Santa Agnès

ExteriorName: Església de Santa Agnès
Built: 1884-1901
Founded: 1945
Function: Parish church; former monastic chapel
Address: Sant Elíes 21-23

This Neo-Romanesque building began its life as the convent church of the Poor Clares Monastery of Our Lady of Jerusalem, whom we will discuss in a subsequent post as they are still in existence; this particular structure was one of several which housed them over a number of centuries. Construction on the complex in the Sant Gervasi district in the north end of the city, which included not only the church and the convent but also a school, took place between 1884-1901.  It was burned by Leftists in 1909, during the “Tragic Week” when many convents and monasteries were attacked.  It was subsequently restored but attacked again by the Lefties in 1938, and burned.

After the war the Poor Clares returned, but were separated in different convents around the city until their old convent was made habitable again.  In the meantime, the parish of St. Agnes began in 1945 as a mission of the already-extant parish of Our Lady of Peace nearby, to address the needs of the increasing population of the Sant Gervasi district. The parish then began renting space in the church and monastery of Our Lady of Jerusalem, with approval from the Archbishop.

Once they had taken possession of the space, the parish began a program of restoration of the buildings, with a number of pieces of religious art being donated for use in the church by the titled and well-to-do in the area.  As the parish continued to grow, it eventually became clear that the old convent space as it stood was too small to minister to the needs of the faithful, and that further renovation and expansion was necessary.  This would not be possible in a rented space, so the parish and the Archdiocese began to negotiate with the Poor Clares for the purchase of the property.

This process was apparently quite lengthy and, at times, acrimonious, but eventually an agreement to sell the complex was reached by all parties in 1955.  The architect Leopoldo Gil Nebot, a parishioner, was retained to redesign the old convent space, and this was completed in 1958.  That same year, it was formally established as an independent parish.  However the nuns continued in residence until their new convent higher up in the mountains around the city was completed in 1970.

Perpetu Socors

Església de Nostra Senyora de Perpetu Socors
Built: 1948-1958
Founded: 1928
Function: Parish church; chapel of religious community
Address: Balmes 98-100

The church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a beautiful 20th century structure, built in a traditional, Baroque basilica style. This type of architecture is not native to Barcelona, and one would more likely expect to see such a church in Rome or Vienna. However it is one example of several types of churches in this rather grand style which were built in the city after the Civil War, typically by wealthier parish communities.

In 1926 Father Ramón Sarabia y Barbero arrived in Barcelona to help strengthen and promote the work of the Redemptorists already working in the city. With his leadership by 1928 the Redemptorist Fathers were able to rent, and later purchase, a building on the Carrer Balmes in the center of the Eixample, the newly expanded downtown grid of Barcelona. It was in this building that the first chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was dedicated.

The Redemptorist center became a home base for the promotion of Catholic social life and evangelization in the city during the leadup to the Spanish Civil War, and served as the chapel for the Cristo Rey (“Christ the King”) society. When the Leftists took over in 1936, the building was sacked and the chapel desecrated. The Redemptorists returned in 1938, but due to the damage inflicted when they were forced out a new building was needed. The result, the work of architect Joaquim Porqueres i Banyeres between 1948 and 1958, with frescoes by Josep Mestres i Cabanes, is a grand, Baroque Revival structure that would look perfectly at home in the Eternal City, and is one of the few exemplars of this type of architecture in Barcelona. Today it is still in the hands of the Redemptorists, and as well as being a parish church serves as a home for the Ukranian Catholic community in Barcelona to worship under the Byzantine Rite.

Cor de Maria

Cor de MariaSantuari de l’Immaculat Cor de Maria
Built: 1904-1913
Founded: 1904
Function: Parish church; chapel of religious community and school
Address: Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 45

The church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has, since its founding, been in the hands of the Claretian Order, named for the founder St. Anthony Mary Claret. The massive building was designed by architect Joan Martorell i Montells. Martorell was not only a very talented architect in his own right, but had an important influence on the history of architecture which he could not have anticipated.

In the mid-19th century, Martorell was, in addition to maintaining an active architectural practice, serving as a university professor at Barcelona’s school of architecture. When the St. Joseph Society was looking for a new architect to take over the building project of the Sagrada Familia, after the work of the previous archtiect was found inadequate, Martorell nominated his former pupil Antoni Gaudí i Cornet for the job. The rest, as they say, is history.

Martorell was particularly highly-regarded in his day for his sensitive restorations of Gothic buildings, as well as in creating new church designs reflecting back on the history of Christian architecture. As a result, he was a particular favorite of both the Archdiocese of Barcelona and the religious orders in the city. At one point, he even presented a popular design for the completion of the facade of the city’s Cathedral, but this was ultimately rejected in favor of building the present facade, to the originally intended 15th century design.

The church was originally built to serve as the chapel for the Claretians, whose residence is on one side of the building, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary school, which stands on the other. While it still serves these purposes today, it was later raised to the level of a parish for the community. Unusually for Martorell, the building is a rather vibrant Neo-Byzantine style mixed with some trace Gothic elements, unlike his more typical, pure Neo-Gothic work. The end result here even has some Hispano-Moorish elements, a style known in Spain as “mudèjar”.

Martorell died in 1906 before the church could be completed, and work continued under the direction of his son. In 1909 during the “Tragic Week”, when many religious communities in the city were persecuted by the Leftists, the church was sacked. However, construction soon resumed and was completed in 1913.

Twenty-three years later, in 1936, the church was again burned by Leftists, who turned it into an automobile repair shop and storage depot; one can still see the scars of the canon fire which was turned on the church in a failed attempt to knock it down. Fortunately, Martorell’s work was far too solidly built for the structure to give way. After the Civil War, restoration began in 1938 and was completed by 1940.