SPIRITUALITY

Contents:
- L'ordre de la Mercè (The Order of Mercy)
- Virgin of la Merced
- Saint Pedro Nolasco
- The Basilica of la Merced
- Barcelona and la Merced
- The historical archive of the Basilica
- Mercedarian spirituality
- Saints and Blessed Mercedarians
- Mercedarian Festivities
- Mercedarian legends
- I want to be a Mercedarian



L'ordre de la Mercè (The Order of Mercy)


The Order of Mercy was founded in the year 1218 by Saint Pedro Nolasco, in Barcelona, relying on the approval of Jaime I, then still a child, and the Bishop of Barcelona Berenguer de Palou. Its foundation took place in the cathedral of Barcelona and obtained canonical approval on 17th January, 1235, by Pope Gregory IX.

Although the Order of Mercy emerges at a time when with the growth in cities, business and trades there begin to appear mendicant orders (such as the Franciscans and Dominicans).It had in its origins military orders of the period when there were some armed Mercedarians who were in charge of guarding and defending the Mercedarian expeditions, constituted to redeem captive Christians. The military Mercedarians also collaborated in the Reconquest. It was in 1327 when the Order of Mercy lost this initial military character becoming exclusively a religious Order, made up of co-operator brothers and priests.



The Order of Mercy originated in order to devote itself to the redemption of captive Christians. Saint Pedro Nolasco was the prior of the Alms for the captive in the Hospital of Saint Eulalia, situated right next to the cathedral. In that hospital, founded in the 10th century by the Count of Barcelona and which always counted on Royal protection, the poor were attended to, the sick taken care of and the starving were fed. Also alms were collected in order to rescue the Christians held by the Muslims whether they were prisoners of war or kidnapped in acts of piracy at sea or on land (nocturnal raids). These Christians were taken to Muslim territory as slaves under very harsh conditions. Many died or tried to improve their conditions of life by renouncing their Christian faith and becoming second-class Muslims, never failing to receive contempt from their captors.

Thanks to the commercial relations that never failed to exist, a price was demanded for them in exchange for their freedom, and this message was received by their families who very often did not have the money for their ransom of if they did, they fell into debt so as to bring their loved ones home. There were even some traders called “exeas” or “alfaqueques” who acted as intermediaries for such purposes.

This fact explains why alms and inheritances were received to assign them for the redemption of the captives, and the hospital of Saint Eulalia organized these redemptions. It is for this reason why in 1203 we have Pedro Nolasco rescuing more than 300 captives in Valencia as Prior of the Hospital even before the founding of the Order of Mercy which was started in the Hospital of Saint Eulalia, so much so that the first name given to the followers of Nolasco, after the foundation of the Order, was the Order of Saint Eulalia. It was later when these friars were identified for what they did: “mercy” since in the language of that period “hacer merced =do a favour” was a synonym of rescuing captives. In the middle of the 12th century these friars were already known as the friars of la Merced or María of la Merced. Hence from there to being named “mercedarios” (Mercedarians) was a short time.

The emblem that will characterize the Mercedarians is their famous shield, which is divided into two parts: at the top there is the emblem of the cathedral of Barcelona: a white (or silver) cross on a red background; and at the bottom the coat of arms of the Crown of Aragon, with its vertical red and gold stripes, and the royal crown as the finishing touch of the top part of the insignia. This shield is found on the Mercedarian friars’ white habit and will be established in its churches and convents.

The last redemptions took place at the end of the 18th century. It is calculated that the total number of people redeemed by the friars of la Merced since its foundation amounted to 80,000 liberated.



The Order of la Merced also played an important part in the evangelization of America, since there was a Mercedarian friar already present on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New Continent. Witness to this important Mercedarian mark in America is the deep-rooted devotion of the Virgin of la Merced in all Spanish speaking countries: churches, basilicas, patronages, festivals, names, universities…… Proof thereof is that ,at present, most of the Mercedarian Provinces that form the Order are situated in America: Mexico (that covers Mexico, Honduras and Cuba), Argentina, Chile, Ecuador (that has convents in Bolivia and Columbia too), Peru, Brazil … and those that are not in America (Aragon, Castilla and the Romana province), have parishes in this wonderful continent Aragon, in Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama; Castilla in Puerto Rico; Romana in USA). Besides the ones in the province of Aragon , the one in Castilla and the one in Chile they also have foundations in Africa (Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Angola….) and the Romana in Asia (India).

Together with the male branch there exist several female branches in the lush tree of the Mercedarian family: the cloistered Sisters of Mercy of the Order of la Merced, who originate from Santa María de Cervelló (whose incorrupt mortal remains have been present in the basilica since 1290), the Missionary Sisters of Mercy, the Mercedarian Sisters of Charity, the Nuns of Our Lady of Mercy, the Mercedarian Sisters of the Child Jesus, the Mercedarian Sisters of the Holy Sacrament, the Sisters of Mercy of Berríz……. And also a barefoot branch of Mercedarian Friars and Sisters. For more information about the Mercedarian family we recommend you consult this web page: www.ordendelamerced.org

Finally we must not forget the Mercedarian saints in this brief summary who represent the mirror into which each Mercedarian or friend of la Merced should look to follow the footsteps of Nolasco in an exemplary manner: Saint Pedro Nolasco, Saint Ramon Nonato, Saint Pedro Armengol, Saint Serapio, Saint Pedro Pascual, Saint María de Cervelló, Blessed Mariana de Jesús, Blessed Margarita Maturana, Blessed Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí Moreno and the blessed martyrs of the bloody Spanish Civil War P. Mariano Alcalá and 18 Mercedarian companions.



At present the Order of la Merced is composed of about 900 religious members. Its apostolate is directed to the world of prisons (prison pastoral care), missions in poor countries, refuge for immigrants, care for “children on the streets”, parishes, sanctuaries, some schools, .... It has its General Curia in Rome and our General Superior is the Peruvian P: Juan Carlos Saavedra.


Virgin of la Merced


The present Constitutions of the Order of la Merced proclaim : “For Her intervention at the beginning, and life of the Order which bears Her name, we the Mercedarians call Mary the Mother of Mercy and worship Her as the inspiration of the work of Redemption”.

In the middle ages, mercy was a synonym of compassion, but compassion exercised on the poorer, the more needy and marginalized people of the society of that time, who were then the Christian captives. Pedro Nolasco and his followers devoted themselves to the redemption of these captives and for this they were called “men of mercy” and their convents “houses of mercy”; as the friars attributed their foundation to the Virgin Mary and because they were especially devoted to Her, “mercy” ends up being Her denomination and title: Virgin of la Merced or of la Misericordia (compassion).

The friars were convinced that the Virgin Mary intervened in the foundation of the Order, therefore in the Constitutions of 1272, the first of the Order, they made the name of Mary the official title calling it the Order of the Virgin Mary of la Merced of the redemption of the captives.



When the Mercedarians build their first church in 1249 they dedicate it to Holy Mary, whose image began to be known as Santa María de la Merced (Holy Mary of Mercy), and from there her worship will be spread to all the churches wherever the Mercedarians settle.

In the evangelization of America, since Columbus’ second voyage in 1493, María of la Merced always went with the Mercedarians, whose cult spread throughout the whole continent, where the popular devotion even modified with new resonance the meaning of her name calling her Our Lady of the Mercedes, that is deliverer of all the gifts which Her Son the Redeemer has placed in her hands.

And because the worship to Mary, under the patronage to la Merced, acquires great resonance, the church itself in 1616 with Pius V, in 1684 and in 1696 extends her cult to all Christianity setting her feast day on 24th September.

The Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Barcelona

The patronage of Santa María de la Merced wants to make the maternal compassion of Mary present in the mystery of the church for those who suffer captivity and are in danger of losing their faith; it expresses an aspect of the maternal compassion of the Mother of God: the aspect of redeemer .Mary is the compassionate redeemer who updates the work of Christ in favour of the captives and the poor, She is the most intense expression of the redeemed love of Christ as gospel of liberation. The Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Barcelona The devotion of the Mother of God of Mercy practically starts from the very origin of the Order which, do not forget, was initially dedicated to Saint Eulalia although her Marian Attitude was constitutive of her identity and her most primitive essence. 

In 1255 there was already a Brotherhood devoted to the Virgin of the Merced and it appeared in the incipient church of the Mercedarian Friars. In 1259 Pere Salat left a legacy so that two lamps would burn in the church “one during the day and another at night continuously before the altar of the Holy Mary constituted there”. At the end of the 12th century Friar Bernart de Corbera, who introduced the custom of celebrating mass to the Virgin and the hymn of Salve Regina on Saturdays, exercised his ministry there.

The convent enjoyed a great reputation in the city as it was customary for the liberated captives to walk through some streets of Barcelona in procession, wearing their captive chains as ex-vows and visiting the Virgin of la Merced; in the same church they publish a notice with their names and origin of the people rescued. The popularity of the convent of la Merced grew towards the middle of the 14th century, with the tradition of the miracle of the conversion of the bread and coagulated blood into “homo conventual” the night of an 8th December. In 1361 Pere de Moragues was commissioned with the elaboration of the image which today presides the altar of the basilica, and the new wooden altarpiece at that time (today it is no longer there).



The Rabal deis Códols is situated in the maritime district, so it is only natural that the first worshipers of the Mare de Déu de la Mercé were seamen and that there was a great reputation for the devotion to Saint María de Cervelló, hence the image of the saint always holding a boat in her hands. During the 15th century the Virgin de la Ribera becomes the Virgin of the city.

The favours of the Blessed Virgin influenced in this transformation just as much as the processions of the redeemed, the presence, in the temple of the incorrupt body of Saint María de Cervelló the “jus patronus”, of the counts-kings, the commercial character of the city of Barcelona and that avalanche of liberated captives who pay homage to the Mestre of la Mercé at each redemption and remain a time in the care of the convent. Councillors, canons and the people of Barcelona all turn to her requesting help and giving thanks.

The city thanked the Mare de Déu de la Mercé for her help with the plague in 1651 and the drought in 1680.When the plague of locusts ended in that same year the Consell de Cent made Maria of la Merced the Patron Saint of Barcelona on 25th September,1687 because “ having extinguished this plague thanks to the intervention and protection of Holy Mary of Mercy” and they asked the Pope for confirmation of the title.

The Consell de Cent was magnanimous in the restoration of the sacristy in 1687, and the placing of the altars of Saint Pedro Nolasco and Saint Pedro Pascual. From that year onwards the city began to celebrate the commemorative feast of the Descent of the Virgin on 2nd August, with veneration of the “Councillors” included.

On 13th February, 1692, Pope Innocent XII confirmed that homage had been being paid to Saint María de Cervelló, for a long time. After the festivities they decided to build a special chapel for the saint, where her relics would be kept in a silver urn which the Councillors donated for this purpose. The chapel of the saint was blessed on 12th August, 1708. The Pope himself changed the feast of la Merced to the 24th September, which had been celebrated until then on the Sunday closest to 1st August, and extended the service and mass of the Virgin of la Merced to the entire church.

