While the present building is fairly new by Barcelona standards, there has been a church dedicated to Our Lady of Montalegre (“Mountjoy”) on this site for nearly 700 years. The Order of Canonesses of St. Mary of Montalegre was founded around a hermitage dedicated to Our Lady of Joy (“Alegre”) about the year 1100 in Tiana, a town some miles outside of Barcelona. As they community grew in size, the nuns were eventually able to build a priory near the town, which was completed by 1265.
Thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, in the 1362 the nuns were given land just outside of the then-city walls of Barcelona, and built a new priory to Our Lady of Montalegre there. The order continued to grow, and absorbed the sisters from two other priories into their numbers. Unfortunately, as happened with a number of religious orders during the Renaissance, the Canonesses eventually became somewhat lax in their following of the Augustinian Rule they had adopted at their founding.
As part of the reforms implemented after the Council of Trent, the Archdiocese came down rather harshly on the nuns, who refused to follow the rules of the cloister required by their rule. In 1573 then-Archbishop Martinez de Villar banned the entry of new women to the novitiate of the Order; this effectively sealed its fate. The Order was officially dissolved in 1593 by order of Pope Clement VIII.
In 1598 the old buildings of the monastery were converted for use by the Archdiocese as a seminary, a role which they continued to play until the premises grew too small and a new seminary was built in 1772. The complex then mouldered until the beginning of the 19th century, when it was sold to the municipal government and converted for use as the city’s House of Charity, or municipal almshouse. It continued to serve this purpose until 1957, when the city moved these facilities to a new location.
The old medieval church at the monastery, which was in a poor state of preservation, was torn down and replaced with the present structure; this was completed in 1902. As was too often the case, the Leftists got their hands on the church during the Civil War in 1936, and although the building itself was not harmed, any artwork that the Lefties could get their hands on, they destroyed. Restoration began in 1940, and the interior of the church was restored to much of its original beauty.
After the city had moved their charitable functions to another part of the city, the complex once again had lost its purpose and maintenance began to be deferred. The municipal government then gave the church back to the Archdiocese, which began to seek for a new tenant for the building. It found this in Opus Dei, who were given possession of the building in 1967 and inaugurated new restoration efforts.