Sant Genís dels Agudells

Sant Genís dels AgudellsEsglésia de Sant Genís dels Agudells
Built: Before 931 A.D., with later additions
Founded: Before 931 A.D.
Function: Parish church
Address: Saldes 3

The church of St. Genesius in the Horta/Vall d’Hebrón neighborhood is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in what is now the much larger city of Barcelona. During the Moorish conquests, the tiny settlement of Horta was a safe haven for Christians fleeing up into the mountains around Barcelona to escape attacks by the Muslims. It is known that the first parish church in what later became the village of Horta, a building named for St. John the Baptist, was in existence by around 910 A.D. The first documentary evidence for the church of Sant Genís dates to 931 A.D., when Bishop Theodoric (ruled 904-937 A.D.) came up from Barcelona to consecrate the completed building. In 1028 A.D. it was raised to the level of a parish.

In the 11th century, and again in the 13th century, the church was significantly expanded, although many architectural elements from the pre-Romanesque and the Romanesque-era expansion have been preserved in the present building. In 1396 Pope Benedict XIII made the parish a dependent of the Hieronymite Monastery of Saint Jerome nearby, which stood from 1393 until it was closed in 1835. More building reforms were completed in 1671.

By 1770 due to monastic decline, the Archdiocese re-assumed the task of appointing pastors to the parish. Like most ecclesiastical buildings in Barcelona, the church suffered significant damage to its interior during the Civil War, but it has since been restored and remains in active use today. The parish cemetery next door is of particular interest, since it is the only remaining church burial ground in the city, as all burials now take place in the large city cemetery located on Montjuich, in the SW quadrant of Barcelona.

A sad incident occurred at the parish during the Civil War. A number of nuns attached to the parish were rounded up and executed by the Leftists on July 23, 1936. This was described by the lone survivor of the massacre, Sister Joaquina Miquel:

We were stopped for being nuns. Mother Mercedes confessed
clearly that we were religious educators, and the gang boss led us to
a house where there were many men, all armed. They pretended to shoot
us (…). We passed through some very bad times; sometimes they
pointed rifles at us, other times they threatened us with blows strong
enough to crack a skull, others so oppressing us to the extent that we
could not even breathe…

At nine o’clock that night we forced into a truck to drive us at high
speed to a field situated along a highway. There they had us get down
from the truck…Many bullets were rained down on us…and when we all
fell to the ground, they withdrew and left us. I saw that Mother
Mercedes was in such a bad state that I took her head in my
lap…being so tall and having received the hail of bullets while
standing, she was completely riddled and cried loudly, praying the
“Our Father” and to Jesus, Mary and Joseph; I could do nothing more
than recommend she keep her voice down in case the Reds came back
again.

What I had feared came to pass, because a single man came back in a
car and when he saw that we were still alive he took out his gun and
shot, hitting Mother Mercedes again; I had laid down and played dead
when I heard the car returning. Another Franciscan sister who was in
our group of nuns did not die, at least not then, and she fled (she
died some hours later in the Hospital Clinic); I wanted to flee with
her, but I refused to leave Mother Mercedes while she was still
alive…She died in much peace and before I left her I arranged her
garments to make sure she was covered modestly. She looked like an
angel of sorrow. We were shot around 10:00 the night of Thursday,
July 23, and Mother Mercedes died at 2:00 in the morning.

Divina Providència

Divina ProvidènciaMonestir de la Mare de Déu de Divina Providència
Built: 1950-1953
Founded: 1834
Function: Monastic church
Address: Albigesos 6

The Monastery of Our Lady of Divine Providence is a mid-twentieth century structure whose architecture – or at least, what one can see of it – hearkens back to earlier times and, in particular, references Assisi on a smaller scale. This is the lesser of the two Poor Clares convents currently existing in Barcelona (the greater being that of the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Pedralbes, not far away.) It was founded in 1834 as a contemplative community dedicated to reviving the old or “primitive” rule of St. Clare of Assisi. Teresa Arguyol i Fontseca, the foundress of the convent, also founded a school for girls and went on to found two additional convents dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence in the nearby cities of Badalona and Mataró.

In 1936, the old convent was torched and completely destroyed by the Leftists at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Because the destruction was so complete, the nuns decided to move out of central Gràcia and up into the then-more northern limits of the city, in the hilly area known as El Putxet. The new church and monastic complex was completed in 1953, and the nuns remain in cloister there today.

One of the nuns in residence at the monastery (sometimes she is incorrectly referred to as the foundress) was Coloma Antònia Martí Valls (1860-1899), renowned for her personal sanctity. Her case was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1956 by the Archdiocese. In 1996 she was designated a “Servant of God”, and the cause for raising her to the status of “Venerable” is still being investigated.

Sadly, despite exhaustive efforts I have not been able to locate any images of the interior of either the church or the convent, although I know that the public can visit and attend mass here. This is another example of how, unfortunately, religious communities and parishes in Barcelona are not taking full advantage of the possibilities of modern means of communication. Still, it will give me an excuse to drop by on my next visit to the city and see what I can snap for myself.

