Sant Josep Oriol

Basilica-Església de Sant Josep Oriol
Built: 1911-1929
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Diputació 145

Saint Joseph Oriol (1650-1702) was a Barcelona native who became a priest and earned his Doctorate in Theology from the University of Barcelona. He was known to be very humble and dress shabbily, was popular among the poor and the sick, for whom he worked miraculous cures through God’s Grace, as well as for being a holy spiritual director. He is buried in Santa Maria del Pi, the parish he served (along with the church of Sant Felip Neri nearby) from 1686 until his death.

As Barcelona expanded in the 19th and early 20th century, new churches needed to be built to serve the ever-increasing population. In 1907 Cardinal Casanyas of Barcelona announced that a large church dedicated to (then) Blessed Joseph Oriol would be built in one of these new neighborhoods. Upon the canonization of St. Joseph Oriol in 1909 by Pope Pius X, fundraising for the project attracted more subscribers and the cornerstone of the present structure was laid in 1911.

The Basilica was designed in a Neo-Renaissance style by the important Catalan architect Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia, who also designed the basilica at Tibidabo and worked on a number of ecclesiastical and other buildings in Catalonia. His style is somewhat clumsy, but during his lifetime he was heavily favored with many ecclesiastical commissions. The church was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica in 1936 by Pope Pius XII. It was burned by the Leftists that same year but later restored.


Sants Just i Pastor

Basilica-Església dels Sants Màrtirs Just i Pastor
Built: 1342-1500
Founded: Possibly 300-400 A.D.
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça de Sant Just 6

The church of this very ancient parish, which was raised to the level of a Minor Basilica in 1946 by Pope Pius XII, is dedicated to Saint Justus and Saint Pastor. Justus and Pastor were two brothers, who were only 13 and 9 years old, respectively, when they martyred in 304 A.D. during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. According to the Roman poet Prudentius, who hailed from the city of Tarragona south of Barcelona, the boys heard about the Roman governor torturing other Christians, and ran away from school to protest. The governor had them whipped severely but when they refused to recant their faith, he had them privately beheaded.

There is mention of a paleo-christian church being established in catacombs at the site of the present structure, located just south of the site of the old Roman Forum, around the 4th century A.D. The catacombs were investigated during the 19th century, but their present location is unknown. The earliest architectural remnants that can be seen currently at the site date from the Visigothic period, i.e. after the Romans but before the Moorish conquests in the 8th century. It was re-built again beginning around 801 A.D.

During the 11th century, the old church served as Barcelona’s pro-Cathedral while the Romanesque-era Cathedral was being built. The structure which visitors see today was begun in 1342 on the site of the old church, and was largely completed by 1500. Additions to the interior continued through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods as tastes changed, but the Gothic structure was not touched.

The entrance facade bears a curious 14th century inscription dedicating the building both to the martyred brothers and to “the black and beautiful Virgin”. This is a reference to a statue of the Madonna and Child known as “La Moreneta”, or “the little black lady”. The statue in question is that of Our Lady of Montserrat, preserved at the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat outside Barcelona, and under whose title the Virgin Mary is patroness of Catalonia. It is one of a number of early medieval sculptures and paintings from around Europe where the skin of Jesus and Mary was painted either very dark or jet black. Above the inscription, the martyred brothers are shown kneeling on either side of the Virgin and Child.

Interestingly enough, Antoni Gaudí was arrested here in 1924 on La Diada, Catalonia’s national day, for speaking to a policeman in Catalan rather than Spanish when he tried to enter the church to attend mass. This was during the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera when Catalan was, at best, semi-forbidden. The great architect, who was then 72 years old, spent most of the day in jail until a friend discovered where he was and came to bail him out.

By tradition, the church holds several unusual legal powers. Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, granted that any King who declared his last will and testament in the Chapel of the Holy Cross inside the church would thereby create a binding legal document. Later this right was extended to all citizens who had died intestate. As attorneys reading this may know, one of the first requirements for a legally enforceable will is that it be written down, so this power was quite considerable.

Another tradition practiced in the church was that of restraining those prepared to fight in single combat: the litigants to a case which was to come to blows would give an oath here that they would fight fairly. Still another tradition made this the only location in the city, which used to have a substantial Jewish population, where Jews could give sworn legal testimony. Since Jews would not swear on any Christian object, the courts would provide a copy of the Ten Commandments for them to swear upon before testifying.