In 1711 the Order obtained the power to sing their own mass instead of the votive on Saturdays. In 1789 the Order of la Merced received the privilege of being able to celebrate solemn Mass at midnight preceding 24th September. On 2nd August, 1794 “et in descensione” (“and in descent”) was introduced in their own preface of the mass of la Merced.

From the middle of the 18th century the convent supported a school for poor children and Father Joan Oliva founded the Escolanía of la Mercé with them, thanks to the testamentary legacy of Josep Gloria. In the first third of the 20th century Luis Millet I Pagés, founder of L’Orfeo Catalá , was director. The Escolanía vanished in 1978.

In 1861the Diocese of Barcelona obtained their own service and mass of the Virgin of la Merced. On 27th February, 1868 She was declared Patron Saint of Barcelona and its Bishopric. They took advantage of the festivity of the second of August to give thanks for the special favour they had just received.

On 21st October,1888 the image of the Mare de Déu de la Mercé is crowned in the cathedral by the Bishop of Barcelona, Jaume Catalá, complying with the approval of Pope Leo XIII on 31st May. The officiants and the people sang “The joys of the Mother of God of Mercy” which Mossen Jacint Verdaguer wrote for the occasion with music by Josep Rodoreda: “Star of Barcelona/Queen of Mercy/give the people that crown you/love and faith”. In that same year Leo XIII raises the Virgin of la Merced’s prayer to a double rite for all Spain. And since 1904, all those who visit the church of la Merced on 24th September can earn their jubilee.

On 24th September, 1918 Barcelona celebrated the VII centenary of the Descent of the Virgin and the foundation of the Order of la Merced with great solemnity. Bishop Reig I Casanova imposed the sceptre on the Virgin in Catalunya Square. Pope Benedict XV granted the church of la Merced the title of Minor Basilica, in commemoration of which a statue of bishop Reig, kneeling before the Pope receiving the afore-mentioned privilege, was placed in one of the doors of the high altar.

At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War Mrs. Teresa Coll Muñarch’s negotiations saved the image of la Merced. First, she removed it from the church when this was set on fire in July, 1936 and took it to the Capitanía General (Captaincy General) and on 27th September, 1936 handed it to the Junta de Salvació del Patrimoni (Board of Salvage of Heritage), delivering it to the Museum of Art of Catalonia (Museu d’Arte de Catalunya).

The statue of the Virgin was returned to its place on 24th September, 1939. Beforehand it was restored by Feliciano Veciana, in Barcelona as it presented a small defect on the forehead and an arm and both hands were missing, which were found in 1936, by accident, among the pile of rubble from the basilica after the fire. Mrs Teresa Coll Muñarch died on 31st May, 2001; some years earlier The Brotherhood of the Merced admitted her as one of its members as Sister of the same order.

The body of Saint María de Cervelló was hidden by Mr. Francesc Ráfols in his house and he delivered it to the basilica when the conflict ended.

Between 1940 and 1976 the Basilica of la Mercé was restored. The sculptors Miquel I Llucia Oslé make the great statue that crowns the dome; Joseph Obiols and Pau Maciá I Pons work on the fresco paintings and interior murals; the statue of la Mare de la Mercé is restored and enthroned in 1959 and in 1963 it is placed on a magnificent silver throne that rests on a carved rock from Montserrat.



Since 1964 the sacred image can be contemplated without the overlapping clothes that covered her. The Baroque marble canopy over the high altar passed to the chapel of Soledad and the façade originating from the ancient church of Sant Miquel (Saint Michael) was restored. In 1981 the Plaza de la Mercé was built on when they demolished the block of flats that occupied it.

And here ends this little tour through the history of the Mare de Déu de la Mercé of Barcelona. How beautiful and consoling are the verses by Mossen Jacint Verdague, which resonate under their vault “Joys of the Mother of God of Mercy”

“Mother and Patroness of captives / you who have come down from heaven/ Princess of Barcelona, Protect your city”


Saint Pedro Nolasco


The Second Vatican Council says that from the beginning of the Church there were men and women who founded religious families, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which the church received with pleasure and approved with their authority.

One of these men was Pedro Nolasco, religious founder of the Order of la Merced, which spread out in the Latin area in Europe as well as in America, but with a universal vocation and obvious reality. Today it is present in the five continents.



It is at the final decades of the 12th century: Pedro Nolasco was probably born in Barcelona in the year 1180. We know almost nothing of his early childhood although it seems that his family had in a well-to-do social and economic position.

Pedro Nolasco was by profession a tradesman or merchant, Guillermo Vázquez says “the tradesmen of that time were not prudish men who we see today behind a counter but daring captains who undertook long journeys to acquire and deliver their merchandise, fighting against all kinds of perils.”. As a merchant he naturally focused on all sorts of merchandise that circulated by sea and land. Unfortunately, this also included human merchandise. In that society there were two types of people deprived of their freedom and they traded with them: slaves and captives.



On 4th January, 1302 in a letter King Jaime II of Aragon wrote to the Pope, talking about the Order of la Merced he said: “Once, certain laymen of our land, devoted to Jesus Christ who redeemed us with His blood, sold their personal property little by little in order to free the captive Christians from the captivity of non-Christians and finally had to publically beg alms from the congregation of the churches to be able to save those such Christians from the power of the Moors”.

These activities, previous to the foundation of the Order, that go from selling all their personal belongings to asking people for donations, date back to the first two decades of the13th century. From an early age Pedro Nolasco directs his life to the liberation of his brother slave and draws people of his own age to the cause. Hence in 1213 he accomplishes his first redemption in Valencia being the “Attorney of Alms for the captives” in the hospital of Saint Eulalia. Pious and active, Nolasco is shaping his own path as a project to be carried out in a religious group dedicated to such charitable work, which by divine inspiration, is instituted in the cathedral of Barcelona on 10th August,1218.



For this new religious order, together with his friars, he has to create and organize the entire network of a new religious order, devoted to an activity which has religious implications in the first place, yet also social and legal ones. The people admire Pedro Nolasco and his friars’ good deeds and with the donations and alms, the growth of the holy work of the salvation of the captives is made possible.

Pedro Nolasco, the humble lay friar was always regarded a faithful imitator of Christ the Redeemer and considered a saint. His veneration soon spread to where his children were, and the church ratifying this universal conviction, canonized him in 1628.


The Basilica of la Merced


Although at the beginning the Order of la Merced occupied the space of the hospital of Saint Eulalia, located next to the cathedral of Barcelona itself, where both the poor and redeemed captives were treated and welcomed, the building soon became small. It was necessary to build a new bigger one to welcome the new religious community and assist the Christians rescued from the Muslims better.

It was in 1232 when Ramon de Plegamans bought a part of the beach beside the port, at the departure of the Codols and gave it to Pedro Nolasco. In 1235 a House of Charity was built for the released captives, placed under the invocation of Saint Eulalia. In that same year the new order is approved canonically by Pope Gregory IX.

In 1245 Pope innocent IV granted this building permission to celebrate divine offices and allowed them to have burials in the convent. In 1249 the bishop of Barcelona, Pere de Centelles, gives the Mercedarians permission to “erect a church dedicated to Holy Mary and have a cemetery where they can bury the religious people, servants and brothers of the order…” This is the oldest indication referring to the building of a church in the place where the Basilica now stands.

Raimundo de Plegamans’ donation got too small over the years and the friars bought pieces of the plot next to Oller street. On the other side of la Mercé street the property reached the sea, and this part was dedicated to an orchard (then the sea began in what is now called Paseo Colón). Nothing was built in this area until well into the 15th century, as the construction of the church progressed, the convent of the friars was being dismantled so it was necessary to build a new one next to the sea itself. The king granted permission to build some arches that communicated the convent and the orchard to the church.

The new church, Gothic in style, was simple. At first it only had two chapels: Saint Eloy and Saint Marina, located in the area of the church that now looks onto Ample street. Saint María de Cervelló was buried in the chapel of Saint Marina on 19th September,1290. Her body remains intact today and is worshiped by multitudes of the Faithful. Every 19th September it is exposed for this purpose. In 1380 king Pedro IV offered a silver sarcophagus and another of polychrome wood because her remains were transferred from her grave in the ground to the sarcophagus offered by the king. The image of this sarcophagus is the oldest we have of the saint and in it appears the king who, on his knees, venerates her incorrupt remains. At present it is kept in the Museu Diocesà de Barcelona (diocese museum).



Going back to the church, it has been dedicated to Holy Mary since the beginning. Little by little the people began to call her Mother of God of Mercy, for the work of “mercy” carried out by the Mercedarians. At that time the name of “mercy” was given for the redemption of the captives: “fer mercé”(“do mercy”) was equivalent to free from slavery; therefore the church of the hospital of the friars was known as the church of “mercy”, and from then on it was called the church of the “Mare de Déu de la Mercé”.(Mother of God of Mercy).



In 1335 two other chapels were built, similar to the existing ones and, at the end of the 14th century, the building of the tower was finished. Halfway through the 15th century the chapels of Saint Hippolytus and Saint Ursula were built, located on the sea side of the church. At that time the church measured 35 by 22 metres. The roof was of a pointed vault and the mysteries of Our Lady and the arms of the benefactors were carved on the keystones. On the façade there were “two great doors and its frontispiece is a beautifully carved mosaic work of art and on which said doors is placed a very beautiful, tall and proportionate image of the Holy Mary of Mercy”. The façade was sombre with an austere rose window and some ornamental mouldings. Halfway through the 15th century, the friars put their small cemetery in front of the façade, on the corner of Ample street, which subsisted until the beginning of the 19th century. The image of the Virgin Mary that presided over the tympanum until the 18th century was found in some excavations in 1942; today it is situated in the chapel of Descent.

It was in 1361 when the construction of the altarpiece of the first church began, by the architect Bernat Roca. The artist promised to put in the very centre an image of the Virgin with two torches. The image before the current one that some identify as the “mà a la cara”(“hand to face”) is kept in the Museu Diocesà in Barcelona. The present image measures 1.40 m (seven palms of that time) and its elaboration is attributed to Pere Moragues as he was the sculptor who usually cooperated with the architect Roca. The style of this image coincides with that of this sculptor.



The altarpiece of the main altar had images of Saint John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Ramon Nonato and St. Pedro Armengol. In 1503 the painter Antoni Marqués decorated the altarpiece.

In 1667, by the will of the bishop of Barcelona, the Mercedarian Friar Alonso Sotomayor, the alcove of the Virgin was built so the old Gothic altarpiece and the choir stalls had to be demolished. In its place a Baroque altarpiece was built in the centre of which a great window opened with the heavenly chamber, which could be reached by a staircase from the sacristy, in order to worship and admire the image of the Virgin close up. Some years later another staircase was built to facilitate hand kissing on crowded days. After demolishing other sections, an oratory was built next to the alcove of the Virgin, with a slender dome topped by a torch from where natural light was received in the room.

