Santa Maria del Mar is a large medieval church in Barcelona. It is situated in the Ribera region of the city, and its imposing appearance reflects the power of Catalonia at that time. Because of its location, it is sometimes given the title of Cathedral of the Sea. The church was designed in the Catalan Gothic style, and is more uniform in its styling than many other cathedrals of the period.
A church dedicated to Santa Maria has stood in this area since late in the first millennium AD, but the current structure dates from the 14th century. Its construction was started by the Archdean, Bernat Llull, in 1324. Work began five years later, with King Alfonso of Aragon and Catalonia laying the foundation stone. The architects employed on the project were Ramon Despuig and Berenguer de Montagut, with the latter being responsible for the building’s overall design.
By the mid-century, the outer walls and side chapels had been completed, but the church took another three decades to complete. It would have been finished slightly sooner but for damage caused by a serious fire in 1379. The laying of the final stone took place in November 1383 and the church’s consecration was on August 15 of the following year. An earthquake which struck Barcelona in 1427 destroyed the west end’s rose window, which was replaced by another in 1459. A chapel was built next alongside the apse during the 1800’s. The baroque altar survived until another fire destroyed it in 1936.
Architecture and Interior
The church stands among the Ribera district’s narrow streets, making it seem even larger than it actually is. From the one-time cemetery at Plaça de Santa Maria, the building’s substantial west end can be clearly seen, with the rose window being highly prominent. To either side of the window are representations of St. Paul and St. Peter, both resting in niches. On the tympanum above the door is a figure of Jesus Christ, accompanied by St. John on one side and the Virgin Mary on the other.
Inside the church, the impression is very different from the solidity and bulk that might be expected from the building’s outward appearance. It is designed to allow the maximum possible amount of natural light to enter through the windows, which are notably tall. There is no physical distinction between the presbytery and the nave itself, and transepts are completely absent. In the resulting open space, thin columns of an octagonal shape rise to the roof to support a ribbed vault.
Unlike the majority of similar religious structures in Barcelona, the church has little of the religious imagery that might be expected. Much of this is because of the severe damage caused by a fire in 1936, which broke out during demonstrations against the clergy during the Spanish Civil War. However, a number of impressive stained glass windows are still in place.