El Pi

Basilica-Església de Santa Maria del Pi
Built: 1319/20-1391
Founded: 413 A.D. (traditional); 987 (documented)
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça del Pi 7

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi is one of the major parish churches of Barcelona, a beautiful example of Catalan gothic in its purest architectural form. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral, and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, it is one of the most-visited churches in the city. It is also the home of one of the longest continuously existing Christian communities in Spain.

The present Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine is a Gothic structure built in a style known as a “fortress church”, typical of Catalan architecture in the 14th century and so-called because of its imposing appearance, not unlike a castle or military fortress of that period. The “pine” refers to the grove of Mediterranean scrub pines that used to cover this area, which originally spanned the area from the Roman walls to what is now the Ramblas. Since then one of these types of pine trees has always been planted in front of the Basilica.

The foundations for the parish date back to at least 413 A.D., when some type of structure for Christian worship is mentioned as being located in a scrub pine grove just outside of the then-city walls. Since the still-extant Roman cemeteries of the Plaça de la Vila Madrid were located only a few hundred feet away, it is possible that the site had become a popular place for Christians to worship in catacombs. By 987 A.D., documents indicate that an early Romanesque church dedicated to St. Mary of the Pine stood on the site.

The front facade of the present Basilica features a Romanesque-era portal from the earlier church at street level, but the rest of the structure dates from the 1300s, including the figure of the Madonna flanked by two pine trees. The Basilica is a single nave church with chapels tucked between the buttresses, and has a polygonal apse. The bell tower at the rear of the Basilica was begun in 1379 and completed some decades later.

The most notable feature of the architecture however, and which completely dominates the facade, is the gigantic rose window, a full 10 meters in diameter. It was completely restored in 1940 thanks to the efforts of the great Catalan architect Josep Maria Jujol, a pupil of Gaudí. By sheer luck, Jujol and his students had sat down and drawn detailed plans of the window prior to the Civil War. The parish was able to use the plans to reconstruct their lost window directly from an architect’s plans, rather than from photographs or simply a best guess.

Inside, the church is vast and very dark, making the light from the rose window (particularly in late afternoon) all the more stunning. Most of the interior decoration was destroyed by the Left during the Civil War in 1936. As with other Barcelona churches, this desecration only removed much of the 18th and 19th century Baroque and neo-Gothic overlay, and returned the building to its Cistercian Gothic simplicity.

Ironically enough the Baroque choir stalls, which were installed in 1711, managed to survive the Civil War because they were in storage. In 1868 the old Baroque stalls were replaced with new ones in a Neo-Gothic style. These were burned by the Leftists in 1936, so following the war, the older Baroque stalls were taken out of storage and put back into place.

The Choir of the Basilica was founded sometime before 1632, and was highly regarded in Barcelona until it was forcibly dissolved in 1936 during the Civil War. It was re-founded in 1994 by members of the parish who were passionate about early music. In addition to participating in the mass, particularly on high Feast Days, and holding concerts at the Basilica, every Saturday morning it performs a Motet before the 11:00 a.m. Daily Mass in the Precious Blood Chapel of the Basilica.

Among the saints associated with the Basilica are:

– St. Joseph Oriol (1650-1702) served as a parish priest at the Basilica from 1687 until his death. He is buried in the Basilica and was canonized by Pius X in 1909. The side entrance to the Basilica, as well as the square facing it, are named for him. There is also a Basilica named for him elsewhere in the city.

– St. Joaquina Vedruna de Mas (1783-1854) was born and raised in the parish. She was baptized, received first communion, and was married at the Basilica. After she was widowed in 1817, she went on to found the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. She was canonized by John XXIII in 1959.

– Blessed Maria Angela Astorch (1592-1665), known as the “Mystic of the Breviary”, was born and raised in the parish. She later became a Capuchin Poor Clare and was known to be a profound spiritual director, have a deep understanding of the Divine Office, and had visions in which she spoke with her Guardian Angel. She was beatified in 1982 by John Paul II.

– Blessed Mercedes Prat (1880-1936), was born and raised in the parish. After the death of her parents she helped raise her younger siblings, before entering the Teresian Sisters at the age of 24. In 1936 she was arrested by the Leftists for being a religious sister, taken out of the Mother House, interrogated overnight, and then shot – but not before she forgave the firing squad. She was beatified in 1990 by John Paul II.

– Brígida Terré (1426-51), who was born and raised in the parish, founded the Order of Hieronymite Sisters of Barcelona in 1426. Her cause for beatification is presently being investigated.

