Els Infants Orfes

Els Infants OrfesCapella de Nostra Senyora dels Infants Orfes
Built: 1578
Founded: 1370
Function: Currently the Barcelona Center for International Studies; former orphanage chapel
Address: Elisabets 12

Just off the Ramblas in the Raval district, close to the old convent of Santa Maria dels Àngels, Barcelona founded a central orphanage in 1370 for the abandoned children of the diocese, thanks to a generous gift from a local merchant. The present chapel of Our Lady of Orphaned Children was built in 1578, remodeled in 1680, and then remodeled again in 1785, but there is a harmoniousness to the architecture, which is both simple and predominantly classical. At the entrance to the chapel, facing the street, is a slot for making donations to the orphanage, and this was also where babies and children up to the age of 13 could be left anonymously.

Apparently the orphanage was never particularly successful, except as a source for Dickensian stories of horror. The death rate for children left at the orphanage was nine out of ten. Numerous reports speak of extremely poor living conditions at the site, which seem to have been neglected by the City Council. In 1645, an enormous fire destroyed part of the complex, and the administrators had to beg for funds to begin rebuilding. By 1692, much of the complex was still in such poor repair that another section of it had to be demolished.

In 1848 the property was turned over to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who used it as a school for several years, until they moved to larger quarters elsewhere in the city. The complex then became a monastery for the Carmelite Sisters of Charity from 1875 until 1910. Subsequently, the Barcelona Women’s Library and Cultural Institute occupied the site.

In 1936, much of what remained, including the chapel, was torched by the Leftists in their insatiable urge to destroy anything Christian and unprotected in Barcelona. The Womens Institute returned after the war, and the chapel was restored to some extent, although its interior decoration was lost. In 1988, the Center for International Studies moved in, using the former chapel for their publications offices, and by 1995, the few remaining portions of the old orphanage were demolished. Although no longer used for worship, the Center for International Studies has given this historic former chapel, which was never a very happy place, a new lease on life.


Sant Ramón Nonat

Sant Ramón NonatEsglésia de Sant Ramón Nonat
Built: 1924-1935
Founded: 1888
Function: Parish church
Address: Sant Ramon Nonat 1

The parish of Sant Ramón Nonat is named for St. Raymond Nonnatus, a 13th century Catalan shepherd. Upon hearing of the work St. Peter Nolasco was doing to ransom captive Christians from the Muslims, Raymond applied to and became a member of the Mercedarians, who were founded and headquartered in Barcelona; eventually he took over as Master-General of the Order. He spent decades presenting himself as a hostage throughout North Africa for the liberation of Christians, and was tortured on numerous occasions because of his success in bringing about the conversion of Muslims. He died just a few miles outside of Barcelona in 1240 following his return from his most recent trips.

The first structure on the site of the present church was a small chapel built in 1888 and dedicated to Mare de Déu de la Mercè, in honor of Our Lady of Mercy whose Basilica down in Barcelona’s port district was the headquarters for the Mercedarian Order. At the time the population in this northwestern area of the city was somewhat small, and the chapel served as a mission for the much larger parish of Santa Maria de Sants some distance away. By 1920 however, the congregation had increased to such a significant extent that it was formally raised to the level of a parish, and re-dedicated to Sant Ramón Nonat.

Not only was the connection of the original chapel, dedicated to the patroness of the Mercedarians, part of the inspiration, but the location for the parish, close to the city maternity hospital complex, helped lead to the choice of patron saint. Saint Raymond received his last name “Nonnatus” (or “Nonat” in Catalan) because he was “not born”: he was delivered by Cesarean section following the death of his mother in childbirth. In Catalonia he is the patron saint of pregnant women, midwives, and newborns. Today the entire neighborhood is named for St. Raymond as well.

The present Romanesque Revival church, built to replace the original chapel, was designed by Enric Sagnier, probably the most preferred church builder in Barcelona during the early part of the 20th century. Construction took place between 1924 and 1935; a parochial school, founded in 1928, was built as well and is still popular today. As too often happened, the church and its buildings were burned and sacked by Left-wingers in 1936, but subsequently restored after the Civil War.

La Concepció

Basilica-Església de la Puríssima Concepció
Built: 1293-1448
Founded: 1214
Function: Parish church; minor basilica; former monastic community
Address: Aragó 299

The parish church of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady is Barcelona’s newest basilica, bringing the city’s present total to eight. Named by Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of the Assumption 2009, it is actually one of the city’s oldest existing ecclesiastical buildings. The story of how it arrived at its present status, despite years of neglect, decline, and near-demolition, is a testimony to its parishoners and to the faithful in Barcelona to not only have this beautiful structure survive, but thrive.

