Many stories have been told about the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, but its history is long and full of curiosities. Here we unveil five curiosities about the Catalan Art Nouveau site that you’re unlikely to have heard before.
The orientation of the Hospital de Sant Pau with respect to the Eixample district
The set of pavilions of the Sant Pau site are oriented at an angle of 45° with respect to the streets of the Eixample district. This fact is usually attributed to the contempt that Domènech i Montaner is said to have felt for Ildefons Cerdà’s grid design of the district. However, the truth is that the orientation is governed solely by the direction of the cardinal points. In fact, Domènech had a generally favourable opinion of the Cerdà Plan, taking it as a point of reference for sizing the internal roads of the hospital complex.
No pavilion without sunlight
To ensure plenty of sunlight in all the nursing pavilions, Domènech i Montaner separated them just enough to make sure they didn’t cast any shadow on each other, not even on the winter days when the sun is at its lowest and shadows are longer. The spaces between the pavilions were allocated for gardens. They were planted with shade-tolerant species on the south side, which is always in the shade, and with sun-loving species on the north side, combining summer and winter plants to make the garden attractive all year round.
Saint George and Saint Martin, the most frequently represented saints
Saint George (Sant Jordi) and Saint Martin (Sant Martí) are the most frequently represented saints at the Catalan Art Nouveau site. They are depicted in sculptural reliefs inside the Administration Pavilion, as well as in mosaics on its rear façade, and in the small Pavilion of Sant Jordi. Their prominence is easily explained in an institution dedicated to looking after poor sick people, since Saint Martin is depicted sharing his cloak with a beggar, while Saint George is depicted fighting a dragon, the incarnation of diseases.
The memory of one of Domènech’s sons enshrined in the Pavilion of Sant Rafael
In 1915, while the Pavilion of Sant Rafael (1914-1918) was being built, one of Domènech i Montaner’s sons died. Ricard Domènech i Roura was only 23 years old when he fell victim to pneumonia. He had just completed a degree in pharmacy. Perhaps in tribute to his memory, the image of Saint Raphael, helping Tobias, which presides over the pavilion façade (sculpted by Eusebi Arnau) bears a striking resemblance to Ricard.
The copy of the copy of the original baroque-style cross
The baroque-style boundary cross that stands in the centre of the gardens is a tribute to the old Hospital de la Santa Creu located in the Raval district of Barcelona. It is not the original cross, which has stood in the same place since 1691. When the new hospital building opened, the City Council, which had acquired the old building, refused to allow the cross to be moved. As such, a copy was produced in 1931. However, this copy was destroyed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. After the war it was reconstructed, which means that this is the copy of the copy of the original cross!
The history, architecture and decoration of this Catalan art nouveau site contain plenty of details such as those described above. If you pay a visit, you’ll have the chance to discover many more.