La Mercè

Basilica-Església de la Mare de Deu de la Mercè i Sant Miquel Arcàngel
Built: 1765-1775
Founded: 1218
Function: Former monastic church, currently parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça de la Mercè, 1

This building is somewhat unique in the ecclesiastical history of Barcelona, because it is not only a Minor Basilica (raised by Pope Benedict XV in 1919), it is also the Mother Church of a medieval religious order, houses the statue of the patron Virgin of Barcelona, AND contains the remains of another parish. As such it is something of a hodge-podge of history, styles, etc. Nevertheless, it is worth exploration by the visitor interested in getting into the heart of the ancient port area of the city.

Although Our Lady of Montserrat is the title of the Blessed Virgin as patroness of Catalonia as a whole, Our Lady of Mercy is her title as patroness of the city of Barcelona. This Basilica was the headquarters of the Mercedarian Order, more formally “The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives”. It was founded in Barcelona by St. Peter Nolasco under a rule drafted by another local luminary, St. Raymond of Penyafort, and with the approval of King Jaume I, the records of which are still kept in the royal archives next door to the Cathedral.

The story goes that on the evening of August 1, 1218, the Blessed Virgin appeared to all three men – St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymond, and the King – and asked them to found an order to provide for the Christians who were being taken into captivity by Muslim pirates and forcibly converted. Thus the Mercedarians, in addition to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, took vows promising to exchange themselves in ransom for another Christian who was in danger of losing his faith. The Mercederians are still around today, though engaged in less dangerous activities.

In 1637, the people of Barcelona gathered at this church to pray to the 14th-century statue of Our Lady of Mercy, a wooden sculpture of the Virgin and Child, for her intervention in stopping a plague of locusts. When this occurred, by popular decree of the city council she became an unofficial patroness of the city, alongside St. George and St. Eulalia. Her feast of September 24th, commemorating Saint Peter Nolasco’s vision, became the city’s major unofficial holiday. This grew in scope when she was formally recognized as the city’s patroness by Blessed Pius IX in 1868, and it became an official local government holiday in 1871. Today the festivals surrounding La Mercè bring concerts, parades, processions, fireworks, traditional dancing, and so on into the city for several days.

The first church on the site was built between 1249-1267. This structure was expanded at various time between 1300-1500. Between 1765-1775 the present Baroque-style church was built, although it incorporates some earlier elements: specifically, a late Gothic portal from 1519, which is all that remains of Sant Miquel, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, which stood not far from here until its demolition in 1869 when City Hall was expanded. The original Mercedarian convent which the church was attached to was altered and expanded numerous times, most recently between 1605 and 1653.

In 1835, the convent was expropriated by the state, and eventually became the headquarters for the local military authorities, while the church became an independent parish. During the Civil War in 1936, Lefists severely damaged parts of the church, including its cupola with its large statue of the Madonna and Child blessing the city. Fortunately this and the rest of the building were eventually restored, and today the church is the site of hometown celebrations whenever F.C. Barcelona – more popularly known as Barça – win a game, as La Mercè is the patroness of their club.

La Sagrada Familia

Basilica-Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia
Built: 1882 – present
Founded: 1875
Function: Expiatory Temple; parish church; minor basilica
Address: Mallorca 401

The Basilica-Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, more commonly known as the “Sagrada Familia”, is without question the most famous and most visited construction site in Spain. On average, it receives approximately 5,000 visitors a day in the colder months, and 10,000 visitors a day in the warmer months, meaning that something like a quarter of a million people tour this still-unfinished church every year. While this may seem surprising for an unfinished building, it is no exaggeration to say that, whether one loves or hates it, there is nothing else quite as extraordinary as the Sagrada Familia on the planet.

Begun in 1882 by architect Francesc del Villar, the original Church of the Holy Family was supposed to be a more traditional design, taking its cue from the Basilica of Our Lady of Loreto, in Italy. A year later however, after the crypt was underway, Villar resigned from the project, and it was re-assigned to the great architect Antoni Gaudí. From 1883 to his death in 1926, the Sagrada Familia was the largest project of Gaudí’s life – by the end of which, he had given up all other work except for that of the church. This, in combination with his well-attested personal sanctity, has led his cause for beatification to be submitted to the Vatican.

So much has been written extensively in almost any language imaginable about this remarkable building which, when finished, will be the tallest church in the world, that I have little to add to the dialogue. Those wanting to see up-to-date images and read news regarding the construction of this remarkable building should visit the parish’s website listed above, which is in English, Catalan, and Spanish. Donations are always welcome, as the church is being built entirely through private funds, without any government hand-outs.  It was raised to the level of a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, and he himself dedicated the upper church.