Església de Sarrià

Església de SarriàEsglésia de Sant Vicenç de Sarrià
Built: 1781-1789
Founded: Before 975 A.D.
Function: Parish church
Address: Plaça de Sarrià

This church is dedicated to Saint Vincent of Zaragoza, a deacon who was martyred under the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian in 304 A.D., as were both St. Eulalia and Barcelona’s bishop St. Severus. St. Vincent’s shrine is in the Catalan city of Valencia, but his popularity extends throughout Spain and Portugal. St. Vincent is a very popular boy’s name among Catalans.

The first documentary evidence of this church of Saint Vincent dates from 987 A.D., describing how the original church standing on this site was sacked and burned by the Muslim warrior general Al-Mansur of Cordoba, during a raid in 975 A.D. At that time, Sarrià was a village some distance from Barcelona, not the northern end of the city as it is today. The old church was torn down and a new, Romanesque church was built to replace it, and consecrated in 1147.

The village came under the jurisdiction of the Monastery of Pedralbes, not far away, and a new, larger Gothic structure was built between 1373 and 1403 to replace the earlier Romanesque church. An altarpiece for the high altar was commissioned from the great Catalan medieval painter Jaume Huguet in 1458, showing scenes from the life of St. Vincent, parts of which have survived and are preserved in the National Museum of Catalan Art on Montjuich. The area continued to grow, however, and eventually the church became too small.

In 1779, the citizens of Sarria requested and obtained permission to tear down the Gothic church and build an even larger, neoclassical building, which was completed in 1789. The baroque interior of the church was burned by the Leftists during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The sanctuary area was redecorated in 1954, and most of the art in the church dates from this period, with the exception of a couple of 17th century altarpieces that were donated from other institutions or individuals after the Civil War.

Of note in the church is the tomb of Blessed Pere Tarrés Claret (1905-1950), a doctor who later became a priest. He managed to survive the Civil War despite a period in which he was conscripted into serving as a medic for the Communists. He was beatified in 2004 by Pope John Paul II, and more details of his biography can be read on the Vatican’s website.

Santuari de Santa Eulàlia

Santuari de Santa EulàliaSantuari de Santa Eulàlia de Vilapicina
Built: Various periods; completed in 1782
Founded: Before 991 A.D.
Function: Chapel of lay religious order; former pilgrimage shrine/parish church
Address: Pere Artés s/n

Saint Eulalia, one of Barcelona’s patron saints, is today buried in the city Cathedral of which she is co-patroness. However her popularity among the city’s residents in the early centuries of Christianity led to the establishment of a number of chapels and pilgrimage shrines in her honor. One of these is the Santuari de Santa Eulàlia de Vilapicina, of very ancient origin, located in what was originally one of the outlying suburban districts but now incorporated into the nucleus of Barcelona.

Some scholars believe that there was a shrine dedicated to Saint Eulalia at this site as early as the 4th century A.D., when there were Roman villas in the area; documentary evidence indicates an organized agricultural community existed in the area at least sometime before 962 A.D., when a survey of cultivated land mentions the spot as being dedicated to the saint. During Al-Mansur’s raid of 985 A.D., whatever religious structure stood here would have been destroyed by the Muslim raiders. However, apparently the shrine was quickly rebuilt, because it is named in many wills and other legal documents beginning in 991 A.D.

In 1065 A.D. the shrine, which up until that time had been privately held, was donated to the Diocese of Barcelona. During the Middle Ages the Diocese placed the church under the suburban Barcelona parish of Sant Andreu de Palomar, which retained control of the structure and the surrounding community for the next several centuries. At various times the shrine was remodeled and renovated – most notably the facade, which dates from 1782 – although various vestiges of earlier parts of the structure are still visible.

With the explosion of the immigrant population as Barcelona entered the industrial revolution, and particularly when the city walls were torn down to expand the urban borders, the shrine was raised to the level of a parish in 1866. As the area increased in population, the little church quickly proved too small to meet the needs of the parish and the parochial school attached to it, and so construction began on a new, larger church in 1885 [N.B. This building will be treated in a subsequent post.] The new church was largely completed by 1905, and the old church subsequently fell into disuse.

During the Civil War, not long after the new parish church was burned and sacked, the shrine was attacked by the Leftists in 1936. They tore out all of the altarpieces and statuary from the church, and burnt them in the square before the main entrance. The vicar and the schoolmaster were both taken away and shot, while the rest of the priests in residence at the parish were incarcerated.

At the end of the war, the new parish church was in much worse repair than the old shrine, so masses were held temporarily at the shrine until renovations were far enough along to permit the new church returning to active use later in 1939. After this, the shrine fell into another period of disuse until 1969, when the parish agreed to turn temporary control of the shrine over to the use of the lay religious order La Casa de Santiago. This transfer was formally approved by the Archdiocese several years later, and both daily and Sunday masses are now held in the old shrine.

