Santa Maria del Mar Basilica in Barcelona
Santa Maria del Mar
The Church Most Loved in Barcelona
Churches are special because of its history, its being a centre of pilgrimage, its architecture but nothing makes a Church more fascinating than the love the local people have for it.
One Church that the people of Barcelona love so much is Santa Maria del Mar. We knew of this when we visited the Picasso Museum. We became friendly with one of the staff in the museum and as we got out of the place, he followed us and pointed towards the direction of Santa Maria del Mar. He told us not to miss visiting this very beautiful Cathedral.
After visiting the Cathedral, we mentioned it to a young staff in our hotel and she acknowledged that it is her favourite Church in Barcelona. Both young and old Catalans treasure the Cathedral del Mar and after reading its history, we no longer get surprised when people in Barcelona tell us of their love for this Church.
The Cathedral of the People
Where Santa Maria del Mar is located, the La Ribera neighbourhood, was in the mid-1300's home to sailors, harbour workers, fishermen, craftsmen and merchants. Because of its ports, the area saw prosperous trade which engaged many workers, craftsmen, builders, porters, sailors, merchants and other labour required by the businesses which prospered in the vicinity.
As the area prospered, the local folks inspired by their piety felt they deserve a Church to display their growing status. As such, the construction of Santa Maria del Mar was started. Ordinary folks loaded and uploaded their boats, used their backs and hands to carry stones from the quarry in the nearby hill of Montjuic, rich merchants donated their profits.
This is what made this Church gain a special place in the hearts of the locals. They built this Church, unlike the Barcelona Gothic Cathedral which was constructed at the same time but was paid for by the king. Below is a picture of a carving in the Church showing the Baixatsos or stone masons transporting stones from the hill of Montjuic for the building of the Church.
Stone Masons Who Built the Santa Maria del Mar
Built between 1329 and 1383, this Church in Barcelona's Ribera district was built on a site that was already important as early as the Roman times. The construction discovered a Necropolis, a cemetery.
This is hardly surprising because as a port, Barcino, the name of Barcelona during the Roman times, had already a growing Christian community. It was said that the martyr, St. Eulalia, was buried here in the year 303. The bones were hidden when the Moors came and placed in the Barcelona Gothic Cathedral 15 years later.
It was also believed that St. James preached here and it was around here where the early Christian community built a chapel which they called Santa Maria de Les Arenes, St. Mary of the Sea Sands.
There is no documentation on when the Church became Santa Maria del Mar. By the 7th century, the Church was already known as such but but it was only in 1329 when the prosperity of the area demanded a Church more impressive than what was there. Plans were made and on March 25, 1329, the cornerstone of the present Church was laid.
The Church was consecrated by Pere Planella, bishop of Barcelona, on 15 August 1384. Beren- guer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig were the architects in charge of the project.
Because of its unique history, Santa Maria del Mar is home to guilds because of their special connection to the construction of the Church and until today, these guilds still actively participate in parish life, in fact, taking on and active and leading role in the neighbourhood's spiritual life. They still celebrate their patron saints' festivities here.
This interesting story of the construction of Santa Maria del Mar is vividly told by Ildefonso Falcones in his novel, The Cathedral of the Sea, where he manages to bring to life the everyday happenings in the medieval streets of the former La Ribera. This was made into a movie by Netflix and watching it made us appreciate more the construction of this Church.
Cathedral of the Sea Novel
This international award winning novel written by a lawyer based in Barcelona, Ildefonso Falcones, sold over 7 million copies and it is no surprise at all. Translated into 40 languages, Netflix has chosen to produce this recently and after watching the movie, I searched for this book as I now want to fully enjoy reading the story.
The story centers on Arnau, a stone mason in the Ribeira district then who had a special devotion to the Virgin in Santa del Mar. Arnau was born to a family that was at the mercy of the nobles who owned the place they were in. This merciless noble used his mother and later pushed her to become a whore. The father moved to the city and found work there with the help of his sister who was married to a wealthy merchant in La Ribeira and here, Arnau grew up and later became a person to reckon with.
His story, Cathedral of the Sea, is now on Netflix and after watching the movie, we even understood better why the people of Barcelona have a particular affection for this Church. This movie showed how the Church was constructed, the historical context when it was started and the support the people gave it.
The Architecture of Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar is the only pure example of Catalan Gothic architecture. Most churches in the Middle Ages were built for centuries that by the time they are finished the changes in architectural style are plenty but this Cathedral of the Sea was built in only 55 years. As such, there were no changes in its architectural style so it represents today the purist example of Catalan Gothic architecture.