Because of modern construction methods significantly cutting down on construction time, worship in the main portion of the church will be possible by the autumn of 2010, and architects believe the major construction will be complete by 2026. Decoration of course, will take much longer. Yet as Gaudí himself once commented about his project, “My client is not in a hurry.”

La Seu – Catedral

La SeuCatedral-Basilica de la Santa Creu i de Santa Eulalia
Built: mainly 1298-1448, with earlier portions/later additions
Founded: 4th Century A.D.
Location: Plaça de La Seu

The Cathedral-Basilica of the Holy Cross and of St. Eulalia of Barcelona, more commonly known as “La Seu”, meaning a bishop’s “see” or “seat”, is of very ancient origin. Bishop Pretextat, who held the office of Bishop of Barcelona from 290 A.D. until his death in 343 A.D., was said to have consecrated the first building to be used as the city’s cathedral. This church stood on the ruins of a temple dedicated to Jupiter, which itself stood on a small hill the Romans had called Mount Jupiter, close to the Roman forum. With the legalization of Christianity under Constantine, the Christians had re-named this hill Mount Tabor; it has been the site of Barcelona’s cathedral ever since its dedication.

Interestingly enough, the remains of this first Christian structure were uncovered during structural foundation work in the 1940’s, and can be visited on a guided tour. As the small building eventually proved to be insufficient for the increasing needs of the diocese, a diocesan council was held in 599 A.D. to plan how to raise funds for the first large cathedral to be built on the hill. During the course of the meetings it was decided that the building would be dedicated to the Holy Cross – which is why a statue of the Empress Helena holding aloft the True Cross stands on the top of the present Cathedral.

Following the Muslim invasions of the 8th century, when Barcelona briefly fell under Islamic rule, the cathedral was turned into a mosque. When the Franks took Barcelona back from the Muslims in 801 A.D., the Mosque was either significantly damaged or destroyed, and plans for a new cathedral to replace it were made. In 877 A.D., when the new cathedral was completed, the relics of Saint Eulalia were transferred to the building from the church of Our Lady of the Sands, the church that was the precursor of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. In honor of this acquisition, the diocese decided to name St. Eulalia as co-patroness of the cathedral.

Unfortunately, this cathedral was destroyed by Al-Mansur during the Muslim raids of 985 A.D. A Romanesque-style building, with a central nave and two side aisles, was begun in 1046, and work had sufficiently progressed to allow its consecration in 1058. However as Barcelona’s empire expanded, it soon became clear to the diocese and to the monarchy that the scale of the building was not grand enough for an imperial capital. Scholars are not certain whether or not this Romanesque structure was ever fully completed, although parts of this building – such as elements of the Portal of Saint Ives, with its amusing scenes of men battling mythological beasts – were incorporated into the grand Catalan Gothic Cathedral which was begun in 1298.

The bulk of the new cathedral, much larger than its predecessors, was completed around 1448, but as occurred in other cities such as Florence, funds for finishing the facade of the West Front ran out before the building could be completed. As a result, other than the twin octagonal bell towers at the back of the building, the Cathedral was without a public face on its main square for about 400 years. Fortunately, by the time Barcelona’s fortunes revived in the 19th century, the original Medieval plans of 1408 for the Cathedral facade had been preserved, and were used to execute the West Front as it stands today, exactly as had been intended.

The Cathedral was raised to the status of a Minor Basilica in 1867 by Blessed Pope Pius IX. During the Civil War the Cathedral suffered some minor vandalism, as well as bombing damage to the roof from both sides in the fighting, but generally speaking was left in good shape compared to most of the other churches in the city. As a result many of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque altarpieces and shrines inside the Cathedral were preserved, as well as some of the royal tombs on the site.

Some of the significant highlights of the Cathedral are:

The Shrine of Saint Eulalia
This 13th century alabaster and marble sarcophagus on columns, located in the magnificent crypt directly below the main altar, is speculated by some art historians to be the work of one of the Pisano family, or at the very least by one of their pupils.

The Christ of Lepanto
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of Perpetual Adoration, to the right as one enters the Cathedral, is a large wooden crucifix which was carried on the flagship of Don Juan of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pious tradition says that the reason the corpus leans to the side to such an exaggerated degree is that at the beginning of the battle, the Turks fired a cannonball at it, and the figure leaned to the side to avoid being struck. This encouraged the Hapsburg side, which ultimately defeated the Muslim invaders.

The Shrine of Saint Raymond of Penyafort
The great Dominican saint is buried in the Cathedral, inside a spectacular Gothic gilded sarcophagus supported on columns with the effigy of the saint displayed underneath in black and white marble.

