We have the habit of thinking that all the large churches with stunning architecture are cathedrals. But they are not, not all of them are.
The fact is that in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona and its surroundings, history has made impressive churches sprout almost like mushrooms. But, if we speak properly, there is only one cathedral: the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Its construction began in 1298 and was completed in the short time of two centuries, give or take a few years.
Not far away is the Basilica of Santa María del Pi (Saint Mary of the Pine) another gem of the Gothic art. And if we continue walking just a little bit we will find another Basilica: the one of Santa María del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea) also Gothic and the main subject of the book written by Ildefonso Falcones, La Catedral del Mar (Cathedral of the Sea).
As we have fingers left over to count we could include another Basilica in the lot: The Sagrada Familia by Gaudí, which closed the Gothic circle with the very personal style that Sir Antoni took out of his brilliant and creative sleeve. But that is another story.
The church that we are interested in now has to do with the real cathedral and with Santa María del Mar. It turns out that, back in 1211, the charismatic Saint Francis of Assisi came to these lands to preach his doctrine. And he did, but between one thing and another he also dedicated himself to the delicate art of prophesying: he said that the body of Saint Eulalia, patron of the city, would soon appear, because as they did in so many other places, the remains of the Saint had been hidden back at the beginning of the eighth century to protect them from the Muslim invasion. And, as it happens in so many other places, once the danger was over, no one could find them.
But St. Francis was right, and the body of the young Roman martyr appeared where Santa María del Mar would later rise. If you have liked this legend, we have another one that is quite funny; it is also said that the body had actually been found much earlier, in the ninth century, but it was hidden again and lost again, following the custom of the time. The thing is that when a holy body was hidden, very few people knew where it was… and if the ones who knew died, those who intended to recover the body later had a challenging job to do.
What is clear is that the relics of Saint Eulalia ended up being placed, in 1339, in the cathedral named after her. The beautiful building that you see now, in the middle of the Old City, grew around the crypt and became a sort of compendium of all European Gothic. Among the gargoyles, you can distinguish an elephant, unicorns and other fantastic and grotesque creatures that, according to a very plausible tradition, are nothing but witches petrified as punishment for spitting when a procession was passing by.