The original monastic community of Benedictine sisters of Sant Vicenç de Jonqueres was founded in 1214 in the town of the same name, located just outside of Sabadell, a city situated about 10 miles from Barcelona. Apparently the sisters had some problems getting organized, and in 1261 following appeal to the Bishop of Barcelona, they were invited to move to that city. The nuns left their quarters in Jonqueres temporarily for Sabadell in 1273, while suitable buildings were located. The actual move was not completed until 1293, when the nuns took up residence on what is now the Carrer de Jonqueres, on the edge of the Gothic Quarter.

Their new convent was named Santa Maria de Jonqueres, recalling their origin but distinguishing themselves from the parish of Saint Vincent where they had experienced so many problems. By 1300, with the construction of the first permanent chapel on the site, the convent was officially renamed Sant Jaume de l’Espasa, since the nuns had adopted the Rule of St. James of the Sword, better-known as the famous religious-military order of Santiago. However, the community continued to be referred to colloquially as Santa Maria de Jonqueres.

The community quickly became associated with the daughters of the noble families of Barcelona, and grew extremely wealthy. Their original holdings were enormous, covering numerous square blocks of the old city. The two-story cloister was completed before 1400, and in 1448 the consecration of the enormous Catalan Gothic monastic chapel, which replaced the simpler version that had been built between 1293-1300, took place with great fanfare.

The nuns were expelled and their community dissolved in 1810, during the Napoleonic period, and in 1820 the convent was converted into a military hospital. The site subsequently became a prison, and still later a military depot. In 1867, the chapel itself was named a parish by the Archdiocese, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the remains of the convent, which were in very poor repair by this time, were finally torn down in 1868.

During Barcelona’s expansion in the mid-19th century, the complex was slated for demolition because it lay along a proposed route to connect the northern part of the new city to the seafront. Fortunately, due to foresight by the Archdiocese and the local gentry, between 1869 and 1871 the former chapel and the cloister were moved, stone by stone, from their original location in the Gothic Quarter to their present site in the Eixample, the 19th century grid-like district which houses much of Barcelona’s famous 19th and 20th century buildings. The church was then re-consecrated in 1872 and became the first parish in this new district of the city. In 1879, when the Church of St. Michael was torn down in order to make way for the expansion of City Hall, the portal of the church went to the Basilica of La Mercè, but the bell tower was given to the parish of La Concepció.

L’Església Romànica

L'Església RomànicaMonestir Romànic de Sant Miquel
Built: 1929
Founded: 1928
Function: Chapel
Address: Marquès de Comillas s/n

The Romanesque Monastery of St. Michael is one of those instances where the title of the building is just as complete a fabrication as the building itself. While the chapel of the building is dedicated to St. Michael, the structure is neither from the Romanesque period, nor was it ever an actual monastery. However, it is indeed a beautiful building, popular with locals and tourists alike, and a place to step away from the myriad of museums and entertainment venues on surrounding Montjuic in order to pray, or to collect oneself and reflect.

In 1929 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exposition, one of those World’s Fair-type events popular from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century designed to draw in tourists, politicans and business leaders, and thereby add to the local economy. The site for the fair was the mountain of Montjuic, the mountain which rises unexpectedly out of the city harbor and then falls back into the sea again. Holding the event in 1929 was not such a smart thing to do of course, since the worldwide stock market crash that year marked the arrival of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, a number of iconic and important buildings went up in Barcelona for the fair, including the Palau Nacional (now the National Art Museum), and Mies van der Rohe’s seminal German Pavilion, which had a profound impact not only on the direction of modern architecture but furniture and interior design as well: the iconic Barcelona chair, found in every hipster hotel and lounge around the world, was created for this structure.

Along more traditional lines, the great Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch came up with the concept of the “Poble Espanyol” or “Spanish Village” to be built on the site of the fair, which would allow visitors to take an architectural walking tour around the many different regional styles of architecture in Spain. Some critics have dismissed this as a kind of pre-Disney Epcot Center, but Puig i Cadafalch and the other architects who worked on the project took care to study details of moldings, balustrades, roof lines, sculptural decoration, paving stones, and so on. One does feel, in wandering about the complex, that one has suddenly come across a flower-garlanded, whitewashed street and patio in Andalusia, or a somewhat heavy and forbidding square in Old Castile.

