Sant Josep Oriol

Basilica-Església de Sant Josep Oriol
Built: 1911-1929
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Diputació 145

Saint Joseph Oriol (1650-1702) was a Barcelona native who became a priest and earned his Doctorate in Theology from the University of Barcelona. He was known to be very humble and dress shabbily, was popular among the poor and the sick, for whom he worked miraculous cures through God’s Grace, as well as for being a holy spiritual director. He is buried in Santa Maria del Pi, the parish he served (along with the church of Sant Felip Neri nearby) from 1686 until his death.

As Barcelona expanded in the 19th and early 20th century, new churches needed to be built to serve the ever-increasing population. In 1907 Cardinal Casanyas of Barcelona announced that a large church dedicated to (then) Blessed Joseph Oriol would be built in one of these new neighborhoods. Upon the canonization of St. Joseph Oriol in 1909 by Pope Pius X, fundraising for the project attracted more subscribers and the cornerstone of the present structure was laid in 1911.

The Basilica was designed in a Neo-Renaissance style by the important Catalan architect Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia, who also designed the basilica at Tibidabo and worked on a number of ecclesiastical and other buildings in Catalonia. His style is somewhat clumsy, but during his lifetime he was heavily favored with many ecclesiastical commissions. The church was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica in 1936 by Pope Pius XII. It was burned by the Leftists that same year but later restored.

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Sants Just i Pastor

Basilica-Església dels Sants Màrtirs Just i Pastor
Built: 1342-1500
Founded: Possibly 300-400 A.D.
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça de Sant Just 6

The church of this very ancient parish, which was raised to the level of a Minor Basilica in 1946 by Pope Pius XII, is dedicated to Saint Justus and Saint Pastor. Justus and Pastor were two brothers, who were only 13 and 9 years old, respectively, when they martyred in 304 A.D. during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. According to the Roman poet Prudentius, who hailed from the city of Tarragona south of Barcelona, the boys heard about the Roman governor torturing other Christians, and ran away from school to protest. The governor had them whipped severely but when they refused to recant their faith, he had them privately beheaded.

There is mention of a paleo-christian church being established in catacombs at the site of the present structure, located just south of the site of the old Roman Forum, around the 4th century A.D. The catacombs were investigated during the 19th century, but their present location is unknown. The earliest architectural remnants that can be seen currently at the site date from the Visigothic period, i.e. after the Romans but before the Moorish conquests in the 8th century. It was re-built again beginning around 801 A.D.

During the 11th century, the old church served as Barcelona’s pro-Cathedral while the Romanesque-era Cathedral was being built. The structure which visitors see today was begun in 1342 on the site of the old church, and was largely completed by 1500. Additions to the interior continued through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods as tastes changed, but the Gothic structure was not touched.

The entrance facade bears a curious 14th century inscription dedicating the building both to the martyred brothers and to “the black and beautiful Virgin”. This is a reference to a statue of the Madonna and Child known as “La Moreneta”, or “the little black lady”. The statue in question is that of Our Lady of Montserrat, preserved at the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat outside Barcelona, and under whose title the Virgin Mary is patroness of Catalonia. It is one of a number of early medieval sculptures and paintings from around Europe where the skin of Jesus and Mary was painted either very dark or jet black. Above the inscription, the martyred brothers are shown kneeling on either side of the Virgin and Child.

Interestingly enough, Antoni Gaudí was arrested here in 1924 on La Diada, Catalonia’s national day, for speaking to a policeman in Catalan rather than Spanish when he tried to enter the church to attend mass. This was during the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera when Catalan was, at best, semi-forbidden. The great architect, who was then 72 years old, spent most of the day in jail until a friend discovered where he was and came to bail him out.

By tradition, the church holds several unusual legal powers. Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, granted that any King who declared his last will and testament in the Chapel of the Holy Cross inside the church would thereby create a binding legal document. Later this right was extended to all citizens who had died intestate. As attorneys reading this may know, one of the first requirements for a legally enforceable will is that it be written down, so this power was quite considerable.

Another tradition practiced in the church was that of restraining those prepared to fight in single combat: the litigants to a case which was to come to blows would give an oath here that they would fight fairly. Still another tradition made this the only location in the city, which used to have a substantial Jewish population, where Jews could give sworn legal testimony. Since Jews would not swear on any Christian object, the courts would provide a copy of the Ten Commandments for them to swear upon before testifying.

