The false patron saint of Barcelona

Merce2014bThis is Mercè – or Mare de Deu de la Mercè, as she is called in full , the main patron saint of Barcelona, whose ‘fiesta’ every year at the end of September is the biggest party of  the city.
Mercè is disproportionately large compared to the dome on which she stands, a creation of one of Gaudi’s teachers, Joan Martorell.
That’s because this Mercè is not ‘the real one’. The original statue is from 1888, the year of the first World Exhibition in the city. This joyous fact prompted the Catholic Church to crown Mercè as patron saint of the Diocese of Barcelona. Her church was decorated with Martorells dome, plus a modest bronze statue of the saint, made by Maximí Sala.

Less than a century later the Spanish Civil War broke out in Spain and Mercè became cannon fodder: she was melted into ammunition for the anti-clerical Republicans.
In 1959, the Franco regime more than made up for the saint. The Oslé brothers were commissioned to make a seven-meter version of the ‘old’ Mercè.

Merce Kerk

Plaça de la Mercè now

There’s was no lack of material. The municipal warehouses were full of images of Catalan heroes. After the civil war the new regime had removed them from the Barcelona + in the context of the erasure or as you would like to ‘decatalization ‘ the city. Among them Wilfried the Hairy, Ramon Berenguer the Old, Bernat Desclot, Pere Albert and Jaume Fabre, all illustrious Catalan heroes from the Middle Ages.

The Saló de Sant Joan at the beginning of the 20th century. On the front the monument (Pere Falqués/Manuel Fuxà, 1897) for Rius i Taulet, mayor of Barcelona and promotor of the 1888 World Exhibition


  Mercè was melted into ammunition for the anti-clerical Republicans

Between 1888 and 1940 these gentlemen – well, their bronze sculptures – had decorated the Saló de Sant Joan the stately promenade between the Ciutadella Park and the Arc de Triomf, (now named Passeig de Lluís Companys, in honor of another Catalan hero)

vijf Catalaane helden van de Salo de Sant Joan

The five Catalan heroes on the Salon de Sant Joan. Above, from left to right: Jaume Fabre, Bernard Desclot, Pere Albert. Second row Wilfred the Hairy en Ramon Berenguer I, ‘the Old’.

Now, in 1959, Franco had a destination for them: merge into Mother of God. But for her enormous body some extra material was needed. So one of the bronze figures and the flag of the Dr. Robert monument, which was removed by the Franco-regime on the orders of Franco (you can find it now on the Plaça de Tetuan) disappeared also in the ovens.
So nowadays the statues are the body of Mercè, looking out over Barcelona. Actually quite a nice ending for an already dead Catalan hero.

But maybe the story is even more heroic. According to some, the five bronze statues already disappeared in January 1937 and then were melted into ammunition to defend Barcelona!

Basílica de la Mercè 1981

The Plaça de la Mercè exist since the early 1980’s. On the picture the houses in front of the Mercè basilica are being demolished.  One the houses that were taken down at the time was the Picasso family home. Picasso himself lived there between 1896 and 1904. (Carrer de la Mercè 3)

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