The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site extends its range of exhibitions with a historical recreation space in the Sant Rafael Pavilion


The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site has a historical recreation space in the Sant Rafael Pavilion, turned into a 1920s patients ward. This new space complements the information on show at the Site, which, at the start of the year, opened the Sant Salvador exhibition space.

With this new historical recreation space, visitors to the Site can see the functioning of a ward of the old Hospital de Sant Pau and the medicine that was practised there, set in the context of the Barcelona of the time. The Sant Rafael Pavilion recreates a ward from the 1920s, with 10 beds, period radiators, the altar dedicated to Sant Rafael, and the day room where patients received visits. The proposal includes a structure with information panels that explain all of these elements.

The architect’s last building

The Sant Rafael Pavilion, built between 1914 and 1918, was the last to be completed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, who died in 1923. It was constructed thanks to the legacy of Rafael Rabell and his daughter, Concepció. Once work was completed, the building was handed over to the Hospital de la Santa Creu. The building was finally opened on 1 April 1918. It was a patients pavilion with a ground floor and semi-basement that followed Domènech i Montaner’s original programme of typology and location in every detail.

Uses of the Sant Rafael Pavilion over the years

Once work was complete, in accordance with the wishes of the benefactress, Concepció Rabell, it was stipulated that the pavilion would be used for non-infectious diseases of the digestive tract. In almost a century of health-care activity, the Sant Rafael Pavilion has housed various uses, summarised in this chronology.
- Until 1929, it accommodated patients with digestive tract issues. It then became the pavilion for male traumatology patients, and the X-ray Service was set up on the basement floor.
- During the Civil War, the pavilion was used for Orthopaedic Surgery for men and women: women on the semi-basement and men on the upper floor.
- In the 1940s, with the construction of the Sant Antoni Pavilion for Traumatology and Orthopaedic Surgery, Sant Rafael housed Internal Medicine and Endocrinology.
- In 1981, the Clinical Haematology Unit (the first in Spain to carry out a bone marrow transplant in 1976) was added, installing environmental isolation rooms for immuno-depressed patents with a high risk of infection.
- Also in 1981, the X-ray service, situated in the basement, was replaced by the Otorhinolaryngology and Endocrinology clinics. The latter was set up in an extension built onto the south façade of the pavilion.
- In 1991, after a process of rehabilitation of the pavilion, the Clinical Haematology Unit occupied the entire main floor of the pavilion until it was moved to the new hospital in 2009.


The day room and the altar, elements present in all the pavilions

The day room was situated in the rotunda beside the entrance to the pavilion. Domènech i Montaner designed it, with its large south-facing windows that provide good natural lighting, as a space for patents to relax and receive visits. Though simply furnished, it had everything patients needed for their comfort during their stay: table and chairs, rocking chairs, plants to brighten up the atmosphere, and blinds to regulate the light.
All the patients’ pavilions at the Hospital had an altar, usually dedicated to the saint after which each was named. Mass was held there and, to mark the day of the saint in question (in the case of Sant Rafael, 24 October) it was decorated with flowers and plants. This practice continued the tradition of the old Hospital de la Santa Creu, where each room also had its own altar. In the case of the reproduction that can be seen in the historical recreation, the figure of Sant Rafael is the original that existed at the time, which has been restored. Many of the documents on show in the exhibition are from the Historical Archive of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

A child in the façade

One of Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s eight children, Ricard Domènech i Roura, died of bronchopneumonia in 1915, during the construction of the Sant Rafael Pavilion. He was still very young –just 23– and had recently completed a degree in Pharmacy. In remembrance of his deceased son, Domènech asked the sculptor Eusebi Arnau to represent the Saint Rafael who accompanies Tobias in the pavilion’s façade with the face of Ricard.

Exhibition spaces

This historical recreation space, devised by the set designer Ignasi Cristià, extends the range of exhibitions at the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, which, in February 2017, opened the Sant Salvador Pavilion with an exhibition about the history of the Private Foundation of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau, using a more classic museum language, and which pays tribute to the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, with an installation that symbolises a contemporary dragon and represents all many aspects of this key figure of the Catalan Art Nouveau.

The rehabilitation of the Art Nouveau pavilions: before and after

In 2014, the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site was reopened to the public after a long and meticulous process of restoration of eight of the 12 pavilions that make up the architectural complex, recovering the original volumes and appearance of the buildings which were, in some cases, badly damaged. Rigorous criteria were followed to guarantee their sustainability. This huge task is clearly visible if we compare a rehabilitated pavilion, such as Sant Salvador, with one that has not been restored and remains as it was when healthcare services were transferred, as in the case of the Puríssima Pavilion.

This is the comparison offered to visitors to the Site in an itinerary that starts in the completely rehabilitated Sant Salvador Pavilion, continues through the historical recreation space of Sant Rafael, which has not been restored but from which elements added on over the years have been removed, and ends in the Puríssima Pavilion, where, though visitors cannot enter due to safety reasons, they can view the state of the Art Nouveau pavilions after one hundred years of intensive healthcare activity.