The Church construction was placed in the hands of the Catalan architects Beren-guer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig. These two architects built a sober horizontal structure based on the geometric design called "ad quadratum' of which this Church became the clearest example.
16 1.60 meter thick octagonal columns.
80 meters (or 100 feet) long, 33 meters wide –if we combine the central nave, the side aisles and the chapel naves–. If we take into account that the central nave is also 33 meters high, the architectural design, seen from the front, fits inside a perfect circumference.
Its structure comprises three naves of 33 meters high, underpinned by 16 very tall and 1.6 meter thick octagonal columns. Set 13 metres apart, a distance unsurpassed by any other existing medieval building, the structure gives the impression of unity, simplicity, sober sublimity and ethereal airiness.
Enhancing this structure are the many stained glass windows added to the Church. The amazing rose window destroyed by an earthquake in 1428 and remade in 1459, the window of the Ascension in the chapel of Santa Maria, and the Lavabo in the chapel of Sant Rafael are some of the best to be viewed.
On its floors you can see the tombs of the members of the guilds and brotherhoods of Barcelona which until today celebrate their feasts here.
The simplicity of design and almost total lack of adornment give the church an atmosphere of unsurpassed serenity.
Glass Windows of Santa Maria del Mar
Other Interesting Facts About Santa Maria del Mar
This Church played a significant role in the history of Barcelona and of the Church. Here are some interesting things connected to it:
The most recent window, next to the sacristy, was completed in 1995. It was designed by José Fernández Castrillo to commemorate the 1992 Summer Olympics.
- Since the year 2000, the relics of St Cugat del Rec are kept here.e the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
- Many saints went to church here and to name some of them, there are Peter Nolasco, Vicent Ferrer, Ignatius of Loyola, Salvador of Horta, Francisco of Borja, Miquel dels Sants, and Josep Oriol, St. Maria Micaela of the Most Holy Sacrament, Maria del Carmen Sellés Berengueras and blessed Maria-Anna Mogas Fontcuberta.
- Santa Maria de Cervelló, blessed Lluís Bertran, the venerable Juliana of Morella and the venerable Claudi López Bru Marquis de Comillas were all baptized in this parish. The venerable Dorotea Chopitea was also married hereTurning left around the church, you get to a small square at Carrer Santa Maria, where a granite slab commemorates the Spanish invasion of 1714.
- Turning left around the church, you get to a small square at Carrer Santa Maria, where a granite slab commemorates the Spanish invasion of 1714.
Interior Facade of the Church
El Fossar de les Moreres
There is one landmark adjacent to the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral that you need to check out before you leave the place. In this place, the Catalans, who died defending the city in the famous Siege of Barcelona in 1714 at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, were buried. To honour these heroes, the city placed a torch of eternal flame in this place with a poem by Frederic Soler, El Fossar de les Moreres.
This monument further strengthened the devotion of the locals to Santa Maria del Mar.
Guided Tours of Santa Maria del Mar
Monday to Saturday: 9:00-13:00 Uhr and 17:00-20:30
Sun- and Holidays 10.00-14.00 and 17.00-20.30
The Basilica offers several guided tours:
1. Santa Maria del Mar Complete Tour
- Includes visits to the Church, galleries and the crypt
- 55-60 minutes long
Price for the general public-10Euros; Students, unemployed, Seniors (older than 65) and groups of more than 10 people-8Euros; Teacher’s accreditation,TR3SC members and members of the libraries of the Diputació de Barcelona-9Euros; Children between 6 and 8 years old and Official Guides of Catalunya-Free
2. Towers and Rooftops Tour
- 40 minutes long; can be cancelled when weather is not suitable
- Not recommended for children below 6 and for people with mobility and breathing difficulties
- Requires climbing stairs
Price for the general public- 8Euros; Students, unemployed, seniors (older than 65 years old) and groups of more than 10 people-8Euros; Children between 6 and 8 years old and Official Guides of Catalonia-Free
3. Private Tours
- Offered in various languages for groups during the opening hours of the church.
You can reserve your tickets here: Basilica del Mar Website
- Santa Maria del Mar - Barcelona's Cathedral of the Sea - Barcelona Lowdown
Made famous by the novel the Cathedral of the Sea, the Santa Maria del Mar church in Barcelona's Gothic quarter is a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
© 2018 Mary Norton