Barcelona’s Other Cathedral – Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia

When we think Barcelona Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia always comes to mind first. But this is the actual Barcelona Cathedral or official known as Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.

Barcelona seems to have a history of taking a while to finish cathedrals — possibly, as Gaudi noted, because God’s time is eternal. Built on both the foundations of a Roman temple and the ruins of a Moorish mosque, the Barcelona Cathedral was begun in 1298 but not completed until 1913, when the central spire was finally finished. 

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as Barcelona Cathedral, is the Gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. The cathedral was constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, with the principal work done in the fourteenth century.

The architect Josep Oriol Mestres was responsible for building the Neo-Gothic façade, with its two lateral pinnacles, while Augusto Font Carreras put the finishing touches to the edifice with the 70-metre-high dome, completed in 1913.

Upon this archivolt are carved, 100 angels flying above your head! In the centre of the two, large wooden entrance doors is a stone sculpture of Jesus, flanked on either side by statues of the 12 apostles. 75 figures in total adorned the exterior of the facade, featuring more saints, kings and famous prophets. While the sculptures of the people are stern and noble, there are also various playful gargoyles and mythical animals which also decorated the stone walls.

The stalls of the Cathedral’s choir

The stalls of the Cathedral’s choir date from the 14th and 15th centuries. The seat backs show the coats of arms of the Order of the Golden Fleece from the 16th century.

Marble wall with reliefs from the 16th century

The retrochoir is closed off by a marble wall with reliefs from the 16th century, created by Bartolomé Ordóñez and Pedro Villar.

The Choir Stand

The Distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece is a Catholic order of chivalry founded in Bruges by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to Isabella of Portugal. Today, two branches of the order exist, namely the Spanish and the Austrian Fleece; the current grand masters are Felipe VI, King of Spain and Karl von Habsburg, head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, respectively. Think of it as the Knights of the Roundtable in real life.

Barcelona Cathedral’s chancel keystone – The Annunciation: The Virgin with the Archangel Saint Gabriel. 1379

The Cathedral has a total of 215 keystones, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. They were restored in 1970, when it was discovered that they were polychromed.

The cimborio

This architectural rooftop lantern just inside the main entrance provides a source of light inside the cathedral. The cimborio took almost 500 years to construct and was completed in 1913.

The Cathedral has many Gothic and modern stained-glass windows. They are all three-paneled, with the central panel depicting the image of the central character and the side panels with geometric decorations framing coats of arms of royal families and of the city, angels, etc. and crowned by a trefoil decoration.

The Baptistery is located just to the left of the main entrance, in one of the many side chapels, the Baptistery contains a 15th century goblet-shaped font made of Carrara marble. Behind the font is a small relief carved into the marble altarpiece of Jesus baptising one of his disciples.

The Cathedral’s organ is of great artistic, liturgical and historical importance. It is inside the nave, under the bell tower, in the upper gallery over the door of Saint Ivo. It was built between 1537 and 1539 and the windchest covers are decorated with grisailles by Pedro Pablo Serafín “the Greek”. 

At the east end of the cathedral, we find the ambulatory with its nine radiating chapels. These chapels are located behind high altar, raised above the crypt of Saint Eulalia below. The nine chapels located in the ambulatory are crowned with tall, glowing stained glass windows. This allows for the most heavenly, colourful light to pour over the high altar. The High Altar is made of pure white marble and measures over three feet long. Above the altar hangs a grand crucifix, held up by six triumphant angels.

The Crypt of Saint Eulalia

Dedicated to the Holy Cross since 599 AD, the old Early Christian cathedral acquired a second patron in the year 877. In that year, the basilica received the relics of Saint Eulalia, patron saint of the city of Barcelona, which had been found hidden in the church of Santa Maria del Mar. The powerful legend of this Christian martyr of the end of the third century explains the large number of elements in the cathedral dedicated to her: a door, stained glass windows, keystones, reliefs, images, etc.

The Crypt of Saint Eulalia (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

The story tells that the Romans inflicted 13 agonies on this maiden, one for every year of her life: from imprisoning and beating her, to torturing her on a rack, burning her breasts, and throwing her into a ditch of quicklime and a yard swarming with fleas. The ninth torment is the most famous, whereby she was put naked into a cask filled with broken glass, nails and knives and thrown down a steep street which was thereafter known as the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia.

Finally, she was nailed to an x-shaped cross which today is the emblem of the cathedral.

The Rooftop

The elevator taking visitors to the rooftops can be accessed though the chapel of the Innocent Saints, next to the door of San Ivo. The roof of the Barcelona Cathedral is known for its gargoyles.

The gargoyles

The gargoyles were added on to avoid rainwater running down the masonry. They do appear slightly scary on close inspection. You will see sculptures of various Saints and Biblical figures as well as a wide variety of animals and mythical creatures on the roof. Of course, it is also known for the spectacular views of Barcelona offers.

From the rooftops, we can see the two bell towers, the two lateral pinnacles, the cimborio (picture L) crowned by the Holy Cross (sustained by the image of Saint Helena), the Cloister and a spectacular panoramic view of Barcelona.

The Chapels

The Cathedral’s single nave has a high vaulting ceiling, and some two dozen side chapels line the nave, complete with their own artworks. In total there are more than 140 Saints and Marian advocations in the cathedral. The Virgin Mary is the best-represented among the images, followed by Saint Eulalia and the Archangels Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel.

There are over 28 chapels flanking the cathedral’s nave. You can find a list of all the saint chapels here if you’re looking to prayer at one in particular. Each one of the chapels is dripped in golden leaf decorations, magnificent paintings which tell stories of the saint’s life, and powerful sculptures which look out at you from the gates which separate from the holy from the mortal realm.

Saint Pacian was bishop of Barcelona during the second half of the 4th century. He is highly regarded as one of the founding father’s of the church in Barcelona. The altarpiece inside the chapel is a baroque masterpiece made by sculptor Joan Roig from 1688. It depicts various scenes from the life of Saint Pacian and Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Chapel along the gallery of the Cloister

The chapels in the Cloister are arranged along its three galleries were each initially dedicated to the patron saint of an institution or guild, or were placed under the protection of a specific family. All these chapels are covered by groin vaults, most of which are quadripartite, with keystones situated at the point where the neves meet.

Chivalrous Orders, Guilds and Brotherhoods

Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem

Created after the First Crusade in 1099 by Godfrey of Bouillon, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is an association of Christian faithful, established in accordance with ecclesiastical law; the Holy Father, the Order’s sovereign, has entrusted them with the special mission of providing economically for the Church in the Holy Land and reinforcing the practice of a Christian life.

Various guilds and brotherhoods have a presence at the Cathedral. By way of example:

  • Brotherhood of the former Guild of Master Rugmakers who have their patron – Saint Bernard of Siena – in a chapel of the Cathedral.
  • Brotherhood of Saint Mark Evangelist, of Master Shoemakers of Barcelona with their chapel in the Cathedral.

Thirteen White Geese

The cathedral has a secluded Gothic cloister where 13 white geese are kept, the number explained by the assertion that Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred. The cloister, which encloses the Well of the Geese (Font de les Oques), was completed in 1448.

Exploring beyond the Cathedral

Monument als Herois del 1809

Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, is a world unto itself, and easily missed in a city that has so much to see. This is where the Romans founded their new town. Beneath the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat (a 14th-century mansion), lie the streets and squares of Roman Barcelona — the largest subterranean Roman ruins in the world. Don’t miss it, it’s just a mere 2 minutes away from the cathedral at Plaça del Rei (King’s Square).

Visited Aug 2018

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