Leaving aside the church, in relation to the convent, it was in 1605 when P. Antonio Simoni decided to build a new one the works of which were completed in 1636, being Fr. Dalmau Serra the General Master of the Order. The bridge that communicated the sacristy with the church was decorated and the bridge that communicated the convent with the choir was constructed. The cloister of the convent was the work of Jaume Granyer and is 26.40m on a side, with dark marble columns.



Going back to the church again, in 18th century the friars realized that it had become too small for them. The construction of a new church was approved in the General Chapter in 1764. The first stone was laid on 25th April, 1765 the architect Josep Mas being the project manager. The refectory of the convent was used temporarily as a church while the work lasted which went on for the space of ten years, being completed on 9th September,1775.

The new temple was built in the same place as the previous one and with the same arrangement, although it was broadened on the side of Ample street and lengthened on the side of the presbytery. Currently its floor plan is 45.70m by 20.36 m.



Because of the demolition of the Gothic church in October, 1767 the foundations were removed in search of the tomb of St. Pedro Nolasco but it was not found. Afterwards, in 1782, other excavations were made in the Baixada de la Canonja, where they discovered some unidentified remains.

This new church is in the cyclopean Baroque style of Italian trend. Vinenç Marro designed the new altar which consists of two statues at both sides one of St. Pedro Nolasco and the other of St María de Cervelló; in the middle the Virgin is surrounded by angels and two captives at her feet; at the top there is a shield of the Merced held by two angels, the work of the sculptor Pere serra and below there is a beautiful statue of St. Eulalia. A marble canopy completes this altar. Everything was inaugurated on 2nd August, 1794.

With all this we come to the nineteenth century, a very busy century from its beginning with the French War (1808-1814), disastrous for the Order of la Merced in Spain. The convent remained occupied, aimed to be a prison, a barracks for French and Italian soldiers and the quartermaster’s depot.

In January, 1814 the church was closed and all the jewels that had been donated to the Virgin disappeared, as well as the silver throne that the city had given to their Patron Saint. The image of the Virgin and the incorrupt remains of St. María de Cervelló were taken from the church and kept in the cathedral for greater security, returning to the church again in 1817. That same year a procession was made to the cathedral with the image because of the drought and another in 1821 because of typhoid.

In 1822, during the Trienio Liberal ( “Liberal Triennium”/1820-1823), the community was supressed and the convent closed once again. Anyway, the church remained open as a parish church. The Town Council demolished the two bridges that joined the convent to the church, being re-built in 1824, when the friars went back to the convent.

In 1835, by a Royal Decree on 11th October, the religious orders were supressed in Spain, so the Mercedarians ceased to exist in this troubled and tumultuous country until 1824, the year of their return. Now without the Mercedarians , the parish of San Miguel was transferred to the church of la Merced, in 1869 thereby denominating the parish church as “Parroquia de San Miguel y de la Mare de Déu de la Mercé” (Parish of St. Michael and Mother of God of Mercy). Its Renaissance door from the 16th century was dismantled and re-built between 1871 and 1872 in Ample street, giving access to the basilica from the side.

The convent had two uses; tax office, barracks of a battalion of the National Militia, headquarters of an infantry regiment, military casino, …. Finally, on 29th August, 1845 the new General Captain, Manuel Bretón, converted the building into the General Captaincy of Catalonia. The building was inaugurated as such on 10th October, 1846.

Getting back to the church again, in the year 1883 the dome was built over the transept of the temple, work of Joan Martorell. Also in 1883 the bishop of Barcelona, José Urquinaona y Bidot died and his grave was installed in the presbytery of la Merced , in a marble sarcophagus on two columns around the door of the alcove staircase. In 1885, the sculpture of the bishop, Agapito Vallmitjaba was placed on top.

For the event of the World Exhibition of Barcelona in 1888, the dome was completed and it was crowned with a majestic bronze image of the Virgin extending her sceptre over the city, work of Maximí Solá. That same year the image of the Virgin was crowned canonically in the cathedral of Barcelona by bishop Jaume Català. In the room next to the Virgin’s alcove a marble relief was installed which represented the “Descent of the Virgin before St. Pedro Nolasco”, work of Josep Limona, the relief that gave the name to the chapel , it still has now.



On the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the foundation of the Order of la Merced, the basilica was made Minor Basilica in 1918, and the Town Council gave the sceptre to the Virgin as Patron Saint of the city.

And with these swings so characteristic of our history, we reach 1936. In July the uprising that led to the Civil War took place. That same month the basilica was set on fire. Although the firemen came, they only made sure that the fire did not reach the surrounding buildings. Thanks to the intervention of some brave parishioners, the image of the Virgin and the body of St. María de Cervelló were saved and have remained intact to this day. The bronze image that crowned the dome was melted down for military use. Everything that happened in the church of la Merced was described point by point by Mosén José Sanabre, the archivist of the diocese of Barcelona: “The evening of 19th July the frenzied mob invaded the building of the General Captaincy and, immediately after, went to the church of la Merced demanding its destruction. It was not until the following day that, accompanied by the armed forces, they were able to penetrate the temple after firing numerous rifle bullets at the façade. Immediately afterwards they set fire inside the church so that the pictures in the main vault were burnt and the frescoes of the dome were blackened by smoke. The wooden stands, the organ and all the images in the side altars were destroyed. The firemen took care that the fire only burnt the church and did not pass to the nearby houses. The fire was rekindled several times the following days”.

The image of the Virgin was thrown from the alcove onto the Tabernacle of the main altar, and some days later, other revolutionaries knocked it down onto the floor in front of the altar.

Father Luis Pelegrí Nicolás, beneficiary of the church and martyrized for this reason on 29th March, 1937, planned to rescue the Gothic image. After finding out what state the image was in, he asked for help from a family of the parish well related to the Minister of Interior of the Generalitat, don José María España Sirat. At 4 pm on 27th July three trustworthy agents of the Minister, together with two policemen, two Assault guards and two civil guards came out of the regional Government Ministry building. Miss Teresa Coll, who had handled the operation with the Minister, joined them. The group drove to la Merced in a van under the pretext of recovering the safe with the Virgin’s jewels which the assailants had not found because they were in a wall of the alcove. After emptying the safe and on passing in front of the fallen image before the altar, Miss Coll suggested they could take that work of art.

The members of the group were surprised by the unusual proposal but one of the agents, who had been instructed by the Minister, and the locksmith who had opened the safe supported the idea and finally the image was deposited in the van and covered with a sheet which Miss Coll already had. Then they went to the Captaincy where they had to collect another safe that had been in the rectory. Once in the central courtyard, out of public curiosity ,they lowered the image of the Virgin and hid it in a room under the grand staircase where they kept the cleaning tools and also where they deposited the mortal remains of St. María Cervelló.

The janitor of the Captaincy took care of the sacred objects for over two months. On 28th September, 1936 the Director of Service of the museums of the Generalitat ordered the removal of the image and the sarcophagus of St. María de Cervelló to the Museo del Palacio Nacional de Montjuïc (museum of the National Palace of Montjuïc) where they restored both pieces. After the relocation, the body of St. María de Cervelló was abandoned in the Captaincy. The architect, Josep Francesc Ráfols Fontanals (1889-1965) who was then in the Service of the Furniture-storeroom of the Generalitat, took it and kept it hidden in his home until 1939 and it was even used as an altar and mass was celebrated secretly on the body of the saint several times . The “Minister” España had to go into exile on 23rd October, 1936 as his life was in danger because he had protected religious peoples and objects of worship.

The church of la Merced was abandoned, presenting a desolate aspect, the chapel of Descent completely destroyed, next to the alcove, where the paintings of St. Joseph’s dream and the Plague of locusts were burnt. The archangels of the door of St Michael were likewise destroyed, as well as the images of St. Joaquim and St. Ana by Rámon Amadeu, St. Hippolytus and St. Anthony of the altar of St. José Oriol, the archangels by Salvador Gurri of the chapel of the Santisimo and on the altar of St. María de Cervelló, the images of St. Anthony by Pere Serra, St. Isabel by Enrique Clarassó and St. Pedro Nolasco by Amadeu.

When the war was over, between 1940 and 1976, the basilica experienced a rapid process of restoration. Soon after the war ended the General Captains of the Army (Alvarez Arenas, Orgaz Kindelán) put the battalion of Army Corps of Engineers at the disposal of the parish. The successive reconstruction works were largely paid for by private entities. Between 1939 and 1947 the pavement of the nave,the side altars, the sacristies and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was redone. Between 1948 and 1955, work was done in the alcove and the hall of Descent. In 1956 the new image of the Virgin was placed on top of the dome, as the previous one was knocked down and melted down at the beginning of the Civil War. It is the work of the brothers Miguel (1879-1959) and Luciano (1880-1951) Oslé Sáenz de Medrano, made of bronze in a foundry in Valls.

Francisco Folguera drew the doors of the sacristy and alcove. In the pendentives of the dome and the presbytery arches there are fresco paintings by José Obiols Palau (1894-1967). Pallàs directed the restoration of the door of San Miguel and Luis Bonet did the staircase of the alcove in 1972, in the same year that Pablo Macià Pons made the decorative paintings of the soffit of the vault of the nave. Oriol Sunyer Gaspar (1923-1990) made the new silver throne of the Virgin.

Although the original Baroque style of the basilica was respected some new things had to be done: interior paintings, mouldings,… almost all of the sculptures in the side chapels were made by the Barcelona sculptor, Claudi Ríus. The main altar was designed by the architect Francisco Folguera in 1959, the presbytery being lined with marble of different colours. A new bronze image, bigger than the previous one weighing about five tonnes, was placed on top of the dome of the basilica in 1959.

In 1963 the LXXV anniversary of the coronation of the Virgin was celebrated and the new silver throne was used for the first time. On 26th July, 1964 the bishop of Barcelona, Dr. Gregorio Modrego Casáus established the Brotherhood of the Virgin of la Merced, and in the course of the same year the vestments of the virgin were removed so it could be seen as it was sculpted by Pedro Moragas in the 14th century. On 22nd February, 1976 the King and Queen of Spain visited the basilica.

In February, 1983 the fountain of Neptune, which had been inaugurated at the Fisherman’s wharf in the port on 24th April, 1826, was installed in the square. It is the work of Adrián Ferran Vallés (1774-1840). The sculptural part of the fountain is by Celedonio Guixà.

In 1992 the ancient palace Girona, opposite the church, was restored, destined for the Civil Registry. During 1990 and 1991 the church floor was refracted and the main façade was cleaned under the direction of the architect Jorge Bonet Armengol.

As icing on this whole process of restoration, on 21st, 22nd and 23rd September, 2018 the new organ of the basilica was inaugurated in a wonderful festival that had performers such as Maria Nacy, Montserrat Torrent and the French organist Thomas Ospital. It was blessed in November by Sr. Cardinal D. Juan José Omella Omella, the organist of that ceremony was D. Héctor Paris. The organ was built by the famous German master organ-builder, D. Gérhard Grenzing.



