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.

Sant Josep de la Muntanya

Sant Josep de la MuntanyaReial Santuari de Sant Josep de la Muntanya
Built: 1895-1902
Founded: 1886
Function: Convent-orphanage chapel
Address: Sant Josep de la Muntanya, 25

Close to Antoni Gaudí’s famous Park Güell in Gràcia, in the north end of Barcelona, stands the Royal Shrine of St. Joseph of the Mountain. It was designed by architect Francesc Berenguer Mestres in a neo-Romanesque mixed with Modernista style, featuring a broad esplanade that takes advantage of the steep topography of the site. The church is in fact the chapel of what was originally an orphanage for girls and is now a foster home for children aged 2-18 years old, dedicated appropriately enough to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

The institution was established by Blessed Mother Petra de San José, foundress of the Congregation of the Mothers of the Forsaken. Mother Petra founded the order in 1880 in the city of Málaga in Southern Spain, after discerning that her vocation was not to the Mercedarian Order which she had originally joined. After consulting with her bishop and obtaining permission to leave the Mercedarians, she brought together a group of women in order to care for, among others, the orphaned and the elderly. Her work spread to many cities of Spain as well as a number of other countries.

In 1905 while Mother Petra was working at the shrine in Barcelona, she was overjoyed to learn that Pope St. Pius X decided to confirm in perpetuity upon the shrine a plenary indulgence to anyone who makes a properly disposed pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Joseph once a year. Blessed Petra died in Barcelona at the convent of the shrine in 1906, and is buried in the crypt chapel. In 1908 King Alfonso XIII granted royal patronage to the shrine in recognition not only of the permanent indulgence granted by Pius X, but also in recognition of the good works of Mother Petra and her sisters throughout Spain in caring for the poor. From that time it has been known as a royal sanctuary.

With its increased popularity, during the early 20th century a popular custom among locals was to write letters to St. Joseph, care of the shrine, asking for his intercession. These letters were subsequently collected together every month and burnt, so as to protect the identities of the senders, but also in an echo of the Catalan custom of writing down one’s sins on a piece of paper and burning it in the communal bonfire on St. John’s Night. The miracles wrought by St. Joseph’s intercession made the image of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child at the shrine very popular, to the extent that the statue was canonically crowned in 1921.

During the Civil War, the sisters and their charges had to flee from the Leftists, who sacked the complex. The sisters were worried that the tomb and body of their foundress would be desecrated, and with help from some locals managed to sneak back into the building, dig up Mother Petra’s remains, and abscond with them; the men who helped the sisters escape with the remains lied to the Leftist authorities who were inspecting the site, telling them that they had dug up the body and burnt it. After the war the sisters returned in 1939, Mother Petra’s remains were re-interred in the crypt, and the complex was restored.

In 1961, the sisters decided to build a separate chapel for the miraculous image of St. Joseph, on the upper esplanade that links the convent, church, and dormitories. This would allow them to have uninterrupted use of the convent church for themselves and their children, while at the same time allowing members of the public to make their pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Joseph at any time, without access to the church being restricted. The beautiful little building, in a neo-Renaissance style, was completed in 1971.

Mother Petra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994, and the cause for her canonization is still pending. This church therefore, is not only a shrine dedicated to St. Joseph, but also a shrine to Blessed Petra as well. The nuns are still in residence at the shrine, and today care for approximately 150 young people.

Mare de Déu del Coll

Mare de Déu del CollEsglésia de la Mare de Déu del Coll
Built: Before 1098 A.D., with later additions
Founded: Before 1098 A.D.
Function: Parish church and school; former Benedictine priory
Address: Santuari 30

Although it has experienced some significant downturns in its history, the Church of Our Lady of Coll, in the district of the same name in the north end of Barcelona, retains vestiges of its very ancient past. The first documented history of the church’s existence dates from 1098, when there is mention of the chapel having been built by Father Grau Miró, a member of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant Cugat. At the time the Coll District, which lies roughly to the NW end of the then-village of Gracia, was well-outside the city of Barcelona, in the foothills of the Collserola Mountains which ring the city.

The small Benedictine community continued to live and work here until sometime around 1450-1500, when the last of the monks left and the church was turned over to the Archdiocese. The building saw little use until after Barcelona’s expansion in the 19th century; at one point it was burned during a Left-wing uprising in 1835. However, with the growing city population headed towards formerly semi-rural districts like Coll, the need for a mission in this area brought the ancient structure back into service, albeit on a spotty basis.

In 1928 the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was given the charge of running the church, and within two years of their arrival began to preserve and improve upon the structure, adding both neo-Romanesque elements to the remains of the old chapel, as well as a new school for the local children. During the Civil War the school and the church were closed, but they returned to service in 1948. In 1961 the church was formally raised to the level of a parish by the Archdiocese.