 1268 on the orders of Bishop Arnau de Gurb, whose tomb is located inside. When built, it was located to one side of the Cathedral cemetery, and the then-standing 11th century Cathedral was much smaller than the current structure. With the demolition of the old cathedral at the end of the 13th century and construction of the new, as well as the building of the new Cathedral cloister, the tombs were relocated into the cloister itself, and the chapel became physically attached to the north end of the cloister by the end of the 14th century, and is now considered a part of the Cathedral complex.
The chapel was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Virgin Martyrs from the early period of Christian persecutions, of whom St. Lucy was one. Inside were altars honoring St. Agatha, St. Lucy, and other victims of the Romans. At one time it was popularly referred to, admittedly somewhat spuriously, as the “Chapel of Eleven Thousand Virgins”; today Lucy is the only one of these early Christian martyrs whose name is still attached to the structure. This is due to a miracle which supposedly occurred in 1298, when the parents of a girl who had lost her vision visited the chapel and prayed for St. Lucy’s intercession, and their daughter’s sight was restored.
St. Lucy is well-known as the patroness of the blind, but for some reason she is also revered in Barcelona as the patron saint of fashion designers, and both groups come to visit the chapel on her feast day of December 13th. Her feast day is also the beginning of the Feria de Santa Llúcia, which runs for ten days in the square and streets surrounding her chapel and the Cathedral. Here one can buy Nativity scene figures, as well as other traditional Christmas decorations (including the infamous caga tio and caganer.)
A curiosity on the exterior of the building is the medieval “cana barcelonesa”, which is a sort of attached column carved into the NE corner of the facade. During the Middle Ages the area around Santa Llúcia held a local market, and the City Council had this 5-foot column carved to indicate the official yardstick or meter stick of the city. If a dispute arose among buyer and seller as to the dimensions of a particular product, they could bring the product here for an impartial measurement.