Architects Francesc Folguera and Ramon Reventós, aided by art critic Miquel Utrillo and painter Xavier Nogués, developed the plan for the village along the lines Puig i Cadafalch had come up with. This was not going to be an exuberant, innovative design, for those times of experimental architecture had, by this point, more or less come to an end in Barcelona. Gaudí and Domènech i Montaner, the other two greats from Barcelona’s exuberant architectural period of 1880-1920, had died only a couple of years before, and despite having learned from them both, Puig i Cadafalch and those who followed him set off to explore more traditional, monumental forms of architecture, mixing the Romanesque with the Baroque to create imposing churches and public buildings of heavy stone rather than sparkling glass and mosaic.

The structure which dominates the entire complex is the Catalan-style building known as the Romanesque Monastery of St. Michael. Appropriately enough, it is not located in the nucleus of the village itself, but set on a hill inside the grounds, overlooking the complex, surrounded by trees and wildflowers. The building, oftentimes simply referred to as the “L’Església Romànica” or “The Romanesque Church”, is a hybrid of various Romanesque structures built during the Romanesque period of 1000-1200 around Catalonia, somewhat similar to the way in which The Cloisters museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was created from elements taken from medieval monasteries or re-created in imitation of them.

The basic design for the building was taken from that of the Monastery of St. Sebastian in the town of Bages, outside of Barcelona. From the same town, the design of the cloister of the Monastery of St. Benedict was copied for the structure at the Poble Espanyol. The bell tower is a copy of the church tower in the town of Taradell in the Pyrenees, while the portal is copied from that of a monastery in the province of Girona, along the French border.

The entire thing is certainly built to last, with careful attention to detail, but what may stun the visitor is that the entire complex, including the mock-monastery and all of the buildings in the village, were only supposed to last for six months! The construction methods employed were so expert that, along with proper maintenance and upkeep, these supposedly temporary structures are now nearing their first century of age. (Who can predict as much for what the Cathedral of Los Angeles California will look like, one hundred years from now?)

Mass is not celebrated at the chapel regularly, in our increasingly secular times, so the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved here. If you are lucky, you may be able to attend mass in the chapel during certain times of the year: for example, the mass and blessing of palms on Palm Sunday is very popular with children, who can then play in the gardens after mass and picnic. In addition, if you bring your own palm frond – and Catalan palm fronds are very elaborately woven and decorated things that look more like medieval staves, then you get into the amusement park for free.

The Archdiocese continues to hold administrative offices in the structure for very good reason however, as although regular masses are not held here, from its opening the chapel quickly became, and remains to this day, a popular site for nuptial masses. This stems in part due to its photogenic nature, with reproductions of Romanesque wall frescoes, tranquil cloisters, and lush grounds. It is also due to the smaller scale of the structure, since the chapel is small enough to seat around 100 people, and its bucolic yet urban location overlooking the city (as well as having a separate entrance from the rest of the theme park), gives ease of access to both public transportation and parking for automobiles at the site.

Els Josepets

Els JosepetsEsglésia de la Verge de Gràcia i Sant Josep
Built: 1658-1687
Founded: 1626
Function: Parish church
Address: Plaça de Lesseps 25

The Church of The Virgin of Gràcia and St. Joseph sits at the northern end of the former village of Gràcia, a municipality now well-within Barcelona’s city limits. Located on the north side of the Plaça de Lesseps, the building was originally the convent church of a community of Descalced Carmelites of St. Joseph – hence the parish’s nickname as the home of “els Josepets”. The community was so well-known that, until renamed for 19th century Barcelona politician Ferdinand de Lesseps, the site on which it sits was also colloquially referred to as Josepets Square.

Originally the Carmelites had a rather large monastic complex downtown on the Ramblas, the Monastery of St. Joseph (1586-1835), which was later torn down to make way for the Boqueria Market. In the 17th century, the place was bursting at the seams, in part because of the vocational influence of the two great Spanish Carmelite reformers, Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. The monks approached local magnate Josep Dalmau about obtaining an auxilliary site for the community, and Dalmau donated this site in the village of Gràcia, then some distance outside of the city.

The new monastery was formally founded in 1626. In 1628 the cornerstone of the original complex was laid, and by 1630 the first monks were able to move in; the first church on the site was finished by 1634. By 1647 the complex was largely complete, and the novices from the St. Joseph Convent on the Ramblas were sent up to study in their new digs in Gràcia. In 1650-51 an epidemic of plague struck the neighborhood, killing off many of the brothers. The surviving monks were taken back to the original convent and the site was abandoned for several years.

The present building, which is in a late Renaissance/Mannerist style, was begun in 1658 when the monks returned, and was completed in 1687. It is largely the work of architect Fra Josep de la Concepció, a Carmelite monk who designed and built a number of important civic and religious structures in and around Barcelona. The high altar was completed about one hundred years later.