In conclusion, the Mercedarians returned to the basilica in 2018 for its pastoral care at the request of Excmo. Cardinal D. Juan José Omella, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the Foundation of the Order of la Merced. Its current rector is P. Fermin Delgado Ramirez.


Barcelona and la Merced


Barcelona is a city and metropolis on the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It is the capital par excellence of Catalonia, being the capital of both the autonomous community and the province of Barcelona and the region of Barcelonés and the second city in population and economic weight in Spain. The municipality grows on a plain embedded between the coastal mountain range, the Mediterranean sea, the river Besós and the mountain of Montjuïc. The city is home to the headquarters of the most important self-government institutions in Catalonia: the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Parliament of Catalonia. For having been the capital of the county of Barcelona, it often receives the nickname of “Ciudad Condal” (the city of the county).



THE FESTIVITY OF LA MERCED.

After Pope Pius IX had declared the Virgin of la Merced the patron saint of the city, Barcelona started celebrating its patronal festivities in September; a suitable month as the main agricultural activities had finished by then and it was the moment to give thanks for the harvests and celebrate it.

La Merced as a festivity began in 1902, when led by Francesc Cambó, a Major Festivity was celebrated which became a model of those that still take place today in the whole of Catalonia. In any case, the festivity of la Merced suffered many ups and downs due to the civil war, the post-war shortcomings and the years of Franco.

With the arrival of democracy, la Merced achieved the character of an authentically popular festival, thanks to the collaboration of the entities throughout the city. Today, la Mercè is a festivity that festively occupies a large number of public spaces with a programme centred on Mediterranean culture. In less than a week, Barcelona brings together a huge programme of street art, parades, concerts, traditional dances and other many activities that give the city a very happy and jovial air. All these entertaining activities are, in reality, a compendium of popular culture all over Catalonia. The Girona Sardana, the Castles and Devils of the field of Tarragona appear, the dances that even today are still kept alive throughout the Catalan geography, as well as the excitement caused by the “gigantes y cabezudos” (giants and big-heads).



The great speciality of Barcelona is the “pasacalles” (parades), related to the processions that were celebrated centuries ago on Corpus Cristi. Today, as yesterday, the organization of the parades has popular cultural groups that work side by side with street artists. Their joint work serves to maintain the festive and theatrical vocation with which these shows were born.

In the religious sphere, it was only a few years ago that the traditional procession of la Mare de Déu de la Mercè was recovered. It goes from the Basilica to the Cathedral, where it ends with the celebration of the Holy Mass. The Novena of la Merced also takes place, with the praying of the holy rosary and the mass is preached by a different priest every day. On the day of la Merced lots of devotees of the Patron saint go to the Basilica to visit her, submit their requests and give thanks. During the day several masses are held, all overflowing with parishioners, the most representative being the Mass of the authorities at 10 am, which is usually presided over by the archbishop of the city and is usually attended by a representation of civil and military authorities of the city.




The historical archive of the Basilica



The origins

It was during the pontificate of the bishop of Barcelona Berenguer de Palou (1212-1241), whose tomb can be admired in an archway of the chapel of St. Miguel in the ambulatory of the cathedral, when the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Pedro Nolasco occurred, according to tradition, on 2nd August, 1218. On the tenth of the same month and year the Order of la Merced was founded in the cathedral of Barcelona with the presence of the King, Jaime I of Aragon, the bishop Berenguer de Palou and San Ramón de Peñafort. The Order was officially established between 1222 and 1228, with the purpose of rescuing the captives held by Muslims. The Order adopted the shield with the silver cross on gules (red background) of the cathedral and the four stripes of Aragon.

In 1045 the hospital of Guitart, or St. Eulalia, established in the house of Pía Almoina near the cathedral had been founded in order to care for the poor and the pilgrims. On 19th July, 1131 the count of Barcelona, Ramón Berenguer III died on its premises. In 1218 King Jaime I gave the hospital to the newly created Order of la Merced so that its first convent could be established there.

On 5th August, 1232 don Ramón de Plegamans donated some land in Arenal de Roquets o dels Gòdols to the Mercedarians and they immediately began building the new hospital of St. Eulalia which was completed in 1234. The following year, Pope Gregory IX (Hugolino) approved the constitutions of the Order and in 1245 Pope Innocent IV (Sinibaldo Fieschi, 1243-1254) placed the hospital under the protection of the Holy See by means of an apostolic bull. In 1249 bishop Pedro de Centelles (1243-1251) granted a concession so that the church of the convent-hospital would have a public character.


The first Mercedarian convent

After the initial residency in the house of Pia Almoina, the Mercedarians’ convent was that of St. Eulalia at the beach of Roquetes and in 1252, the bridges were built over Carrer la Merced that linked the convent, closer to the sea with the church. The work was done with the approval of Jaime I, who had a room in the convent and also where Queen Violante de Bar, Juan I’s widow, resided in 1401.

In 1265 the feminine branch of the Order was created, the first Mother Superior being St. María de Cervelló (1230-1290) whose remains rest in the church of la Merced. In 1267 the first Gothic style temple is ready.

Between 1336 and 1377, the architect Jaime Cercés directed important reform works and in 1343 the door to Ancha (now Ample) street was opened. In 1361 Bernat Roca made the main altarpiece in the shape of a tabernacle where he installed the seven-foot- high image that could be the one currently worshiped. In 1380 King Pedro IV donated the urn where the remains of St. María de Cervelló rest. In 1389 the bell tower was completed. On 27th January, 1401 King Martin I , the Humano (Human one), granted the church the title of Royal Chapel and the friars of la Merced, the dignity of royal chaplains. In 1419 the Gothic façade of the church was completed, the appearance of which is known from a document in the Notarial Protocol Archive.

In 1492 a new main altarpiece was started, with architecture by Pedro Duran and images of St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist by Juan Cassel, that Guillermo Duystach completed, both of German nationality. In 1501 the choir stalls were made of poplar wood and oak from Flanders, while the work of the altarpiece was continued by the painter Antoni Marqués in 1503. In 1516 the Renaissance doorway of the church of San Miguel was built next to the Consejo de Ciento, by the architects Pedro Mateu and Gabriel Pellicer and the sculpture by René Ducloux. This door was placed in the church of la Merced in 1870.

The Renaissance convent of la Merced

In 1650 they were working on the site of the new Renaissance style convent with black marble columns in the cloister. It is currently the headquarters of the Captaincy General. In 1605 the work was started by the architect Jerónimo Santacana and was continued by his son, Jacinto Santacana (1613-1621). In 1651 the gatehouse and grand staircase were completed. Lorenzo Passolas made the polychrome wainscoting of the cloister.

In 1667 the Gothic altarpiece was dismantled and the new one was built in Baroque style, 20 metres high and eight metres wide with a central window for the alcove, or angelic chamber. At the same time the choir stalls were dismantled too. On 10th September the sacristy burnt down, built from 1671 onwards.

A terrible plague blighted Barcelona in 1687 and the council of Ciento begged the Virgin for protection, proclaiming her the patron saint of the city on 25th September. The plague subsided the following year and was over on 15th September,1688. In 1689 the chair or throne of silver was made for the Virgin and the organ was installed. In 1693 the Consejo de Ciento gave away the urn containing the old polychrome wood in which the remains of St. María de Cervelló rest, on the event of her canonization.



On 28th September,1705, during the war of Succession, an artillery bomb fell on the presbytery and killed a woman. On 23rd July, 1714 the image of the Virgin was deposited in the cathedral during the siege of the city. In 1755 José Buxareu built the new organ.


The new church

In 1765 construction on the present temple began, specifically on 25th April, according to the project of Josep Mas Dordal architect and contractor, author among other things of buildings in Catalonia such as the palace Moja de la Rambla (1776-86), the reform of the church in Arenys de Mar (1774-1784), the parish of san Vicente de Sarría, the village and church of Almacelles (1774-1777), the palace of the bishop of Barcelona, Gabino Valladares Messía (1782-1786) and the la Mesa de Comunes Dépositos (Table of Common Deposits) in Barcelona square. He also planned the expansion of the port of Palamós. From 1789 he was a member of the Academy of Science. He worked in collaboration, with his brother, Pablo, who was also an architect.

On 25th April, 1765 the Marquis of Mina, the Captain-General of Catalonia, by express delegation of the king, Carlos III, laid the first stone of the new temple. The Gothic church had to be demolished and the great Baroque altarpiece went to the parish of St. Esteban de Granollers and in 1917 it went to the Museum of Art of Catalonia.

The work continued over ten years and in the ornamentation of the façade the sculptor Carlos Grau (1714-1798) collaborates with the same style that he had used on the church of St. Marta and on the palace of the duke of Sessa. Statues by Salvador Gurri (1749-1819) and Pablo Sierra (1749-1806) were installed on the various altars.

On 10th August, 1775 the image of the Virgin was taken, by procession, from the cathedral to the new temple.

The celebrations went on until 14th September. On the 9th of that month the blessing of the new temple had taken place.

The new altar was designed by the Valencian architect Vicente Marro and it was inaugurated on 2nd August, 1794.

The new church has a single nave with chapels between the buttresses and four sections of the barrel vault followed by transverse arches. It has a very discreet transept and dome. There is a high chancel at the entrance of the temple and laterally the chapel of the Santísimo (The Blessed Sacrament), that also has a small dome in the adjacent chapel. The sacristy and the staircase that goes to the alcove are around the presbytery.


The 19th Century

The church of Our Lady of Mercy, until it became the current late-Baroque monument, underwent various phases of remodelling since it was initially late-Roman or primitive Gothic, then fully Gothic until it was demolished and in the second half of the 18th century it was reconstructed in Baroque style. During the 19th century serious changes damaged the building in its decoration.

In 1806 the burials inside the church were suppressed and over the years the sepulchral slabs, that were recovered during the restoration work in 1990, were covered .

In 1808 the French became the owners of Barcelona and when they evacuated the city in 1814, they took the silver throne of the Virgin. Between 31st March and 5th July, the friars deposited the image of the Virgin and the urn of St. María de Cervelló for safe-keeping in the cathedral to avoid desecration .

At the end of the Liberal Triennial, on 18th January, 1823, the Town Council ordered the demolition of the bridges over the street of la Merced. The following month a Royal Order suppressed the convent of la Merced.

With the law of Confiscation of Ecclesiatical Assets of Mendizábal , the Mercedarians were seized and the convent was converted into offices of Amortization, headquarters of the National Militia and into a theatre to raise money for the Militia.

When King Fernando VII visited Barcelona he stayed in the old Ala dels Draps, which served as Captaincy General. From that moment the convent became the headquarters of the Captaincy General. The change was made official, valid until now, in 1846 when don Manuel Bretón held the position of Captain General.

On 2nd August, 1868 Pope Pius IX (Juan Mª Mastai-Ferretti, 1846-1878) proclaimed the Virgin of la Merced patron saint of the diocese of Barcelona.

