© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodor’s Travel
Barcelona's oldest church was originally outside the city walls (del camp means "in the fields") and was a Roman cemetery as far back as the 2nd century, according to archaeological evidence. A Visigothic belt buckle found in the 20th century confirmed that Visigoths used the site as a cemetery between the 2nd and 7th centuries. What you see now was built in 1127 and is the earliest Romanesque structure in Barcelona. Elements of the church—the classical marble capitals atop the columns in the main entry—are thought to be from the 6th and 7th centuries. Sant Pau is bulky and solid, featureless (except for what may be the smallest stained-glass window in Europe, high on the facade facing Carrer Sant Pau), with stone walls three feet thick and more; medieval Catalan churches and monasteries were built to be refuges for the body as well as the soul, bulwarks of last resort against Moorish invasions—or mauraders of any persuasion. Check local events listings carefully for musical
performances here; the church is an acoustical gem. (Rebecca Ryan's Mercyhurst Madrigal Singers sang American composer Horatio Parker's "Lord We Beseech Thee" here in 2009.) The tiny cloister is Sant Pau del Camp's best feature, and one of Barcelona's hidden treasures. Look carefully at the capitals that support the Moorish-influenced Mudéjar arches, carved with biblical scenes and exhortations to prayer. This penumbral sanctuary, barely a block from the heavily-trafficked Av. del Paral.lel, is a gift from time.
Sant Pau 99, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08001, Spain