During the 19th century anti-clericism reared its ugly head in Spain numerous times, and many religious communities were turned out of their monasteries; the Josepets were no exception. Because of the Napoleonic wars, the Josepets were forced to abandon the monastery between 1808 and 1814. After they returned, a new wave of plague broke out in 1821, causing the monks to go back to the Ramblas convent until 1823. Subsequently a new period of religious persecution by the Left arose, and the Josepets were finally thrown out for good in 1835. The complex was then auctioned off to the public in 1837, most of the buildings were torn down, and the rest fell into disrepair.

In 1868, following decades of complaining by locals about the need for an additional church in the north end of Gràcia, the former monastic chapel became the center of a new parish for the neighborhood, and was restored. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the building’s troubles. As occurred in many places in Barcelona, the church was sacked and burned by the Leftists in 1936. The parish re-formed in 1939 and held masses nearby until the church could be restored, and masses resumed just before Christmas in 1940.

Santa María de Gràcia

FacadnaEsglésia de Santa María de Jesús de Gràcia
Built: 1930-1939
Founded: 1427
Function: Parish church
Address: Gràcia 3-5

This parish church in the neighborhood of Gràcia may have a 20th century building, but its origins lie in the Middle Ages. In 1427 King Alfonso IV laid the cornerstone for the Monastery of the (awkwardly translated) St. Mary of Jesus of Grace (“Gràcia”). This was the home of a community of Observant Franciscans, which stood in what is now the Eixample district; no trace of the original building now remains.

The complex was destroyed in 1714 during the Wars of the Spanish Succession. Although attempts to re-build were made, in 1817 the Friars ultimately decided to move northward to what is now called Gràcia. In fact, the neighborhood took its name from the title of the Monastery.

The first church on the site of the present parish was built between 1817 and the early 1820’s, but was burned by Leftists in 1825 and had to be rebuilt. In 1835, during the Spanish version of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Franciscans were forced out, and the church became community property. At the time, there was no parish church in Gràcia, so once things had calmed down and order was restored, the Archdiocese made this the first parish for the rapidly growing neighborhood.

The parish continued to grow, and by the late 19th century the old monastic church was far too small to meet the needs of the parishioners. The building was expanded between 1870-1873, but the population continued to mushroom until the parish was bursting at the seams. Unfortunately, it took decades for the Archdiocese to grant permission for the old building to be replaced.

In 1935, after demolition and the laying of the cornerstone by the Archbishop, work finally began on the new church, designed by architect Josep Goday i Casals. This was interrupted during the Civil War when the Leftists – no surprise – sacked and burned the building. Work resumed after the war in 1939, with the parishioners being granted the use of a nearby convent church during construction, and the new building was formally dedicated in 1944. In addition to parish functions, the church also serves as a home base for a local chapter of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Sant Felip Neri

Sant Felip NeriEsglésia i Convent de Sant Felip Neri
Built: 1748-1752
Founded: 1673
Function: Oratorian Church
Address: Plaça de Sant Felip Neri

The arrival of the Oratorian movement in Barcelona as part of the Counter-Reformation led to a growth of spirituality in the city even as it suffered under economic and political decline. St. Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory in Rome in 1575, and the Oratorians quickly spread through much of Europe. For English-speaking readers, perhaps the most famous of the Oratories is that on Brompton Road, in the Kensington neighborhood of London, which is inextricably linked with Cardinal Newman.

In the Middle Ages the area where the Congregation now resides was just outside of the Call, Barcelona’s Jewish ghetto, and was the site of a Jewish cemetery. After the expulsion of the Jews from Barcelona, the property came into the hands of the Cabrera family, who built several properties on the site over the next three hundred years. In 1673, the Cabreras donated the land to the Oratorians, who moved in and began to establish their nascent community and a school, both of which are still in operation today.

The present church was built between 1748 and 1752 in a high baroque style, though as is often the case with Barcelona churches, its lavish decoration proved irresistible to destruction during the Civil War. However, the church bears witness to violence by both sides. Under the Leftists, many priests and religious were executed against the facade, since it was easy to close off access to the square. Then, on January 13, 1938, a bomb dropped by Franco’s forces fell in the small plaza occupied by the church and school, killing 42 people – the majority of them schoolchildren. The still-scarred facade bears witness to these events.

Today the peaceful square in front of the church with its fountain and tall trees is a haven amidst the narrow streets and busy shoppers of the Gothic Quarter. Children from the Oratory School still play here during their breaks, and a fashionable new hotel across from the church has a highly-regarded restaurant on the square. In addition to the Oratorians and their pupils, the church is also the home of the Coral Sant Jordi, the “St. George Choral Society”, which is popular throughout Catalonia for their eclectic concerts of everything from early classical music to choral re-interpretations of jazz standards.