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.