Santuari de Santa Eulàlia de Vilapicina
Built: Various periods; completed in 1782
Founded: Before 991 A.D.
Function: Chapel of lay religious order; former pilgrimage shrine/parish church
Address: Pere Artés s/n
Saint Eulalia, one of Barcelona’s patron saints, is today buried in the city Cathedral of which she is co-patroness. However her popularity among the city’s residents in the early centuries of Christianity led to the establishment of a number of chapels and pilgrimage shrines in her honor. One of these is the Santuari de Santa Eulàlia de Vilapicina, of very ancient origin, located in what was originally one of the outlying suburban districts but now incorporated into the nucleus of Barcelona.
Some scholars believe that there was a shrine dedicated to Saint Eulalia at this site as early as the 4th century A.D., when there were Roman villas in the area; documentary evidence indicates an organized agricultural community existed in the area at least sometime before 962 A.D., when a survey of cultivated land mentions the spot as being dedicated to the saint. During Al-Mansur’s raid of 985 A.D., whatever religious structure stood here would have been destroyed by the Muslim raiders. However, apparently the shrine was quickly rebuilt, because it is named in many wills and other legal documents beginning in 991 A.D.
In 1065 A.D. the shrine, which up until that time had been privately held, was donated to the Diocese of Barcelona. During the Middle Ages the Diocese placed the church under the suburban Barcelona parish of Sant Andreu de Palomar, which retained control of the structure and the surrounding community for the next several centuries. At various times the shrine was remodeled and renovated – most notably the facade, which dates from 1782 – although various vestiges of earlier parts of the structure are still visible.
With the explosion of the immigrant population as Barcelona entered the industrial revolution, and particularly when the city walls were torn down to expand the urban borders, the shrine was raised to the level of a parish in 1866. As the area increased in population, the little church quickly proved too small to meet the needs of the parish and the parochial school attached to it, and so construction began on a new, larger church in 1885 [N.B. This building will be treated in a subsequent post.] The new church was largely completed by 1905, and the old church subsequently fell into disuse.
During the Civil War, not long after the new parish church was burned and sacked, the shrine was attacked by the Leftists in 1936. They tore out all of the altarpieces and statuary from the church, and burnt them in the square before the main entrance. The vicar and the schoolmaster were both taken away and shot, while the rest of the priests in residence at the parish were incarcerated.
At the end of the war, the new parish church was in much worse repair than the old shrine, so masses were held temporarily at the shrine until renovations were far enough along to permit the new church returning to active use later in 1939. After this, the shrine fell into another period of disuse until 1969, when the parish agreed to turn temporary control of the shrine over to the use of the lay religious order La Casa de Santiago. This transfer was formally approved by the Archdiocese several years later, and both daily and Sunday masses are now held in the old shrine.