Basilica de la Mercè and Sant Miquel Arcàngel
During the middle of the XIV century the construction works of a Gothic church with side chapels started, being finished at the beginning of the XV century. The construction of the current Baroque building started in 1765, designed by architect Josep Mas i Dordal.
The façade is slightly curved, for when the bulding was constructed the street was very narrow and the current square did not exist. By constructing a concave façade people could have a better perspective of it. It is decorated with Renaissance ornamentation, with four large rosettes at two levels on the cornices. The beautiful valance around the rose window is outstanding. All of this was designed by sculptor Carles Grau. The heart fits in the body, which projects away from the façade. The dome was constructed in 1888 and re-built in 1940. It is crowned by an image of the Virgin of Mercy (Verge de la Mercè) with the Christ-Child, who is holding a chain with his right hand in memory of the captives. Is was made by Miquel Oslé. The sculpture is 7m tall and weighs more than 4 tonnes. The octogonal bell tower, on the right side of the façade, frames the proportionality of this unique building.
We can also see the ancient flamboyant-Gothic façade from the XV century on Carrer Ample, constructed by French sculptor René Ducloux. It was moved from the old curch of Saint Michael (Sant Miquel), located next to the municipal palace.
It has Gothic elements, such as the gargoyles or the windows and their ornaments. TheRenaissance columns that frame the door, as well as the shield in the center of the door, are the work of Guillem Descoll, protector of the church. The old façane is dominated by the image of Saint Michael surrounded by two angels: Saint Raphael (dressed with a dalmatic) and Saint Gabriel (dressed with an epochal tunic). In the image, Saint Michael is defeating the demon, who appears as a beast.
We find the following Latin text on the border of the door of the Basilica’s main façade:
“Here is a great sign: a woman wrapped by the sun and ornamented with a star with the moon at her feet; she herself, who had to bring this generation of redemptors, chose Barcelona and descended to this city, where she birthed on 2 August 1218. Lucky Barcelona, Maria has become your fellow citizen, patron saint and mother, beauteous mercy for the whole world”.
(the generation of redemptors refers to the Mercedarian order). Translation: Manuel Tort i Martí, PVR.
INSIDE THE TEMPLE
The church itself is a beautiful structure composed of a large central nave and two side naves with eight altars (four altars in each nave). Above the vault of these side naves we find tribunes with lattices. We can also see the base of the dome in the transept. On the right side-nave there’s an adjacent nave with the Holy (Santíssim) and the Solitude (Soledat) chapels.
• The intercession of the Mother of God
During the XII and XIII centuries, both the persistent muslim invasions and their pirate activity in important sea routes caused many citizens to become captives, chained behind bars and far away from their motherland and families. According to an ancient and pious tradition, on the night of 2 August 1218 the Mother of God appeared to Pere Nolasc, Ramon de Penyafort and King Jaume I to address them to create a religious-military order for the redemption of the captives. Bishop Melcior de Palou authorized the creation of this Order, which was solemnly constituted a few days later on the altar of Barcelona’s Cathedral. He also granted them with the royal coat of arms: the four red bars under a silver cross on a red background from Barcelona’s Cathedral.
• The construction works of the Church and the convent
A few years later, in 1232, Ramón de Plegamans gave one of his properties to Pere Nolasc, where a modest convent and a small church were built. In 1249, the bishop authorised them to build a public church dedicated to the Virgin, next to La Ribera convent.
In 1235 Pope Gregory IX authorised the Mercedarians to become a religious order. The Mercedarian order adopted the rule of St. Augustin, put themselves under the protection of the Mother of God and followed the vows of chastity, poverty and obediency, as well as a fourth one called “of blood”. The latter implied either the personal substitution of a captive – with the risk of losing his faith – for a member of the order or becoming captive if the redemption amount wasn’t enough to buy the freedom of the captive.
• The nave’s chapels: (L) left (D) right
They were urgently built so the church could house the worship of God after the revolt of 1936. Almost every sculpture of the chapels - as well as the ornamentations of the altars – were made by sculptor Claudi Rius, from Barcelona.
