Sant Cugat del Rec

oldfacadeEsglésia de Sant Cugat del Rec
Built: 1944-1950
Founded: 1023
Function: Former parish church; art museum/cultural space
Address: Princesa 21

Saint Cucuphas (Sant Cugat in Catalan) was born into a wealthy family in present-day Tunisia, and became a permanent deacon of the Church. He was sent by the Bishop of Carthage along with his friend and fellow deacon Saint Felix to evangelize the territories around Barcelona in the early 4th century. As a result of the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, he was arrested and tortured, and eventually executed outside of the city, where the ancient Benedictine monastery dedicated to him still stands.

The parish named for Sant Cugat inside Barcelona itself had several monikers over its nearly 1,000 year history. It was sometimes known as Sant Cugat del Camí, “of the way”, because it stood on the road to the great Benedictine Monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès, just over the other side of the mountains that ring Barcelona. It was also called Sant Cugat del Forn “of the oven”, in reference to the fact that Sant Cugat was supposedly tortured by being burned in an oven on or near where the church stood. However it was most commonly known as Sant Cugat del Rec, “of the stream”, as the city’s main freshwater aqueduct ran nearby.

The church originally stood on Carrer Carders, from its founding in 1023 by Guislabert, who later became bishop of Barcelona. The building was never very large, though there is a record of its having been remodeled and expanded in 1287. During this period, many of the city’s bakeries were built nearby, and it is possible that because of Sant Cugat’s association with an oven, they supported this chapel.

There is little mention of this structure again until 1626 when the City Council agreed that, because of population growth in the area and the poor state of the building, the old church was too small and needed to be torn down. In 1628, the parish was given relics of Sant Cugat by the monastery dedicated to him, Sant Cugat del Vallès, which were received with a great deal of pomp and ceremony attended by local officials; they were subsequently kept in the sacristy of the new building.  The Baroque structure which replaced the old church was further expanded in 1830.

In 1835, the 14th century silver and gold reliquary of Sant Cugat commissioned by the monastery  was given into the keeping of the parish by the Benedictine monks of Sant Cugat del Vallès, when they were forced to leave their 1,000 year-old monastery during a state-sponsored land grab. In the meantime many textile factories were built in the neighborhood surrounding the church.  Over time, both the parish church and its patron saint came to be associated locally with the textile workers.

In 1908 during the “Tragic Week”, Leftists attacked and burned the building. A new church was then built on the site in 1909, designed by the architect Josep Maria Pericas i Morros, a follower of Gaudí. This building itself was then burned and sacked by the Leftists during the Civil War in 1938, this time on direct orders from Barcelona City Hall.  Fortunately, before this was done, the reliquary of Sant Cugat was removed and placed in the Museum of the Generalitat, Catalonia’s provincial government.

After the war, engineers determined that the old building was a total loss.  The remains of the church were removed, and the spot where it used to stand paved over; the spot is now a square named the Plaça de Sant Cugat. Subsequently, in 1944 the Archdiocese obtained new premises for the parish when it purchased a building nearby on Carrer Princesa, one of the principal streets of the quarter.  Construction of the new church, designed by the architect Josep Maria Ayxelà, was completed in 1950 and the relics of Sant Cugat were returned.

The parish church, which also supported a school of the same name on the premises, was apparently a highly undistinguished structure. In 2002 the Archdiocese closed the school and the parish, and sold the property to the cultural foundation of the Caixa Penedès savings bank.  Thus after nearly one thousand years of history, the parish simply ceased to exist.

The building is now being turned into the new home of the Subirachs Foundation. The painter and sculptor Josep Maria Subriachs, now in his 80’s, is probably most famous for the sculptures he designed for the Passion Facade of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. The renovated building, known as the “Espai Subirachs”, will house a permanent collection of the artist’s work, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium, and library.

As for the precious relics of Sant Cugat, these were given into the keeping of the priests at the nearby Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.  The relics are kept in a small chapel in the crypt of the church. They rest in a copy of the Gothic reliquary, as the original is now in the Museum of the Archdiocese.

Unfortunately, this is one of those structures where I cannot find a good image of ANY of the several churches that have stood on this site:  not the Romanesque one, nor the Gothic, nor the Baroque, nor the Art Nouveau, nor the post-war.  Hopefully I can update this post with such images over time, as the long history of this church is very interesting.

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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.