The following year the parish church of San Miguel, next to the Town Hall, was knocked down and The Renaissance door of the 16th century by René Docloux was dismantled and rebuilt in Ancha street between 1870 and 1872, giving access to the church of la Merced. From then on the church of la Merced was converted into the parish of the Virgin of la Merced and San Miguel.

In 1883 the bishop of Barcelona, José Urquinaona y Bidot, died and his tomb was installed in the presbytery of la Merced, in a marble sarcophagus on two marble columns around the door of the staircase of the alcove. The sculpture of the bishop, by Agapito Vallmitjana, was placed on top in 1885.

In October, 1888 the new dome of the Merced was inaugurated shortly after the commemorative acts of the canonical coronation of the Virgin on 21st August at the hands of bishop J, Catalán y Albosa in the cathedral. The outside of the dome was topped by a bronze sculpture of the Virgin , the work of Maximino Sala Sánchez and the interior was painted al fresco by Victoria Codina Langlin (1844-1911) with scenes of the coronation of the Virgin.

Juan Matorell himself drew the metal throne of the Virgin which N. Sola cast in bronze. Likewise the staircase of the alcove was renovated. In 1895, the bishop gave the Chapter of the cathedral a large painting, by Franscico Galofré Oller (1865-1942), that faithfully reproduced the act of the coronation. It was in the chapel of St. Lucia in the cathedral and then went to the room next to the alcove of la Merced and in 1983 it was taken back to the cathedral and placed in the room of la Merced in the cloister.


20th Century

In 1914 the restoration of the chapel of the Santisimo (Blessed Sacrament) was done, and on both sides of the nave of the church were the marble and metal pulpits designed by Ramón Maria Riudor Capella (1868-1938).

The restoration work on the hall of the Descent of the Virgin, or of the Escolanía, was completed in 1916, with an altar by the architect Enric Sagnier Villavecchia (1858-1931), where the marble relief that represented the Descent was, the work of the sculpture Josep Llimoa Bruguer (1864-1934). The painting of The Coronation by Galofre Oller, donated by the canons of the headquarters, remained in the hall and also the painting that was given by the Consejo de Ciento in 1688 commemorating the end of the plague of locusts. In 1917 Father Gazulla published an interesting book on the church in which the plan of the Gothic temple, drawn by the architect Lluis Domench y Montaner, is reproduced.

On 24th September, 1918 the VII Centenary of the apparition of the Virgin to St. Pedro Nolasco, San Ramon de Peñafort and King Jaime I was commemorated and on that occasion Pope Benedict XV (Giacomo della Chiesa, 1914-1922) granted the church of la Merced the title of Minor Basilica. It was then when the painter Julio Borrell Pla (1877-1957) painted the soffit of the greater vault. Simultaneously the sculptor, José Maria Camps Arnau made a bas-relief which represented the bishop of Barcelonan Dr. Reig Casanova, receiving the insignia of the basilica from the Pope. It was placed above the door of the sacristy, opposite the monument to Bishop Urquinaona.

In 1928 on the occasion of the preparations for the International Exhibition of 1929, the architect Adolf Florensa (1889-1968), led the reform works of the façade of the Captaincy General. Tiled wainscoting with the shields of the Mercedarian priors and captain generals were placed in the cloister substituting the primitive tiles of the 17th century, work of Lorenzo Pasolas, that had disappeared at the end of the 19th century.


The destruction of 1936

And the terrible destruction of 1936 arrived. Everything that happened in the church of la Merced was described point by point by Mosen José Sanabre, the archivist of the diocese of Barcelona. On the evening of 19th July the frenzied mob invaded the building of the Captaincy General, and immediately afterwards went to the church of la Merced demanding its destruction. It wasn’t till the next day when, accompanied by armed forces, they were able to enter the temple after firing numerous bullets at the façade. Then they set fire to the interior of the church so that the paintings of the major vault were burnt and the frescos of the dome damaged with smoke. The wooden stalls, the organ and all the images of the side altars were destroyed. The firemen ensured that the fire only burnt the church and did not spread to the nearby houses. The fire was rekindled several times on the following days.

The carved image of the Virgin was thrown from the alcove onto the tabernacle of the main altar and some days later, other revolutionaries threw it onto the floor in front of the altar.



Father Luis Pelegrí Nicolás, beneficiary of the church and martyrized for this reason on 29th March, 1937, proposed to rescue the gothic image. After finding out how the image was, he asked for help from a family of the parish well related to the Minister of Interior of the Generalitat, don José María España Sirat. At 4 pm on 27th July three trustworthy agents of the Minister, together with two policemen, two Assault guards and two civil guards came out of the regional Government Ministry building. Miss Teresa Coll, who had handled the operation with the Minister, joined them. The group drove to la Merced in a van under the pretext of recovering the safe with the Virgin’s jewels which the assailants had not found because they were in a wall of the alcove. After emptying the safe and on passing in front of the fallen image before the altar, Miss Coll suggested they could take that work of art.

The members of the group were surprised by the unusual proposal but one of the agents, who had been instructed by the Minister, and the locksmith who had opened the safe supported the idea and finally the image was deposited in the van and covered with a sheet which Miss Coll already had. Then they went to the Captaincy where they had to collect another safe that had been in the rectory. Once in the central courtyard, out of public curiosity they lowered the image of the Virgin and hid it in a room under the grand staircase where they kept the cleaning tools and also where they deposited the mortal remains of St. María Cervelló.

The janitor of the Captaincy took care of the sacred objects for over two months. On 28th September, 1936 the Director of Service of the museums of the Generalitat ordered the removal of the image and the sarcophagus of St. María de Cervelló to the Museo del Palacio Nacional de Montjuïc (museum of the National Palace of Montjuïc) where they restored both pieces. After the relocation, the body of St. María de Cervelló was abandoned in Captaincy. The architect, Josep Francesc Ráfols Fontanals (1889-1965) who was then in the Service of the Furniture-storeroom of the Generalitat, took it and kept it hidden in his home until 1939 and it was even used as an altar and mass was celebrated secretly on the body of the saint several times . The “Minister” España had to go into exile on 23rd October, 1936 as his life was in danger because he had protected religious peoples and objects of worship.

The church of la Merced was abandoned, presenting a desolate aspect, the chapel of Descent completely destroyed, next to the alcove, where the paintings of St. Joseph’s dream and the Plague of locusts were burnt. The archangels of the door of St Michael were likewise destroyed, as well as the images of St. Joaquim and St. Ana by Rámon Amadeu, St. Hippolytus and St. Anthony of the altar of St. José Oriol, the archangels by Salvador Gurri of the chapel of the Santisimo and on the altar of St. María de Cervelló, the images of St. Anthony by Pere Serra, St. Isabel by Enrique Clarassó and St. Pedro Nolasco by Amadeu.

The reconstruction

When the war ended, the process of restoration was started immediately with the help of Captain Gernerals, Álvarez Arenas, Orgaz and Kindelán, who made the battalions of Army Corps engineers available to the parish. The reconstruction of the alcove was begun by the architect, Juan Ventura Pòlit and his colleagues, Francisco Folguera Grassi (1891-1960), Camilo Pallàs Arisa (1918-1982), José M. Sagnier and Luis Bonet Gari also collaborated.

Between 1939 and 1947 the pavement of the nave, the side altars, the sacristies and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was redone. Between 1948 and 1955, work was done in the alcove and the hall of Descent. In 1956 the new image of the Virgin was placed on top of the dome, as the previous one was knocked down and melted down at the beginning of the Civil War. It is the work of the brothers Miguel (1879-1959) and Luciano (1880-1951) Oslé Sáenz de Medrano, made of bronze in a foundry in Valls.

Francisco Folguera drew the doors of the sacristy and alcove. In the pendentives of the dome and the presbytery arches there are fresco paintings by José Obiols Palau (1894-1967). Pallàs directed the restoration of the door of San Miguel and Luis Bonet did the staircase of the alcove in 1972, in the same year that Pablo Macià Pons made the decorative paintings of the soffit of the vault of the nave. Oriol Sunyer Gaspar (1923-1990 (made the new silver throne of the Virgin.

During the restoration works, in 1942, a terracotta image of the Virgin that was in the tympanum of the Gothic church was found buried. It was taken to the Museo Diocesano. In 1950, one of the 17th century ceramic wainscoting from the cloister was installed in the museum. In 1960 the restoration of the main altar was completed, which was carried out in accordance with conciliatory liturgical rules.


The last actions in the church

In 1963 the LXXV anniversary of the coronation of the Virgin was celebrated and the new silver throne was used for the first time. On 26th July, 1964 the bishop of Barcelona, Dr. Gregorio Modrego Casáus established the Brotherhood of the Virgin of la Merced, and in the course of the same year the vestments of the virgin were removed so it could be seen as it was sculpted by Pedro Moragas in the 14th century. On 22nd February, 1976 the King and Queen of Spain visited the Basilica, and on 7th July, 1981 the rector, don Lorenzo Castells Pujol died not being able to see the new square of la Merced opposite the main façade, after the demolition of a block of houses, which had been one of his greatest dreams.

In February, 1983 the fountain of Neptune, which had been inaugurated at the Fisherman’s wharf in the port on 24th April, 1826, was installed in the square. It is the work of Adrián Ferran Vallés (1774-1840). The sculptural part of the fountain is by Celedonio Guixà.

In 1992 the ancient palace Girona, opposite the church, was restored, destined for the Civil Registry. During 1990 and 1991 the church floor was refracted and the main façade was cleaned under the direction of the architect Jorge Bonet Armengol.

On 21st January, 1992 the medal was imposed on the First Ladies of the Brotherhood of la Merced.



The church of la Merced

The church of la Merced is a clear example of Barcelona architecture of the 18th century, with significantly classic features. Its architect, José Mas Dordal was inspired by the French classicist style of the Louis although it contains elements that are certainly Baroque within the simplicity of the lines. The dome is the work of Juan Martorell of 1888; it also has a certain French air within the eclecticism of that period. It has a similar style to the building of Crédito Mercantil (1900) in la Merced square.

The interior structure of the basilica preserves its original architectural lines, although not the decorative ones, as it was necessary to rebuild the altars in 1939.

The main altar has the opening of the alcove or angelic chamber above it and all the presbytery is lined in marble of different colours.

The doors to the alcove and sacristy are to the right and left of the presbytery, and the transept, with the altar of St. María de Cervelló on the right and the altar of St.Pedro de Nolasco on the left, is immediately found.

In the part of the Evangelio (Gospel) there are the lateral altars between buttresses that correspond to St. Miguel, and Our Lady of Sorrows, that lead to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin of Hope, the Virgin of the Holy Christ and the baptismal chapel. In the part of the Epístola (Epistle) there are the altars dedicated to St. Joseph, the Virgin of the Forsaken, St Ramon de Peñafort and St. Yves. And all these with modern images. In order to reach the alcove of the Virgin you can go up to the presbytery and cross the door, which is in turn the mausoleum of bishop Urquinaona, then climb up the staircase to the antechamber and from there to the angelic chamber or alcove to the Virgin. It is currently accessible through a door located to the left of the transept, without going through the presbytery.

