Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar (14)

In the Born quarter we find lively squares, tapas bars, fashion shops and also one of the most beautiful churches in Barcelona. 

Santa Maria del Mar is an impressive church, a clear example from the fourteenth century of the architectural style known as Catalan Gothic. 

It was built between 1329 and 1383 by the master builders Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig. Documents from the year 918 already talked of the existence of a temple in the area.

The entire population of the Ribera participated actively in its construction, as finance had been poured into the construction of the Cathedral and any aid was denied. Thus the rich, putting in their money, and the common people, giving voluntary work, joined forces. In particular, the dock stevedores, who carried to the Plaça del Born the enormous blocks of stone brought by sea from the Montjuïc quarries. 

It was the temple of the ship-owners and merchants of Gothic Barcelona and became known as the Cathedral of the Sea.

On November 3, 1383, the final part of the vault was set in place and its first mass was held on August 15 in the following year. In 1428 an earthquake brought down the rose-window and caused several deaths. The beautiful rose-window you see today is in Flamboyant Gothic style. It was finished in 1459 and the stained glass was put in the following year. With 9 metres diameter, it is one of the biggest in Catalonia.

Catalan Gothic is enormously elegant. The huge size of the building gives it a power that is magnified by its stone structure and its solemnity.

The speed of its construction – 55 years was a record time for the period – gives it a fully coherent style, with no subsequent additions.

Its massive and robust-looking exterior does not transmit what you find inside. There is predominance of horizontal lines, with no great openings or adornments. The building forms a compact block, which means the lighting is always very flat, a long way from the games of light and shadow that occur in other churches.

The main face is framed by two octagonal towers 42 metres high and two powerful buttresses that frame the rose-window and permit the width of the interior vault. The porch is located in the centre of this face.

The church’s general austerity is still clearer at the sides, formed by a flat unadorned wall, except for the buttresses and its narrow windows.

The inside, however, is extremely beautiful. Its great height and its impressive columns, always lit up by the light of candles, convert the church into an ideal place to switch off from the world.

On entry, you can distinguish three thin naves, with ambulatories and without a transept. However, it seems as if the architect wanted to give the same sensation of space that is achieved with just a single nave. This is why he separated the pillars by as much as 15 metres and made the height of the three naves very similar. You can divide the width of the building into 10 equal parts. There is a huge play of proportions that make the final result fully harmonious. A unique, diaphanous space, unlike the divisions typical of European Gothic, and which is a curious peculiarity of this building.

The central nave is illuminated by the different stained-glass windows of the chapels and the great rose-window. The side naves are lit by fairly small windows, which also help light the central nave.

It is worth mentioning some of the refined fifteenth-century painted glass, for example the Final Judgment in the left-hand nave, the Assumption of the Virgin in one of the side-chapels and especially the Coronation of the Virgin in the centre of the rose-window.

Lamentably, a fire in July, 1936, almost completely destroyed the interior decoration and the main altar, a valuable Baroque piece from the second half of the eighteenth century.

History tells that the tomb of St. Eulalia was found under its foundations and that it was transferred to the new Gothic cathedral in 1339.

The square beside the church, the Fossar de les Moreres (Mulberry Graveyard), also has special significance for Catalans.

This was the quarter’s former parish cemetery and the soldiers who defended Catalonia from the invasion of Philip V’s troops in 1714 lie buried here. The quarter, which like the city as a whole opposed this king, lived its worse moments at this time. When Philip V took the city, he destroyed the Ribera quarter and its surrounds to raise in their place a huge military fortress, the Ciutadella, Citadel, and so punish its rebellion.

In the square, restored in 1968, burns an eternal flame in homage to the heroes of that defeat.

The interior of the church has exceptional acoustic qualities, which convert it into a unique space for concerts. Organ, classical, jazz, oriental... if your stay in the city coincides with a performance, make sure you attend, it will be a worthwhile experience.

Santa Maria del Mar is a very popular church and is chosen by a lot of couples as a place to hold their wedding. If you are lucky, while you are relaxing at one of the cafés in front of the church, you may see newly-weds leaving the church under a shower of rice and rose petals.

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