El Pi

Basilica-Església de Santa Maria del Pi
Built: 1319/20-1391
Founded: 413 A.D. (traditional); 987 (documented)
Function: Parish church; minor basilica
Address: Plaça del Pi 7

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi is one of the major parish churches of Barcelona, a beautiful example of Catalan gothic in its purest architectural form. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral, and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, it is one of the most-visited churches in the city. It is also the home of one of the longest continuously existing Christian communities in Spain.

The present Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine is a Gothic structure built in a style known as a “fortress church”, typical of Catalan architecture in the 14th century and so-called because of its imposing appearance, not unlike a castle or military fortress of that period. The “pine” refers to the grove of Mediterranean scrub pines that used to cover this area, which originally spanned the area from the Roman walls to what is now the Ramblas. Since then one of these types of pine trees has always been planted in front of the Basilica.

The foundations for the parish date back to at least 413 A.D., when some type of structure for Christian worship is mentioned as being located in a scrub pine grove just outside of the then-city walls. Since the still-extant Roman cemeteries of the Plaça de la Vila Madrid were located only a few hundred feet away, it is possible that the site had become a popular place for Christians to worship in catacombs. By 987 A.D., documents indicate that an early Romanesque church dedicated to St. Mary of the Pine stood on the site.

The front facade of the present Basilica features a Romanesque-era portal from the earlier church at street level, but the rest of the structure dates from the 1300s, including the figure of the Madonna flanked by two pine trees. The Basilica is a single nave church with chapels tucked between the buttresses, and has a polygonal apse. The bell tower at the rear of the Basilica was begun in 1379 and completed some decades later.

The most notable feature of the architecture however, and which completely dominates the facade, is the gigantic rose window, a full 10 meters in diameter. It was completely restored in 1940 thanks to the efforts of the great Catalan architect Josep Maria Jujol, a pupil of Gaudí. By sheer luck, Jujol and his students had sat down and drawn detailed plans of the window prior to the Civil War. The parish was able to use the plans to reconstruct their lost window directly from an architect’s plans, rather than from photographs or simply a best guess.

Inside, the church is vast and very dark, making the light from the rose window (particularly in late afternoon) all the more stunning. Most of the interior decoration was destroyed by the Left during the Civil War in 1936. As with other Barcelona churches, this desecration only removed much of the 18th and 19th century Baroque and neo-Gothic overlay, and returned the building to its Cistercian Gothic simplicity.

Ironically enough the Baroque choir stalls, which were installed in 1711, managed to survive the Civil War because they were in storage. In 1868 the old Baroque stalls were replaced with new ones in a Neo-Gothic style. These were burned by the Leftists in 1936, so following the war, the older Baroque stalls were taken out of storage and put back into place.

The Choir of the Basilica was founded sometime before 1632, and was highly regarded in Barcelona until it was forcibly dissolved in 1936 during the Civil War. It was re-founded in 1994 by members of the parish who were passionate about early music. In addition to participating in the mass, particularly on high Feast Days, and holding concerts at the Basilica, every Saturday morning it performs a Motet before the 11:00 a.m. Daily Mass in the Precious Blood Chapel of the Basilica.

Among the saints associated with the Basilica are:

– St. Joseph Oriol (1650-1702) served as a parish priest at the Basilica from 1687 until his death. He is buried in the Basilica and was canonized by Pius X in 1909. The side entrance to the Basilica, as well as the square facing it, are named for him. There is also a Basilica named for him elsewhere in the city.

– St. Joaquina Vedruna de Mas (1783-1854) was born and raised in the parish. She was baptized, received first communion, and was married at the Basilica. After she was widowed in 1817, she went on to found the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. She was canonized by John XXIII in 1959.

– Blessed Maria Angela Astorch (1592-1665), known as the “Mystic of the Breviary”, was born and raised in the parish. She later became a Capuchin Poor Clare and was known to be a profound spiritual director, have a deep understanding of the Divine Office, and had visions in which she spoke with her Guardian Angel. She was beatified in 1982 by John Paul II.

– Blessed Mercedes Prat (1880-1936), was born and raised in the parish. After the death of her parents she helped raise her younger siblings, before entering the Teresian Sisters at the age of 24. In 1936 she was arrested by the Leftists for being a religious sister, taken out of the Mother House, interrogated overnight, and then shot – but not before she forgave the firing squad. She was beatified in 1990 by John Paul II.

– Brígida Terré (1426-51), who was born and raised in the parish, founded the Order of Hieronymite Sisters of Barcelona in 1426. Her cause for beatification is presently being investigated.