The devotion of the people of Barcelona has been intense and continuous and crowds of parishioners from Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia, Spain and America come to the basilica to pray before the Virgin.

On 24th September the crowd that comes to the temple makes it totally insufficient in capacity to accommodate them all. The authorities, the members of the Brotherhood and all the parishioners surround the archbishop who concelebrates the mass with the rector and other priests.

The main festival of Barcelona is precisely the Festivity of la Merced and the service in the Basilica is its major event.

Another demonstration of the popularity and the citizens’ esteem for the sanctuary is the custom that sports teams offer the Virgin the trophies they win in different championships. The Catalans who travel to America visit with great enthusiasm the numerous churches there of the Mercedarian Order with its shield of the cross of Barcelona and four stripes of Aragon.

Barcelona has in the basilica one of its best attractions, of a spiritual and artistic nature and an international reference point of Marian stone.

Joan Bassegoda Nonell, Of the Brotherhood of the Virgin of Mercy



Archivo histórico de la Basílica 

Documentos gráficos, grabados varios, testimonios, cartas, rótulos, y correspondencia que dan fe del paso del tiempo pero también ofrecen información muy útil de nuestra historia.

Galería de imágenes de la Basílica

Galería de imágenes. Fotos Falcón

 
Colección de estampas en blanco y negro

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Mercedarian spirituality


The basilica of la Merced holds the most precious treasure of the Mercedarian spirituality. Imagine you enter the sacred precinct and there at the top is the Virgin Mary framed in splendour.

On the front of the door of the exterior façade there is a Latin phrase taken from the book of Revelation which alerts us: A woman clothed in the sun, with the moon at her feet and crowned with twelve stars.

The Order of la Merced has their worship of Mary ,as a sign of their spirituality, deeply rooted.

Mary, the mother of God, mother of Jesus Christ is the Mother of the Redeemer who has begot our Saviour.

The name with which she is known is Merced (Mercy), gift, present, payment and ransom; and all that refers to the charisma and apostolic work of the Mercedarians throughout eight centuries, which is the redemption of captives, prisoners for their faith. In the Middle Ages the charisma of redemption was called the work of Mercy; and for the worked accomplished to the Mercedarian and the dedication to Mary, the title of la Merced was given. Maria de la Merced is the mother of captives and all prisoners who turn to her with the hope of freedom.

Where does the Marian aspect of Mercedarian spirituality spring from? From the gospel of St. John 19, 25-27. Jesus himself puts Mary into the hands of the beloved disciple, who he names Mother. Mary becomes the mother of humanity and of the family of disciples of Jesus. His redemption and the universal motherhood of Mary are united.

The figure of Mary being important, in Mercedarian spirituality, as key to the vault where the identification with Jesus Christ the Redeemer is found.

Mercedarian life has as its centre Christ who identifies himself with the little ones from the Gospel, the captives. There is a parallel between the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ, who through the surrender of his own life has redeemed captive humanity from the power of sin, and the liberation from the chains of oppression and captivity, which are also necessary to break to restore freedom. And following the code of identification, it must be done even offering one’s life. The Mercedarian tries to live his life making himself a reflection of Christ in his redemptive mystery.
Where does the aspect of identification of Christ with the Mercedarian spirituality come from? From the gospel of St. Mathew 25, 31-46. In this universal judgement, Jesus Christ has identified himself with the weakest (the hungry, the thirsty, strangers , the naked, the sick and prisoners): “What you did to one of those, you did it to me” When the first Mercedarians phrased the introductory clause of the constitutions of the Order of la Merced in 1272, they modified the text to express precisely how to live this identification with Christ the Redeemer: “I was in jail and you came to visit me, I was sick and you came to see me” because they gave their lives for the captives and the poor and sick in their houses-hospitals of St. Eulalia (on which the current Basilica of la Merced stands).

P. Manuel Anglés, OM




Saints and Blessed Mercedarians


St. PEDRO NOLASCO 

Pedro Nolasco was born in Barcelona between 1180 and 1182. His parents had been noble people or at the most, merchants. There is no further information on his childhood or adolescence. It is not known exactly how old Pedro was when he became an orphan; some say he lost his father when he was 15 and others speak about 20 and others 25. His mother’s death occurred immediately after his father’s. It is at that moment when his singular vocation sprouts: to dedicate himself to the liberation of those Christians fallen into the hands of the Moors as slaves, be it either piracy, night raids or military skirmishes. The Christian slaves who were in the hands of the Muslims received the name of captive and they were subjected to all kinds of hard and humiliating services. The captive’s condition was similar to that of an animal or an object in the hands of his master. Due to his status as a merchant, Pedro Nolasco is aware of this tragic situation and knows that one of the ways to free them is by payment of a ransom. Therefore he does not hesitate to sell all his belongings. Although he carries out this gesture with reserve and humility, it does not go unnoticed and he is imitated by some young men. Together they make various redemptions freeing Christian prisoners in exchange for money. It is known that in 1203 he was in Valencia and returned about 300 captives to their homes. The funds contributed by all are exhausted and the idea of asking for alms for this specific purpose matures, convinced that only when everything has been given can one begin to beg. In Barcelona they are given the care of the hospital of St. Eulalia, where Pedro Nolasco is named Procurator of Alms for the captives. They travel to various villages and cities to collect alms and donations for this purpose. On the night of 1st to 2nd August, 1218, close to the age of forty, Pedro Nolasco has a strong spiritual experience.

The Virgin Mary appears to him in order to guide him and support him in his task of liberation. Therefore he has to organize himself, structuring the enterprise of redemption better and he conceives the idea of founding a religious order: the Order of la Merced, that would have a semi-military character in its origin and would be known as the Order of Saint Eulalia. The Order is founded on 10th August, 1218 in the cathedral of Barcelona, dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, in an open ceremony witnessed by the people and with the bishop Berenguer de Palou and the adolescent king Jaime I presiding over the ceremony. Pedro Nolasco became the head of the new religious family, which later took the name of “Saint Mary of Mercy for the redemption of captives”, and a legal system was imposed similar to that of chivalric and military orders although clearly differentiating themselves from them in spirit, purpose and means. The specific purpose was set on the “visit and redemption” of the Christian captives, sealed with the Fourth Vow of redemption by which the Mercedarian commits himself to give his own life, if necessary, for the freedom of the captive in danger of losing his faith. King Jaime I allocated the old hospital of St. Eulalia, near the royal palace, to the friars of la Merced as their first residence. Later, in 1235, they settle in their new headquarters near the sea. Pedro Nolasco is happy to see his Order approved by Pope Gregory IX by bull “Devotionis Vestrae” on 17th January, 1235. The most commonly accepted date of his death is 6th May, 1245. At that time the Order had about a hundred religious brothers. Pedro Nolasco’s redemptive inheritance was established in the Constitutions of the Order of 1272, which constitute a kind of Magna Carta of Mercedarian liberation. Pedro Nolasco was beatified in 1628. Finally, on 11th June, 1664, thanks to Pope Alexander VII, he came to be considered a saint to all effects.



SAINT PEDRO ARMENGOL

Pedro Armengol, offspring of the family of the Counts of Urgel, was born in Guardia del Prats, Tarragona, Spain in 1238. He had a quiet childhood, although he lost his mother when he was still a small child. When he was very young he fell prey to the underworld, a situation which led him to abandon his family and engage in banditry. Commanding a group of outlaws he sowed terror in cities and villages, until he was arrested in one of their raids by his own father, who was head of one of the units of the royal armies in Aragon. This fact moved him deeply and he decided to change his way of life. He was submitted to a trial and pardoned by King Jaime I of Aragon and after requesting it several times he managed to be admitted to the Order of la Merced. Once ordained as a friar, he was named redeemer and had to make several trips to Africa and Andalusia in order to liberate the Christian prisoners who had been captured by the Muslims. In the year 1266, he managed to free some prisoners in the city of Bugia, on condition that he remained there as their hostage while the money for the ransom was being collected. As the fixed amount didn't arrive within the established time, the Muslims hung him from a tree but he was saved by a miracle of the Holy Virgin, who kept him alive for a few days until another friar arrived with the ransom money. When his companioned claimed Pedro Armengol’s body, he was surprised to find him still alive. As testimony to his martyrdom, he kept his crooked neck and haggard face till the end of his life. On his return to Spain, Friar Pedro Armengol lived in the Mother House in Barcelona for some years and then retired to the convent of Saint Mary dels Prat where his days ended in a holy way in 1304. His immemorial cult was confirmed first on 3rd March, 1626 by Pope Urbano VIII and then on 8th April, 1687 by Pope Innocent XI .



SAINT MARIA DE CEVELLÓ

She was born in Barcelona in 1230 of a noble family. Her parents educated her in the Christian religion and in the exercise of charity. Her mother guided her on her visits to the hospitals and to the poor, whom she tried to help in the best way possible. Of a rare beauty, not only physically but also spiritually, she was sought after by several young noblemen and was stimulated to marriage by her relatives, but she, guided by the Mercedarian priest , Bernardo de Corbera ( Blessed of the Order) decided to consecrate herself to the Lord by wearing the Mercedarian habit in 1260. Even though she continued living with her parents, according to the Order, she lived a retired life dedicating her time to prayer and works of charity. Her example was followed by other women who wanted to imitate her style of life. When her father died, Maria convinced her mother to move from the sumptuous house where they lived to a more modest and poor one, near the convent of la Merced, where they lived for five years. Her mother died in 1265 and after giving away all her goods for the redemption of the captives, she dedicated herself to an even more mortified and fervent life. Together with the women who had imitated her example of life she presented herself before Friar Bernardo Corbera and with the authorization of his superiors in the Order, he instilled a life in common for them that began on 25th March, 1265, after taking the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in the church of la Merced to which they added a special promise to work for the redemption of the captives. She intensified her life with more penitence, prayer and charity, praying mainly for seamen, especially for the religious redeemers of the Order exposed to storms and pirates on their long journeys to Africa in order to redeem captives. Tradition speaks of numerous miracles performed during that time, saving many seamen from a sure death, and for that reason she was given the name of Maria de Socorro. Her charity turned towards visiting the sick, helping doctors in their healings and towards the liberated captives, many of whom were physically and morally prostrate. To them she did not only restore the health of their body but also revived their forgotten faith in their spirits. Maria died in Barcelona on 19th September, 1290 and was buried in the church of the Mercedarians, the place where her incorrupt body is preserved. Pope Innocent XII confirmed her veneration on 15th February, 1692.