Floor plan of the Basílica de la Mercè
1 Solitude Chapel (L)
Located in a nave adjacent to the right side nave. As the Most Holy Chapel (Capella del Santíssim), it is illuminated by the roof light of the Mother of God of Sorrows dome (Mare de Déu Dolorosa), commonly called “of Solitude” (de la Soledat), is under a beautiful bladaquino of Marble, before the reforms, was part of the altar. There are four paintings on the walls that remained safe when the church was burned in 1936. They were made by Pere Pau Muntanya i Llanes on the XVIII century, who is buried in the chapel’s door.
2 Saint Maria de Cervelló Altar. In the transept (L)
The noble family of the Counts of Cervelló was one of the many devouts and benefactors of the new church. The family daughter Maria, born in 1230, founded the Mercedarian female branch guided by her devotion, and was declared Saint over the years.
In this altar, we can see the funerary urn that contains the remains of the Saint. They remain incorrupted. During the day of Saint Maria, 19 of September, people can access the interior of the altar to venerate the mortal remains of Maria.
To the left of the altar of Santa Maria de Cervelló there is a smaller painting, an anonimous donation. It represents Santa Teresa de Jesús and dates from the XVII century (Velázquez school).
3 Saint Pere Nolasc Altar (R)
As founder of the Mercedarian order, his altar is located on a high profile site. Before the door leading to the access stairways to the side chapel there is a large headstone that reminds us that Saint Joan Bosco visited and prayed before the Virgin in 1886.
4 The rose window and the romanic organ
The rosette forms a magnificient glass work that colorfully represents the Mother of God of Mercy, surrounded by saints, angels and a group of slaves. Organist Gaietà Estadella started the construction of the romanic organ in 1940. His project was so ambitious that he actually planned to build the biggest romanic organ ever made. He died in 1944 before finishing his work.
5 The Transept
The magnificient dome rises over the transept, designed by architect Joan Martorell i Montells in 1888. It is decorated with frescoes painted by Victorià Codina i Langlin, which represent the coronation of the Virgin of Mercy, related to the coronation of the Virgin in Heaven. Above the side-chapel of the Virgin, in the presbytery, we find a painting by Josep Obiols that represents Saint Eulàlia.
Above it, on both sides of the altar, we can see the painting of Saint Maria de Cervelló – with a boat in her hands – and Saint Pere Nolasc. Also painted by J. Obiols, images of Saint Ramón de Penyafort, bishop Berenguer de Palou,
King Jaume I and Ramón de Plegamans can be observed on the shells of the dome.
The Mercedarian coat of arms, with the Cross of the Cathedral and the four royal bars, is painted on the vault. We can also see a painting of Saint Michael on the tympanum of the door leading to the access stairways to the side chapel and the sacristy. Saint Michael is protecting a chained captive at the door of the side chapel, while he shelters a family at the door of the sacristy. Both paintings were made by Josep Obiols.
6 Main Altar
It was designed by the renowned architect Francesc Folguera in 1959. At the foot of the frame that sorrounds the side chapel there is a wonderful balustrade with the figures of two redeemed captives on both sides. Above the frame, a polychrome wooden relief with two angels holding the Blazon of Barcelona stands out. It symbolizes that the city honours its patron - the Mother of God of Mercy - with filial devotion.
In the presbytery, lined with colorful marbles, we find two doors leading to the access stairways to the side chapel and the sacristy respectively. At the treshold of the former, held by two colosal columns, we observe bishop Urquinaona’s funeral monument – a great devotee of the Virgin – sculpted by Agàpit Vallmitjana. At the threshold of the latter, a marble relief by sculptor Arnau Camps represents Barcelona’s bishop Enric Reix kneeling before Pope Benedict XV, when he granted the title of Minor Basilica to the Mercè church on the occasion of the VII centenary of the apparition of the Virgin in 1918.
Text: Santiago Mach i Porta
School of Volunteers and Cultural Tutors of the Diocesan Cathedral and Museum of Barcelona
Barcelona, mediterranean city, has always rendered homage to the beauty of the esthetic forms that enrapture it and has joined to that homage the pragmatism of those who wish efficiency in the use of time and life. In its devotion to the Virgin Mary, Barcelona could not act differently. A devotion that is reflected in this statue due to its artistic beauty and that frees our land from one of ist most tragic situations. This new religious Order was profoundly inserted into the origins of our history and in the life of the city. The purpose of this pamphlet is by means of the dates, places and persons described, how Mary Mother of Jesús and our Mother chose Barcelona to bestow her mercy on it and from it to the world.