Despite not being located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, the Santa María del Mar Church is a symbol of pure Gothic Catalan style and is situated in the Born/La Ribera area of Barcelona, which was actually the heart of the mediaeval city when it was located along the Mediterranean shores.
It was built in the 14th century by Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig, over the remains of a small chapel dedicated to Santa María de la Arenas (Saint Mary of the Sands).
The building started in 1329 and finished in 1383, an achievement (only 54 years) for this type of construction and with the resources they had. On the doors you can see pictures of the city’s stone porters (“basaixos”), who carried all the stones for the building on their backs from Montjuic’s quarry outside the city and from the port.
Santa Maria del Mar isn’t actually a cathedral but people started calling it the “catedral del mar” (cathedral of the sea) as this Catholic church was for the people and financed by the port workers living in the neighbourhood, rivalling with the main Gothic cathedral (Santa Eulalia in the Gothic quarter) being built around the same time but financed by the bourgeois class.
This less pretentious building is actually a great example of harmony between austerity, purity and simplicity from the Gothic style. The long and thin octagonal pillars and unadorned walls contrast with the colour and light coming from the stained-glass windows. Note the beautiful stained-glass rose window above the Eastern entrance. Unfortunately, whatever little decoration the church originally had was destroyed after the 1936 riots, leaving for only adornment a wooden ship as a symbol for Saint Mary of the Sea, patron saint of sailors.
There are 3 façades, East, West and South. On the Southern side, a smaller entrance is set in front of what appears to be a small square. This is “El Fossar de les Moreres” and used to be a Roman cemetery, later also used as a burial ground for the Catalan resistance fighters who died during the 1714 siege of Barcelona (see the commemorative flame monument).
Many people look for the church tours based on the bestselling novel “La catedral del mar” by Ildefonso Falcones, which tells a story of feudal conflicts set upon the building of this beautiful church. Santa Maria del Mar is also mentioned in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “Angel’s Game”.
After admiring this jewel of Catalan Gothic architecture, there are many terraces in the Born area to just sit and relax, have a coffee and watch the world go by. You can also walk to the end of the Passeig del Born and have a look at the Mercat del Born.
Metro , Jaume I.