SAN SERAPIO

Serapio Scott of Anglo-saxon origin was born in the year 1179 in the British Isles. As a soldier of King Richard the Lionheart, he went to the Holy Land twice, in the third and fifth Crusade. In the year 1212 he travels to Spain with Archduke Leopold of Austria, to help King Alfonso in the holy War against the Moors, taking part in the battle of las Navas de Tolosa. In 1220 approximately he was assigned to accompany Beatrix of Sweden to Spain, who was going to be married to Ferdinand of Castille. He settled there and learnt about the Order of la Merced, which he entered in 1222. He was named redeemer in 1225 and made several redemptions in some territories invaded by Muslims. In the year 1240, in one of these he remained as hostage, willing to fulfil the fourth vow of the Order “Stay hostage; give your life, if necessary”. The ransom money did not arrive on time and the King of Algeria, his captor, ordered him to be crucified and they tore out his guts while still alive, so that he would renounce his Christian faith. He was a religious person of extraordinary holiness and virtue, exemplary in the practice of abstinence, fervent in prayer and endowed with ardent charity in the redemption of captives. The homage that has been paid to him as a martyr was confirmed on 14th July, 1728 and on 21st August, 1743 he was registered in the Universal Martyrology of the Catholic Church The Mercedarian Order considers him to be the Patron saint of the Sick. In Saint Serapio the consecrated life of a Mercedarian is valued without the order of priesthood.



SAN RAMON NONATO

He was born in Portell, in the vicinity of Cervera (Lerida) in the year, 1200. His parents were descendants of the ancient and noble house of the Vicounts of Cardona. According to tradition he was taken from the womb of his mother who died in childbirth. Due to this people called him “Nonato” (unborn), which in time became his surname and he never changed it. There aren’t many details about his childhood or adolescence. In the year 1221 he entered the Order of la Merced, founded three years before in 1218, and established a deep friendship with Pedro Nolasco. Already as a priest he let his voice of a great preacher be heard, walking through the streets of cities and villages of Catalonia, speaking to the people in a simple yet profound language. His words and above all his testimony of life attracted people and those of a bad life surrendered to his eloquence, returning to the path of goodness. On being named redeemer he travelled to Valencia and Algeria. In the latter place, in 1226, he managed to free 140 captives. While the money was being collected for the ransom, he remained as hostage of the Muslims, sustaining the faith of the many who remained there and were in serious danger of losing it. When the missioned was accomplished he returned to Barcelona. In 1229 he freed 150 captives in Africa and then in 1232 he liberated 228 in Bujia. In these places he argued publicly with Jews and Muslims. In 1239 he carried out his last redemption. Some say in Tunisia and some say in Algeria. He remained there as hostage and took advantage of the little freedom he had to preach in those busy places. Even in such a hostile atmosphere, his person exercised an attraction that was difficult to evade. In order to avoid converting the jailors to Christianity, his executioners made two holes in his lips with a hot iron and put a padlock on his mouth, which they only opened to give him bread and water, his only meal. He endured eight months in prison in these conditions and being tortured, until Pedro Nolasco managed to deliver the ransom money and free him. Pope Gregory IX showed him all his admiration by making him cardinal in 1239, with the title of San Eustaquio (Saint Eustatius) and called him to his side as counsellor. On his way to Rome, he died in Cardona on the last Sunday of August in the year 1240, preceding, by some years, Pedro his great friend and adviser to his grave. In 1625 the immemorial homage was approved that was paid to him in the chapel of St. Nicholas de Portells, the place of his extraordinary birth, and in 1677 his feast day was spread throughout the church. Numerous miracles are attributed to him. He is considered to be Protector of pregnant women, patron saint of life and midwives.


SAN PEDRO PASCUAL

He was born in Valencia, which was under the power of the Muslims, around 1227 and died in Granada in the year 1300. There is not much information about his childhood or adolescence. What is only known is that once he had initiated his ecclesiastical career, he went to Paris to perfect his studies, obtaining a doctorate in the Sorbonne. On his return to Spain he became a Mercedarian and devoted his life to the redemption of captives. At that time he became a good friend of prince Sancho, the son of King Jaime I of Aragon. Pope Boniface VII chose him as bishop of Jaen on 13th February, 1296. On 20th February of that year he was consecrated by Cardinal Acquaspart in the chapel of Saint Bartholomew on the Tiberina island in Rome. When he was making the pastoral visit in his diocese, he fell prisoner into the hands of the Muslims, remaining captive for about three years. In the dungeons of Granada he wrote several works to defend the catholic faith against the Muslims and Jews and in order to keep up the hope of the Christians, who were captured with him. Amongst these we can find “Glosa a los Diez Mandamientos” (Gloss to the Ten Commandments), “Glosa al Padre Nuestro” (Gloss to Our Father), “Biblia Pequeña” (Small bible) and “Vida de Cristo”(Life of Jesus Christ). It is sufficient to analyse his writings to make his condition as a Mercedarian clear without a doubt. Above all his defence of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is remarkable, a normal thing in the Mercedarian Order. After much suffering, on 6th January, 1300 he was decapitated by the Muslims, still dressed in the vestments in which he had celebrated the Holy Mass. He is buried in the cathedral of Baeza, his tomb gained celebrity for the graces the Lord granted him for his intercession. His immemorial cult was confirmed by the church in 1670 and his canonization was carried out in 1675.


BEATA MARIANA DE JESUS

Mariana de Jesús was born in Madrid on 17th January, 1565; her parents, Luis Navarro and Juana Romero had her baptized four days after her birth. When Mariana was nine years old she lost her mother leaving her to take charge of her five small siblings together with her father, who married again shortly afterwards bringing Mariana a lot of suffering. At the age of 23 her father and stepmother want to impose marriage on her to get rid of her, but she renounces such a proposal and consecrates herself to God, since she had chosen him as her Spouse. It was not easy to convince her father and suitor of her free decision; she had to fight against them even cutting her hair with her own hands to discourage them. Having made the opinion to follow Jesus Christ, she gave herself to prayer and a retired life away from family worries and the world. It was never easy for her. In this way she needed help from her confessors and spiritual guide. She must have suffered great spiritual afflictions when she was not understood by her first spiritual director, the Mercedarian father Fr. Antonio del Espritu Santo. Her confessor himself advised her to look for another one, this happened in the Sanctuary of the Virgin of los Remedios in Madrid; the Mercedarian Fr. Juan Bautista Gonzalez was her confessor until Mariana’s death. She herself has recorded the help and wisdom of this holy friar, founder of the Barefoot Mercedarians and Known as Fr. John Baptist of the Holy Sacrament. This confessor and spiritual director knew how to understand her and guide Mariana’s spirit on the path of holiness imitating the Divine Master. Mariana de Jesús endured a great physical and spiritual ordeal and once freed from parental guardianship, she took up residence next to the convent of the Mercedarians since, due to her physical health limitations, she could not profess as a nun. Mariana is an excellent model of sanctity of laity in the Order of la Merced. She knew also how to discover a path to holiness in her physical afflictions. From her small house she attended to the needs of the poor and sick, something that did not prevent her from cultivating piety towards the Holy Virgin and the Blessed Sacrament, with whom she maintained their union fertile and constant. Mariana understood that Christ in Sacrament prefers to be in the hearts of the faithful and not so much in the beautiful tabernacles, because these don’t love like a human heart can. She cultivated a loving union with the Lord in the Eucharist day and night. She was admitted to the profession as a Mercedarian tertiary in 1616, after having overcome the problems of her physical health and conflict of spirit. In this manner, Mariana assumed the path of Mercedarian redemptive spirituality so in line with the sufferings of her body from childhood. The miracle of Blessed Mariana is amazing. Her body was weakened by the illnesses she suffered. She died on 17th April, 1624. They kept her body for two days so that the faithful could pay her their last tribute. Mariana’s body remains incorrupt and flexible. It has undergone medical analysis and the results are always the same; Mariana’s body is intact and flexible. On 18th January, 1783 Pope Pius VI declared her Blessed and the festivity of her beatification was celebrated in the Vatican on 25th May, 1783. On the 300th anniversary of her death her body was examined once again and was found incorrupt and fragrant. In 1965, when the 400th anniversary of her birth was celebrated, the same thing was confirmed.



BLESSED MARGARITA LÓPEZ DE MATURANA

She was born in Bilbao (Spain) on 25th July, 1884. She was christened with the name of Pilar. All her life she had an affectionate and very intense spiritual relationship with her twin sister, Leonor. When she was an adolescent her mother, trying to get her away from a premature friendship with a young sailor, decided to take her to a boarding school run by Mercedarian nuns in Bérriz. There she felt the calling of God to a total consecration as a missionary nun. At the age of 19, on 10th August, 1903 she entered the Congregation, taking the name of Margaret Mary. A few days before, her sister Leonor had entered the novitiate of the Carmelites of Charity in Vitoria (she died a missionary in Argentina and her cause for beatification has been initiated). From the first moment she devoted herself to God with absolute fidelity in her life as a cloistered nun. In 1924 the cloistered nuns pondered their future as missionaries and unanimously led it to prayer. Most agreed to introduce this issue. Besides, some years earlier Pilar, in the course of a visit from the Father General, had confided in him this feeling that was overwhelming them and they depended on his approval. The pertinent steps were taken and once the dispensation of the cloister was obtained, a first group of nuns including Pilar went to China to begin their work, then they took the gospel to Japan. Full of faith they overcame the conflicts of war and dodged the risks of persecution and jail. If they saw the work that had taken them so much to set up come down, they would pursue it with the same vitality as at the beginning. There came a point where they thought about the deep transformation that the life they had adopted required. This meant giving their opinion about going from the cloister to another way of life: a Missionary Institution. On 23rd May, 1930, all the nuns gave an affirmative verdict in a secret ballot, fulfilling Blessed Margaret’s dream. She died on 23rd July, 1934, two days before her 50th birthday. His holiness Pope John Paul II signed the declaration of her heroic virtues and declared her venerable. She was beatified in the cathedral of Bilbao in October, 2006



BLESSED P. MARIANO ALCALÁ AND 18 FELLOW MARTYRS

Father Mariano Alcalá, eleven priests and seven co-operator brothers, all of them Mercedarians suffered martydom because of their condition of priests and religious men during the religious persecution in Spain between 1936-1939, in the months of July, August, September and November of 1936 being the places of martyrdom the towns of Andorra, Muniesa, Hijar, Estercuel in the province of Teruel, Binefar (Huesca), Lleida , Barcelona, Matamargó (Lleida) and Lorca (Murcia). They were not unaware of the hostile atmosphere that was being generated in those years, as shown by expressions that appeared in letters addressed to their relatives such as F. José Reñe: ” If we miss this opportunity, we will not have another …” or Blessed Jaime Codina. “What a great gift it is to be a martyr and to die for Christ”, or Blessed José Trallero: “All I desire is to die a martyr; What glory! What luck!” This was the martyrdom atmosphere breathed in the religious communities at that moment which explains that in the middle of all these difficulties there would be no desertions in their faith. They were prepared to go to the last extreme to give their life for Christ. They died praying and forgiving the ones who killed them. On 19th December, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of the “super martyrdom” decree. The beatification was on 13th October, 2013 in Tarragona (Spain). The names of the nineteen martyrs are the following: P. Mariano Alcalá Pérez; P. Tomás Carbonell Miquel; P. Francisco Gargallo Gascón; P. Manuel Sancho Aguilar; P. Mariano Pina Turón; P. Pedro Armengol Esteban Hernández; Fr. Antonio Lahoz Gan; Fr. José Trallero Lou; Fr. Jaume Codina Caselles; P. Josep Reñé Prenafeta; Fr. Antonio González Penín; P.Tomás Campo Marín; P. Francesc Llagostera Bonet; Fr.Serapio Sanz Iranzo; P. Enrique Morante Chic; P. Jesús Eduardo Massanet Flaquer; P. Amancio Marín Minguez; P. Lorenzo Moreno Nicolás and Fr. Francesc Mitjà Mitjà.