Santa Anna

Santa AnnaEsglésia Major de Santa Anna
Built: 1141-1400
Founded: 1141
Function: Former monastic church; currently parish church
Address: Santa Anna 29

Santa Anna is one of the major parishes of Barcelona, not only because it has one of the oldest and most architecturally interesting churches, but it also has a fascinating history. It was founded in 1141 for the Canons of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, under the Augustinian rule and with the patronage of Count Ramon Berenguer I, then ruler of Catalonia. Its construction from the 12th through the 14th centuries resulted in an interesting mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, but with a very clear reference on the interior to the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

In 1420 the monastery was united with that of the Augustinian friars of Santa Eulalia del Camp, whose monastery stood nearby but whose numbers were declining. Their monastery was handed over to the Dominicans, and the friars moved in with the canons at Santa Anna. For a time, the complex used the name of both Saint Anne and Saint Eulalia.

In 1592, after 450 years of history, the canons decided to formally leave the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, although the Knights of the Order continue to hold annual events in the church to the present day. By a Papal Bull issued by Clement VIII in 1595, the complex became a secular collegiate church. In 1608 a Bull by Paul V brought Santa Anna under the direct oversight of the Holy See, under which it remained until 1835 when it was given to the diocese and became a parish.

In the 1870’s during the construction of the expanded city grid, some of the structures on the site had to be torn down. The church was declared a National Monument in 1881, and a new and larger church was begun next to the old one in 1887. This church was completed in 1914, but only had a short-lived existence as it was burnt by the Leftists in 1936, and had to be demolished in 1938.

One of the best aspects of visiting the church, which gives the pilgrim a feeling of stepping back in time, is the way that it is approached. Along Santa Anna Street, which is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the old city, one enters through a massive Gothic gate that stands at the entrance to the tiny square on which the complex is located.

Sant Antoni Abat

Sant Antoni AbatEsglésia de Sant Antoni Abat
Built: 1430-1445
Founded: 1430
Function: Former monastic church
Address: Sant Antoni Abat 61

The Monastery-Hospital of St. Anthony Abbott was founded in 1430 as a home for the Order of Hospitallers of St. Anthony, more commonly referred to in Catalonia as the “els Antonians”, who were canons regular of the Augustinians. Founded in Arles in 1095, the order spread throughout Europe to provide aid to pilgrims and care for the sick, particularly those suffering from leprosy. The Antonians arrived in Barcelona in the 15th century and built a large church, monastery, and hospital named for their patron saint.

After many years of declining numbers, in 1791 the Antonians were technically extinguished in Spain via a Papal Bull issued by Pius VI. Their hospitals were to be turned over to the local municipalities, and the few remaining Antonians were absorbed into other religious communities. However the Antonians in Barcelona managed to hang on until 1803, when the housing of lepers within city limits was banned by the government of Joseph Bonaparte.

The building was turned over to the Piarist brothers in 1806, who continued to use the hospital portion of the structure as a school. In 1906, during a Leftist uprising, the hospital, monastery, and church were damaged by fire. What the Leftists did not finish in 1906 they completed during the Civil War in 1936, when the rest of what remained was virtually entirely destroyed, and had to be torn down.

The Piarists came back after the war, and moved into a new monastery rebuilt on the ruins of the old. The old church was too far gone to save, but the original porch of the monastic church was retained, and used as the entrance for the commercial establishment which was built upon its ruins. Today its three grand Gothic arches, featuring sculptures of King Alfonso VI and his Queen Maria, rulers of Catalonia at the time the church was built, and part of the upper story are all that remains of what was once a very grand Gothic building.

Els Pares Paüls

ExteriorEsglésia de Sant Sever i Sant Vicenç de Paül
Built: 1884-1886
Founded: 1884
Function: Parish church; chapel of religious community
Address: Provença 210

A beautiful example of neo-gothic ecclesiastical design in Barcelona, the Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul was part of a complex built in the Eixample district between 1884-1886 as a chapel for the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul. It was designed by architect Camil Oliveras Gensana, the official architect of the Barcelona City Council and a colleague of Antoni Gaudí, who worked with Gaudí on a number of buildings around the city.

Still run today by Vincentian priests, the chapel and the surrounding structure were designed to host popular missions, visiting preachers, help those discerning vocations, and provide spiritual direction to Barcelona’s newest and expanding neighborhood.

As the area grew in population the Archdiocese became concerned about the need for more parishes in the neighborhood. In 1969, on request from then then-Archbishop, the order asked that the chapel be raised to the level of a parish church, and agreed to turn over part of their facilities for use as parish offices and classrooms for Catholic education purposes. The new parish was named St. Severus and St. Vincent de Paul, after Barcelona’s martyred 4th century bishop and the founder of the Congregation of the Mission.