The History of Barcelona Cathedral

La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia

The History of Barcelona Cathedral, as it stands today, is a record of well over 1,500 years of Christian devotion and construction, but the area, roughly the peak of Mont Tàber, has been a place of worship since, at least, the times of Roman Barcino.

The first Christian temple was built in the heart of the Roman Forum in the 4th century and probably dedicated to the cult of Saint Severus, a bishop martyred by the Romans in Trajan's time.

With the Moorish threat finally vanquished, this construction was replaced by a Romanesque basilica on the same site in the 11th century.

The current Gothic Cathedral was begun at the end of the 13th century, on May 1st 1298 to be precise

The building took 150 years to complete and even so, the Neo-Gothic facade wasn't added until the 19th century.

The History of Barcelona Cathedral is intimately entwined with the veneration of the Santa Creu or Holy Cross but the building is also dedicated to Santa Eulàlia, a Christian virgin, who was born in 290 AD and submitted to 13 martyrdoms, one for each year of her short life, by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD.




Panoramic View of Barcelona Cathedral from the tower at Drassanes


The Early Christian Church

There are records of an early Christian church on the site of the current Barcelona Cathedral dating as far back as the 4th century.

At the time, the temple would have been located at the heart of the small walled Roman colony of Barcino.

The Bishop of Barcelona is said to have attended the Council of Sardica to discuss the Arian heresy in 343 AD and the chronicler Joan de Biclara mentions a church dedicated to the devotion of the Sanctae Crucis or Holy Cross on this site in the minutes of the Tarraconensis Council of Barcelona in 599.

In 1965, archeologists found the remains of the flooring and column bases of a very early baptistery, which can be visited from the Museu de la Història de la Ciutat.

However, later researchers have concluded that this belonged to the nearby Episcopal Palace and that the earliest Cathedral was located directly under the present one.

If archeological remains haven't been found this is because the site cannot be excavated.

It appears that this early temple was rebuilt prior to the 9th century before it was almost completely destroyed during the invasion of the Moors under Al-Mansur in 986.


Barcelona Cathedral Floor Plan Showing Location Of Romanesque Basilica

The Romanesque Basilica

As the diagram shows, the Romanesque cathedral lay directly under the Gothic Cathedral.

It was consecrated on November 18th 1058 by the Bishop of Narbonne and its great promoter was the then Bishop of Barcelona, Guislabert.

It was much smaller than the current Barcelona Cathedral with three naves, three apse and no crossing and the belltower was close to where today's cloister is located.

The presbytery and cript were in the same place but the atrium was only half the current size and the nave only reached as far as where the choir is now located.

Part of the base of the main door has been found and some of the foundation stones that were later used to build the Gothic Cathedral have been identified.

The two Corinthian capitals that currently support the main altar date from this period.


Inside Barcelona Cathedral

The Gothic Cathedral

Work on the building of the Gothic Cathedral began in May 1298 during the reign of Jaume II while Bernat Peregrí was Bishop of Barcelona.

Parts of the old Romanesque basilica were demolished but much of the debris was reused on the new building.

Some of the sculpted details are evidently older and the Portal de Sant Iu (Saint Ives), which is the oldest part of the current Cathedral is mainly Romanesque.

However, as the Latin quote of the time suggests '...extensione et ampliatione nostre catedralis ecclesie...' the idea was to extend and build upon the original construction.

Four chief architects worked on Barcelona Cathedral during the Middle Ages.

The first was Jaume Fabre, a Mallorcan who signed his contract in 1317 and built the apse, the ambulatory and the great crypt and also most probably the transept with its two octagonal towers - one of which is over the cloister and the other above the Portal de Sant Iu on Carrer dels Comtes.

The second and main part of the construction was directed by Bernat Roca, who worked intermittently on the Cathedral for 23 years from 1365 until his death in 1388.

Roca raised and probably vaulted the main nave and three of the bays of the side naves as well as starting the cloister (shown below).

Passageways around the Cloister of Barcelona Cathedral

The third stage was undertaken by Arnau Bagués, who had already designed the unexceptional Gothic facade of La Casa de la Ciutat.

Between 1397 and 1403, he added the Sala Capitular, now the Chapel of Christ of Lepanto - a magnificently proportioned chamber with a star-vaulted roof that rises more the 65 feet from the ground.

The fourth stage, between 1413 and 1441, was under the supervision of Bartomeu Gual and saw the completion of the cloister, the last bay of the nave, and the aisles.

However, money was running short and this stumbling block in the history of Barcelona Cathedral meant that neither the cimbori nor the facade, already designed by Carles Galtés de Ruan, known as the Mestre Carlí, in 1408, was never added and the front of the Cathedral remained bare for the next 500 years.

The picture below shows the facade before completion in the 1880s.


Barcelona Cathedral Facade Before Completion in 1880s

The Neo-Gothic Facade

In 1845, early Hispanicist Richard Ford in A Handbook for Travellers in Spain wrote of Barcelona Cathedral: 'The principal facade is unfinished, with a bold front poorly painted in stucco, although the rich chapter have for three centuries received a fee on every marriage for this very purpose of completing it.'

Perhaps spurred on by general criticism, in 1882 the Barcelona City Council finally decided to complete Barcelona Cathedral and put the project for the facade out to tender.

The Progressives wanted a modern design involving quotes from the Constitution and Civil Code but fortunately the job went to Josep Oriol Mestres, who decided to base the design on the original 15th century drawings by Mestre Carlí.

The facade is not particularly inspiring but definitely fits with the rest of the building and few visitors realise that it is a late 19th century addition.

Between 2005 and 2007, the facade was restored and the picture below shows it as it is today.


Barcelona Cathedral Facade Today

Visiting Barcelona Cathedral

CATEDRAL BASÍLICA METROPOLITANA DE BARCELONA

Pla de la Seu s/n 08002 Barcelona

Metro Jaume I - Yellow L4 Line

Website: www.catedralbcn.org

Opening Hours: 8 am to 7 pm (Weekends and holidays: 8 am to 8 pm)

Admission: Free except for between 1 pm and 5 pm when you have to make a donation. Entrance to the Choir and the Terrace is €3 each.




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