Visitors to this quiet, out-of-the-way convent of Capuchin nuns may not be aware that this is the third location for the Poor Clares of St. Margaret, who have had some travels over the years. Their case is similar to that of many of the religious orders in Barcelona who started out in the old city, and ended up scattered about all over the new. In this case, the Order was formally founded in 1599 and established in the old city; moved north into the new city in the 19th century; and moved further north in the 20th.
The Venerable Àngela Margarida Prat Serafi was born in 1543 in Manresa, a city not far from Barcelona, into a poor but large peasant family. She moved to Barcelona to obtain work as a housemaid, and eventually married a man who physically and emotionally abused her to such a degree that her own parish priest tried unsuccessfully to intervene. She gave birth to three children, only one of whom survived to adulthood – a girl who became a Franciscan sister.
After the death of her husband in 1582, “Mother Serafina”, as she came to be known, began to sew and embroider to pay for herself and her family, and became increasingly devout, trying to discern whether she had a vocation. She developed friendships with the Capuchin Friars, who became her spiritual directors, and with their guidance she eventually opened a primary school. Over time, she came into contact with other women of poor background like herself, who were attracted to the strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Clare, and they gradually formed what by 1593 had become the nucleus of a monastic community. Unfortunately, because they were all poor women, they did not have the dowry funds necessary to properly form a Capuchin Order and obtain a building to use for a convent.
When Philip III became king of Spain upon the death of his father Philip II in 1598, he arranged to marry his cousin Margaret of Austria the following year. Following their wedding in the city of Valencia, the couple made a royal progress, visiting many of the important cities of their kingdom, and stopped in Barcelona. One of the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Margaret, a noblewoman also named Margaret, had heard tell of the piety of Mother Serafina, and arranged to meet her.
She was so taken by what she heard, that Mother Serafina was presented to the King and Queen and the nobles of the court during their stay in Barcelona. They too were taken with Mother Serafina’s piety, and particularly the new Queen who shared the name “Margaret” with her. The royals promised to help arrange the foundation of the convent, and through these connections both the order and the convent have since borne the title “la Reial” to indicate their royal favor.
With the assistance of the Crown and the Barcelona city council, the group received formal recognition from the Papal Nuncio as Capuchin Nuns, and they were able to purchase a house located near the Dominican Convent of Our Lady of the Angels. This location quickly became too small, and renovations and expansion had to begin. So not long after moving in, in 1601 they temporarily moved to quarters at Santa Maria de Montalegre – a location which I have recently written about – before its conversion into a seminary for the Archdiocese.
While at their temporary digs, Mother Serafina was made the abbess of the convent, and in 1602 the original group of nuns received their first novices. Among these novices was Blessed Maria Àngela Astorc (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982), who herself went on to found numerous convents and write extensively on spiritual matters. The Capuchin nuns were able to move back to the newly completed convent in 1604. Mother Serafina herself died in 1608 in the second convent she had founded, in her home town of Manresa, and was buried there. She was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
The nuns remained at the original convent site until 1881, when they were merged with their sister house from Mataró, and moved to a new, much larger location in the north end of the city known as Sant Gervasi. They remained at this location until 1909, when their convent was burned down by Leftists during the “Tragic Week” uprisings, and the sisters had to flee. Rather than rebuild at this site, the nuns sold the land for construction of the beautiful Galvany Market, which still stands today, and they themselves moved to a new location further north in Sant Gervasi. [Unfortunately, I cannot find any information at this point on the design or interior of the current convent.