Mare de Déu del Roser

ExteriorEsglésia de la Mare de Déu del Roser
Built: 1923-1924; 1945-1949
Founded: 1902
Function: Parish church
Address: Gran Via 796

The beautiful little parish church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, located not far from the Sagrada Familia basilica, is actually a combination of the work of two important Catalan architects, due to the vicissitudes of history. The parish itself was the fruit of the demographic growth of Barcelona as it entered the 20th century, following the explosion of the city’s fortunes during the industrial revolution of the previous century. Originally founded as a mission or dependency of Sant Pere de les Puel.les, the original members met in a small chapel located near that ancient Benedictine monastery in the old city. Hereabouts, there were not only a number of factories and factory workers’ residences – particularly in the textile industry – but also large numbers of immigrants from Spain who were in need of pastoral care.

Attendance grew until by 1920 it became clear that the community would need a larger building, and efforts began to find space and funding for the construction of what would ultimately become the present parish. Following a two-year fundraising campaign, work on the present building commenced in 1923, located on land purchased along the eastward expansion of the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The Gran Via, as it is more commonly called, is one of the largest of the boulevards laid out in the Eixample, stretching from the far western to the far eastern ends of Barcelona, and more or less separating the old city from the then-new. The building itself, designed by the prolific architect Enric Sagnier, who built many early 20th century churches in the city, was in a somewhat unusual castellated neo-Gothic style. In his design Sagnier paid partial reference to the exterior of the Chapel of Santa Agata at the old Royal Palace behind Barcelona’s Cathedral, particularly in his handling of the campanile.

The church was officially declared an independent parish by the Archdiocese in 1936, but only a few weeks after the ceremonies marking this event, the Spanish Civil War officially arrived in Barcelona. Leftists burned and desecrated the building, and many of the materials were then hauled away by local officials to use in other, secular building projects; what was left was little more than some of the exterior walls of the building. Following the victory of the Nationalists in 1938, the parish retook possession of the church.

Because of the extent of the damage to the structure, it was decided that, for the sake of economy, a simpler building would replace the Gothic remains of the old church. The parish selected a Renaissance Revival design by architect Isidre Puig i Boada, an important pupil of Antoni Gaudí, though the architect was asked to incorporate, wherever possible, what remained of the old church. This rebuilding took place during the 1940’s, although the redecoration of the interior took longer to complete. After the completion of this work Puig i Boada was made co-director of the works at the Sagrada Familia a few blocks away, a project he had first begun to work on as an architecture student and which he continued to work on after Gaudí’s death. He subsequently became the sole architectural director on the project for many years until his retirement, and completed the building of the basilica’s Passion facade.

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.

Mare de Déu de Lourdes

ExteriorName: Església de la Mare de Déu de Lourdes
Built: 1888
Founded: Unknown
Function: Parish church
Address: Font Honrada 33

The somewhat unusual, small Neo-Baroque church of Our Lady of Lourdes, designed by architect Adrià Casademunt i Vidal, is located in the Poble Sec district of SW Barcelona, close to the mountain of Montjuic. Its history is somewhat clouded. The church was originally dedicated to Santa Madrona, co-patroness of Barcelona along with Santa Eulalia, whose tiny hermitage dedicated to her memory still stands on the mountain which dominates the neighborhood.

With the rapid growth of population in the Poble Sec area during the 19th century from immigration and industrialization, the little church soon proved to be too small to handle the number of parishioners, and so a new-new parish of Santa Madrona had to be built nearby. Casademunt was the architect of that structure, as well as the church of the Guardian Angel or “Angel Custodi” in the same neighborhood. The little church was renamed in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes, devotion to whom had been growing in popularity through the end of the 19th century in Spain.

The building was vandalized by the Leftists during the “Tragic Week” in 1909; restoration was completed by 1916.  Things went back to normal for awhile, but when the Civil War came in 1936, some locals turned over the priests of the parish to the Leftist authorities.  The church was then burnt, along with two 17th century altarpieces that were the pride of the parish, and the rectory was completely destroyed.  The church was then turned into a temporary dormitory for war refugees, though it teetered on the edge of collapse.

In 1948 restoration work began on the fabric of the building, which by this point had seriously deteriorated.  This was completed within a year, thanks to tireless efforts of the parishioners and their new pastor, along with architect Manuel Puig Janer, although completion of the interior decoration took another decade.

Sant Joan d’Horta

Sant Joan d'HortaEsglésia de Sant Joan d’Horta
Built: 1905-1917
Founded: Before 1095 A.D.
Function: Parish church
Address: Campoamor 4

The present church of St. John, located in what was originally the town of Horta, to the NE of the old city of Barcelona is a newer building for this very ancient parish community. Now within the city limits thanks to the expansion of Barcelona, the parish was founded sometime before 1095 – the date of the earliest preserved records mentioning it. However, whether the structure on the site was a permanent parish, a mission church, a chapel, or some other structure, we do not know.

