Located in the heart of the Old Quarter of Barcelona, the Cathedral’s official name is The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, although it is better known as The Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona or simply as Barcelona Cathedral.
A religious building has existed on this site since a Christian church was constructed there in the 4th century AD. Excavations along the Cathedral’s eastern wall exposed a previous structure consisting of three naves with columns of white marble which are thought to date to that time. It is believed that the relics of Saint Eulalia were kept in one of the chapels. Documentary evidence confirms that a number of Bishops from Spain attended the Council of Sardica in 343 and that Barcelona was home to a cathedral at that time. This first cathedral was replaced by one built by the Visigoths when they moved into the area in the 5th century. A document dating to 599 states that the Cathedral was at that time dedicated to the Holy Cross.
The Visigoth cathedral was severely damaged by the Moors when the city was sacked and burnt by Almanzor in 985. In 1046 the count of Barcelona, Raymon-Berenquer, began the construction of a Romanesque cathedral, which was consecrated on 18 November 1058.
Construction on the Gothic cathedral that we see today began on 1 May 1298 on the foundations of the previous buildings and took over 150 years to build. This construction occurred in three stages, the first of which saw the building of the apse, the presbytery with its alter and crypt, and the radial chapels. The second stage saw the construction of the three naves and their chapels, while stage three involved the construction of the basilica, façade and cloister.
The cathedral was extended in the 19th century when two side towers were added, these being completed in 1913 with the addition of the cimborio (a dome or cupola, specifically a lantern, usually octagonal in plan, built over the crossing of a Gothic cathedral). Around the roof are gargoyles depicting both mythical and domestic animals. The construction of the neo-gothic façade we see today was finished in 1890.
Approximately 83 metres long and 25 metres high, the Cathedral has three naves, each consisting of five sections. There are 29 side chapels, two in each section of the naves, which encircle the basilica. It also has ten chapels located around the apse of the altar.
One of the chapels is the Chapel of Lepanto which was constructed in 1407, originally as the Chapterhouse. This was reconstructed in 17th century to house a number of tombs. Above the entrance is a curved crucifix which has two legends associated with it. One legend is that, while at the prow of a ship during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the crucifix bent to avoid a canon ball heading towards it. The other legend states that it was in the hold of the ship and bent to cover a hole to prevent water flooding in.
In the naves nearest to the presbytery are two bell towers. These towers are octagonal in shape and contain stairways built in the 14th and 16th centuries.
In the beginning of the 16th century, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V established the Cathedral as the site of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which had its first meeting there in 1518. The Cathedral’s choir stalls still retain the coats-of-arms of the Knights of the Order.
The Cathedral's pipe organ is located in the nave under the bell tower. It was built between 1537 and 1539. The covers of the windchest are decorated with grisailles, paintings executed entirely in shades of grey. The organ was restored between the years 1985 and 1994.
Within the cloister are several chapels, a shop and a museum. The museum holds a collection of various papyruses dating from the 5th to the 8th century, as well as other documents from that time period. Of interest is the Esponsales collection, which contains hundreds of thousands of names of people who lived within this geographical area from 1451 to 1905, presenting an excellent source for genealogical and social studies information.
Also within the cloister is The Well of the Geese, constructed in 1448. This consists of a pond and a fountain where thirteen white geese are kept, signifying that Saint Eulalia was 13 years old when she was martyred.
Saint Eulalia, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, was a 13-year-old girl who was martyred under the persecution of Christians known as the Diocletianic Persecution, under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in 303. She is one of two patron saints of Barcelona. Her tomb can be seen in the Cathedral crypt. The Cathedral also contains the tombs of a number of other saints.
The Barcelona Cathedral underwent a programme of cleaning and restoration from 1968-72 and is a popular tourist attraction.