– The Choir of the Golden Fleece
Like many Gothic cathedrals, the choir at La Seu sits in the nave, a little more than halfway to the crossing. While the marble sculptures and architectural details that make up the choir are impressive, the real interest for many visitors are the choir stalls themselves. A meeting was held in the Cathedral of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1519, and in honor of the occasion the backs of the seats in the choir were painted with the coat-of-arms of the European monarch who was to sit there – rather like putting a place card on the table at a dinner party. One of these bears the arms of King Henry VIII of England, obviously from the period before he went off the rails.

– The Cloister
The beautiful garden cloister of the Cathedral, completed around 1450, is home to a number of tombs and chapels. It is also home to a flock of 13 white geese. White geese have always been kept in the cathedral, although no one knows exactly why. The general consensus is that these are the descendants of the Capitoline Geese, kept in the Temple of Jupiter which originally stood on the site, and that the number 13 stands for the age of Saint Eulalia when she was martyred by the Emperor Diocletian in 303 A.D. Also in the cloister is a Medieval fountain dedicated to St. George, patron saint of Barcelona; every Corpus Christi a hollowed-out egg is placed on the stream of water jetting up from the statue, and children are taken to marvel at how it dances on the spray.


Basilica-Temple Expiatori Nacional del Sagrat Cor de Jesus
Built: 1902-1961
Founded: 1886
Function: Expiatory temple; parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça del Tibidabo

The city of Barcelona occupies a plain surrounded by a natural amphitheater of hills and mountains, known as the Sierra de Collserola. Its highest point, more than 1600 feet above sea level, has been known as the Monte de Tibidabo since early Christian times. The name “Tibidabo” comes from the following passage in the Vulgate translation of the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 4 verse 6, in which the Devil takes Jesus up to a high mountaintop, and offers Him the rule of all of the kingdoms of the world if He will bow down and worship Satan: “…et ait ei tibi dabo potestatem hanc universam et gloriam illorum quia mihi tradita sunt et cui volo do illa” [emphasis added.] Fortunately for us, of course, Christ refused so to do.

While it may seem curious to many as to why the Catalans would think that this event took place in Barcelona, rather than in the Holy Land, local pride would have it otherwise. As James Michener points out in his travelogue “Iberia”, the way the Catalans see it, there would not be much of an effort for Jesus to stand on top of some arid mountain in Palestine and reject a swath of miserable, dusty desert. But if He stood on top of the Sierra de Collserola with a spectacular view of the lush green hillsides, vineyards, and fields, the beautiful port city, and shining Mediterranean Sea all below, and could reject THAT, then He truly was Divine.

In 1886, St. John Bosco was visiting Barcelona for several weeks, helping to organize the Salesian school and seeking funds to aid in the construction of a Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus then being built in Rome. Some years prior to his arrival, a group of pious landowners had purchased the peak of Tibidabo and some of the land around it, in the hope of preserving of it from development and establishing some type of a Christian use for the site. When they learned about the shrine to the Sacred Heart being completed in Rome, they decided that building a similar shrine in Barcelona would be the perfect way to make use of the Tibidabo site.

One day Don Bosco paid a visit to the Basilica of La Mercè, which I have described previously on this blog, and following his visit he was approached by these gentlemen about the project. Apparently Don Bosco himself was stunned and touched by the offer for, as he told them during the meeting, when he left Turin for Barcelona he was thinking about the Sacred Heart project in Rome coming to an end, and was wondering whether he could encourage the construction of another Sacred Heart shrine in another city. Due to his enthusiastic encouragement of the project, funds were quickly raised to build a small, neo-Gothic hermitage on Tibidabo, which still stands today, until the design, fundraising, and construction of the shrine itself could be arranged.

It took the local Salesians some time to raise the funds for the construction, but the cornerstone of the present Expiatory Temple was laid by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Barcelona on December 28, 1902. Because of the difficulty in getting materials to the site, as well as the interruption of the Civil War, construction was not completed until 1951, in time for the 35th World Eucharistic Congress held in Barcelona in 1952. The bell towers that surround the central spire took another ten years to complete.

The top of the main tower is crowned by a 23-foot tall bronze statue of Jesus blessing the city below, which was placed in 1961, finally marking the completion of the project. An earlier and slightly smaller bronze had originally been made, but it was destroyed by the Leftists during the Civil War. On the occasion of the placing of the statue atop its peak, Pope John XXIII threw a ceremonial switch in Rome to mark the illumination of the statue, which can be seen all over the city at night, and simultaneously announced that he was raising the church to the status of a minor basilica.