History

Shortly after the arrival of Christianity to the Roman colony of Barcino, modern-day Barcelona, a small Christian community was started near the sea and just outside its walls. There was a Christian necropolis here where St Eulàlia, martyr, was probably buried in 303 A.D. This site might have been the place where a chapel was first built, known then as Santa Maria de Les Arenes, St. Mary of the Sea Sands. By the end of the seventh century, the existing structure was already known as “Santa Maria del Mar”.

The city grew very quickly and during the 13th century, in the neighborhood we now call “La Ribera” (-the Seashore-) but back then known as Vilanova del Mar, and the area was well-known for its ship-building, imports-exports of all kinds and its workshops for artisans and craftsmen. These trades and businesses are still reflected today in the street names of the area. This was the time when many of the wealthy merchants and minor nobility built their houses on Montcada Street. This material progress, plus the piety of the time, demanded a church of more impressive dimensions than the one they had. Church authorities supported the initiative, merchants donated money to the cause and King Pere III gave his permission to extract stone from the quarry and use it to build the present church. Workers loaded and unloaded the ships (the so-called “bastaixos” or porters), fishermen and the simple people used their hands and backs and, of course, their boats to transport the stone they needed from the nearby mountain of Montjuic. The cornerstone of the present temple was laid on 25 March 1329, as can be seen by reading the two inscriptions on each side of the door on Santa Maria Street, one in Catalan and the other one in Latin.

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The last circular keystone, the closest one to the main door, bears the city’s coat of arms and was put in place on 3 November 1383. 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.

Over the years, constant social and political turmoil also caused destruction to the basilica. But nothing can be compared with the destruction of the 19th July 1936 when Santa Maria del Mar was set on fire and burned for eleven days straight. The magnificent baroque altar and all the images and historical archive were all destroyed. Only the walls, columns and a few of the stained glass windows on the upper level were spared. The fire didn’t get up that high. Restoration in recent years has further emphasized its elegant and sober Gothic style.

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