We do know however, that a church on the site was dedicated on June 12, 1260, because a document in the original collection of the monastery of Sant Jeroni gives this date. In fact, we are also given the name of the first pastor of the church, Monsignor Guillem de Feixes, as at this point Sant Joan was officially recognized as a parish. The original bell tower of the previous, 11th century church was preserved for a considerable period of time, but the 13th century church built by Monsignor de Feixes was replaced about a century after it was built with a larger structure.

Over time this building needed significant maintenance and repairs, which were put off, and the parish continued to grow, meaning a new church building was called for. Work on a new church not far from the old one was begun to designs by architect Ramon Riudor in 1905, after land was obtained from a local nobleman for the purpose. Building was nearly completed in 1909, when the Leftists burnt both the old and the new churches.

Construction on the new church had to begin all over again, and this time Riudor put supervision of the plan into the hands of his pupil, Enric Sagnier, who would go on to become one of Barcelona’s most prolific church builders. Work began on the new church in 1910, and was finally completed by 1917.

Subsequently, through somewhat nefarious means, someone from the Barcelona City Polo Club was able to obtain the keys to the old church and rectory, and had these buildings torn down in 1927. To be honest, it is a bit unclear to me in my research how this happened; perhaps the keys or the title to the buildings themselves were lost in a match. This destruction, in any case, caused outrage all over the city, and many editorials were written against this, particularly by architectural historians and preservationists. Some of the stones taken from the destruction of the old church were later used in building the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at the new church.

The new church also did not escape the ravages of the Leftists in 1936, but the building survived and was restored yet again. Today the parish serves a large community, including many immigrants, and has just finished the celebrations to mark its 750th anniversary in 2010. Long may it continue.

Interestingly enough, the great Catalan modern artist Joan Miró painted a landscape featuring the old church (before its demolition) in 1917. The painting is now housed in the museum of the Miró Foundation in Barcelona.

Verge de la Salut

Verge de la SalutSantuari de la Mare de Déu de la Salut
Built: 1864
Founded: 1864
Function: Former private chapel; mothballed parish church
Address: Mare de Déu de la Salut 42

This teeny-tiny shrine to Our Lady of Health (“La Salut”) is now in the care of the local Franciscans, who run a parish of the same name just down the street; unfortunately, the future of this historic structure, built out of an act of thanksgiving to God, remains uncertain. Located in the northern Gràcia district of Barcelona, the neighborhood around the church is known as “La Salut” after the chapel. At the time, the area was sparsely populated with a few large farms and workshops, and known mainly for its mineral water spring, which had a high iron content due to the presence of iron mines in the area. These were thought to bring medicinal properties.

Local landowner Anton Morera originally built the chapel in 1864 next door to his home for the private use of his family. The impetus for its construction was that they had survived an horrific cholera epidemic which swept through Barcelona that year. Inside the chapel, in addition to the high altar with a statue of Our Lady, he built side altars to St. Anthony of Padua (his patron saint) and St. Joseph (that of his wife Josefina.)

Because of the lack of churches and the difficulty of transport in this part of the city – for indeed, at the time this was outside of Barcelona proper – the Archdiocese convinced the Moreras to open the chapel for use of the local people. In addition, the Archbishop granted a partial indulgence to those who would pray before the image of the Virgin. For many years it was the only easily accessible way for the locals to be able to get to mass on Sunday and for Holy Days of Obligation, as a series of visiting priests would come up to say mass here.

As one might expect, in 1938 the chapel was burned by the Leftists, but fortunately the statue of Our Lady was hidden from their lawlessness. The Morera family returned after the Civil War, and took on the task of bringing back the chapel, with restoration completed by 1945. With the subsequent explosion of immigration from all parts of the Iberian Peninsula into Barcelona, this area quickly filled up with new parishioners and the chapel became too small.

A new parish church dedicated to Our Lady of Salut was built just down the street, while the old shrine continued to be used for daily mass, baptisms, and for veneration of the image of the Virgin and Child in order to obtain the indulgence. Unfortunately, the chapel was recently closed, because a local developer may be seeking to have it razed in order to build an apartment block. Its future as of this writing is uncertain, though the statue of Our Lady has been moved to the local parish for veneration. Its loss would be a significant one, historically and architecturally, for there are few of these quaint private chapels still standing in Barcelona.