Mercedarian Festivities


  • 17th January, CANONICAL COMFIRMATION OF THE ORDER OF LA MERCED: It took place in Rome on 17th January, 1235, by pope Gregory IX

  • 17th April, MEMORIAL OF BLESSED MARIANA DE JESÚS

  • 27th April, MEMORIAL OF SAINT PEDRO ARMENGOL

  • 6th May, SOLEMNITY OF SAINT PEDRO NOLASCO: although in many outdated calendars the festivity of St. Pedro Nolasco is 29th February, his official feast day is 6th May, which coincides with his death in Barcelona: 6th May, 1245. Coinciding with this date the Brotherhood of la Merced celebrates its Major Chapter in the Basilica with the incorporation of the new brothers. In other places where Saint Pedro Nolasco is a patronal feast, a popular meal cooked in pots is usually celebrated as a tradition, which recalls that on the feast day of the saint the poor were invited to eat for nothing.

  • 9th July, FESTIVITY OF JESUS CHRIST THE REDEEMER

  • 24th July, MEMORIAL OF BLESSED MARGARITA LÓPEZ DE MATURANA. Founder of the Sisters of Mercy of Bérriz

  • 2nd August, FESTIVITY OF THE DESCENT OF THE VIRGIN: this commemorates the apparition of the Virgin of la Merced, on the night of 1st to 2nd August, to St. Pedro Nolasco, urging him to found a religious order to comfort and redeem captive Christians. It is a tradition in the Mercedarian communities to celebrate midnight Mass on this day.

  • 10th August, FOUNDATION OF THE ORDER OF LA MERCED: in commemoration of the foundation of the Order of la Merced in the cathedral of Barcelona, with the bishop of the city, Berenguer de Palou and King Jaime I present.

  • 28th August, FESTIVITY OF SAINT AUGUSTIN: legislator of the Order, whose Rule of life is followed by the Mercedarians.

  • 31st August, FESTIVITY OF SAINT RAMÓN NONATO: patron saint of pregnant women and of midwives. Major festival with hundreds of pilgrims in the monastery of Saint Ramon and of all its region : La Segarra - 16th September, MEMORIAL OF BLESSED MARIANO ALCALÁ AND 18 FELLOW MARTYRS, victims of the Spanish civil war.

  • 19th September, IN MEMORY OF SAINT MARIA DE CERVELLÓ: founder of the Sisters of Mercy of the Order of la Merced.

  • 24th September, SOLEMNITY OF THE VIRGIN OF LA MERCED: liturgical solemnity in all the Order of la Merced and in all the places where she is the patron saint, such as in the city of Barcelona. There is usually a Novena previous to the feast day, and in Barcelona a solemn procession. The festivity of la Merced has been celebrated on 24th September in Barcelona as a Main Festivity since 1868, when Pope Pius IX named the Virgin of la Merced Patron Saint of the diocese and of the city, and Queen Isabel II declared it as a national holiday. In Barcelona the main liturgical act is Mass at 10 am with the presence of civil and military authorities.

  • 11th October, MEMORIAL OF BLESSED JUAN NEPOMUCENO ZEGRÍ: Founder of the Mercedarian Sisters of Charity.

  • 6th November, COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE SAINTS OF THE ORDER

  • 7th November, COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE DECEASED OF THE ORDER

  • 14th November, MEMORIAL OF SAN SERAPIO, patron of all those who suffer from bone and joint illnesses. Benediction and distribution of the “oil of Saint Serapio”.

  • 6th December, SAN PEDRO PASCUAL: patron of students and trainees of the Order.



Mercedarian legends


THE VISION OF THE NEW JERUSALEM

On a night of tiredness and insomnia, Nolasco glimpsed the new Jerusalem of shared joy. And understood. We are eternal pilgrims going to heavenly Jerusalem, restless travellers to the longed-for homeland. We are making the way while we walk, as Machado stated, although someone –Christ- has manifested himself as the way. But there are different paths that sometimes go away, and then later return to the real way. Nolasco was indecisive when he had to choose his own vocational path. The sacred writers placed his insecurities at various times in his life. Which man does not have these? Is active life or contemplative life better? To get involved in the conflicts of society or retire to sweet solitude? To be a monk or redeemer? And once the path has been chosen, always the outcome of a personal decision, the exercise of our freedom, a selective and risky choice, changes of direction are possible. Nolasco, the redeemer, lover of others’ freedom, suffered seeing to what extent his liberating action did not always remove the root of evil. It pained him to verify how, after unprecedented efforts –his and his fellow Mercedarians’- the ignominious scourge of captivity did not vanish. When these thoughts tortured his conscience, another visionary image comes to illuminate his horizon: the vision of heavenly Jerusalem, which has been the subject of several artists, among them prominently by Zubarán. Nolasco understands that, as long as the choice is centred on the joyful city, any path is valid. The light projected by the vision of heavenly Jerusalem dispels dark clouds on the vocational path. Here also the legend is instructive.


THE VIRGIN OF LA MERCED PRESIDING OVER THE CHOIR

The legend says that Nolasco had spent a worried night, with hardly any sleep, considering how captivity extends its claws over the innocence of people and makes our gestures impotent. Captivity was too great to stop it with the ingenuity of a few friars and alms collected on the sidewalks of the villages. He was having these thoughts when sleep overcame him, dawn was barely touching the cheek of the horizon with its fingers. Dawn seemed like a haven of peace and no one rang the bell that summoned all the redeeming friars to morning prayer. Suddenly, like a sigh, Pedro Nolasco woke up caressed by a ray of sunlight that penetrated the window of his cell in that old hospital and convent of St. Eulalia, that King Jaime I had given the Order as a sign of his affection and unconditional support. He thought that the friars would be in the chancel, praying the matins, while he had fallen asleep. He got up quickly, barely washing his face, and bolted to the chancel with the hope of arriving in time for the end of prayer. To his surprise when he entered the chancel he saw the Virgin Mary reading the book of hours, praying the divine office surrounded by angels. Nolasco would never forget that vision, or that dream? From that instant Maria de la Merced became “The Commander” of the community and since then her image has presided the choir and prayer of her Mercedarian children. She is, next to her Son on the cross, the centre of our life, the encouragement of our best hopes, the tender voice that says “Do what He tells you to do”. Our family bears her name and professes immense love for the one who is the founder and protector of our history. Without her our Order will lose its name, its consolation and its expectation. She is and always will be “The Commander” of our brotherhood.



NOLASCO’S OLIVE TREE

Nolasco and his work are identified with the olive. In the midst of the surrounding aridity, the olive maintains the permanent green of hope and the desired fruit which –after being crushed in the press of pain –is transformed into the oil of consecration, in the oil of mild fragrance and permanent relief. It was a blue and sad sunset. The redeemer arrived with his fatigue in tow after spending all his savings for the exchange of captives and visiting dungeons day and night. Fatigue overcame him, and after finishing his prayers in the narrow enclosure of his dwelling, he had the following dream: he was in an inner courtyard under a huge olive tree, an enormous olive tree which covered him maternally with the perennial green of its branches. He felt immersed in this pleasant place under the shelter of the thriving and multiform life. But suddenly some sinister men come with axes who want to chop down the olive tree from its root and destroy it. Others appear by his side to save its life from this ecological crime. Nolasco –in his dream vision – feels handcuffed, powerless and without the strength to act. He is enraptured in his contemplative vision. He listens to the heavy blows of the axe, on the trunk and branches. He sees the cruel wounds caused by destructive impulses. He suffers at every blow as if it were striking his own flesh, He feels defenceless before such a terrible action. It is then that the good men prevent it from being destroyed, by their good deed. And they all contemplate in amazement how the prodigy is accomplished: with each torn branch, each blow to the root, new shoots sprout and roots multiply. The olive was stronger than the forces of evil. Life was stronger than death. The sprouting olive had nothing to fear from the ruthless and destructive cruelty. The wounds inflicted on its old branches produced youthful shoots, renewed energy, more life and a more leafy variety of vigorous shoots. Pedro Nolasco always kept the impression of this image on his mind. He endeavoured to decipher this emblem visualizing it in dreams and recording it in his fine sensitivity. He verified throughout his redemptive actions that the forces of evil would never be able to fight against the Church of Christ. From this luminous dream onwards, Nolasco overcame any temptation to pessimism or despair. He overcame from that moment the temptation of sadness: yes, a sad saint is an unhappy saint!



THE SWARM IN HIS HANDS

The baby Nolasco was born and he was given the name of Pedro (Peter). Although he was stone, he soon tasted of honey and melodious whispers. The legend goes that when he was still a baby, a swarm of emigrant bees –in search of a beehive- landed on the palm of his hands, which opened joyfully to welcome them. Nolasco was always the one with open hands, not with a closed fist. And in his open hands the bees made pure honeycombs. The child was ecstatic contemplating the hasty flight of the sweet bees and sometimes he would take his finger with honey to his lips, smearing his face with nectar of this “drinkable gold”, that he later would offer to the enslaved captive to alleviate his bitter condition. When he got older, those who saw him say how he continued to open his hands, doors and heart to welcome and comfort all. Was the swarm in his hands a premonition of his vocation? Was the legend created to illustrate his redemptive life that relieved so much bitterness? Today we can see a tasty golden honeycomb in his hands. And these hands of a child are the hands of everyone else, of each child who comes to this hardened, hostile world, recreating caresses and announcing tenderness. The hands of a child are one of the wonders of creation. In them the incarnated spirit is alive, and intelligence is still in action. Closed, like a tiny heart, or open like a flower with five petals, they are always begging for tenderness, treasuring new sensations. Caressing, pleading hands stubbornly clinging to any nearby object, to seize the life that is beginning, to acquire certainty that you are not alone, that there is always something or someone friendly nearby. We begin to glimpse the beauty of the Mercedarian legend of the swarm of bees which makes a golden honeycomb of the sweetest honey in the hands of the child, Pedro Nolasco. As a premonition, as an omen, as an early prophecy of his admirable vocation of shared sweetness, of love generously offered to achieve the freedom of the captive, that unparalleled sweetness of the human being. Look at your hands, so empty, but loaded with possibilities, until they become a whisper of creative bees, honey for your brother!




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