Saint Paul and his tradition in Tarragona

Paul, the apostle of Christ

Born about the year 1.A.D., in the city of Tarsus, of a Jewish family, he was a few years younger than Jesus.  The city of Tarsus is in south east Turkey, then one of the largest provinces of the Roman Empire. From a Jewish family who like many others, lived outside Palestine (more Jews lived outside Israel at that time than inside the country itself). Paul was his roman name, as a Jew he was called Saulus or Saul. He was a city person, with a certain cultural level, impregnated by Hellenistic culture but profoundly Jewish by family origin and religious conviction. His family where in the political category of being roman citizens (which gave them certain advantages) who earned their living as artisans, making tents. We know little of the first thirty years of his life. At this time the teachings of Jesus had spread throughout Galilee. These teachings culminated in his death on the cross (probably on 7th April 30.A.D,). In Jerusalem had been formed the first christian community following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The young Paul was among the first radically inclined Jews who realised the danger posed by this Christian sect. The book of Acts (7 and 8) shows him approving of the death of the first Christian martyr, the Hellenist Stephen. All his life he will remember and feel responsible for this initial persecution. Following his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, which made him radically loyal as a consequence of this act. The knowledge which we  possess about the man Paul of Tarsus, his manner of being, his convictions and sentiments, is exceptional thanks to his letters. Letters written or dictated often in a hurry, to help those small Christian communities dispersed throughout the cities of the Oriental Mediterranean. Together with his letters, any information we have regarding Paul is given in the Book of Acts of the apostles, attributed to Saint Luke (as a second part of his gospel).  From our perspective it is like a history of peace. Paul with knowledge and liberty translated and formulated what signified the faith in Jesus Christ, and thanks to him spread among men and women of Greek urban culture, in the cities of the Oriental Mediterranean the spirit of the risen Jesus Christ. Paul never knew Jesus personally, but he was the principal preacher. He was the one who most noticed and carried to its ultimate consequences the Good News about Jesus, he could not remain in the religious and cultural moulds of the Jewish faith but had to announce with liberty and in a manner understandable to all persons the faith, that is why Paul is called the apostle to the gentiles, that is to say the non Jews.

The tradition of the arrival of Saint Paul

From the letter to the Romans 15, 24 and 28 was born the tradition according to which Saint Paul visited Spain. The same tradition associates this visit with Tarragona. Tarraco was then capital of Hispania Citerior. Popularly this visit is related with the rock situated as foundation and by the side of the chapel of Saint Paul, where it is said the apostle preached.

The Chapel of Saint Paul

The chapel of Saint Paul is a testimony to the ancient medieval tradition of the arrival of the apostle to the gentiles in the city of Tarraco. The rock on and over which in the 13th century it was constructed, evokes also the firmness of Christ, the rock on which our faith is founded. The church in Tarragona is founded on the apostolic preachings, maintains the martyrial testimony of bishop Saint Fructuosus, and of Saint Augurius and Saint Eulogius, deacons.

The chapel of Saint Paul / History and artPau, l’apòstol del Crist

The chapel of Saint Paul was constructed during the first decade of the 13th century, during the same period worship was transferred from the ancient cathedral to the new one, during the pontificate of Ramon de Castelltersol y Esparrago de la Barca. The heirs of the pabord, Ferrer Iris, first bishop of Valencia, who on travelling to the first council was captured and assassinated by the Saracens on 30th April 1233, founded it under the advocation of Saint Paul, establishing as obligation of the presbytery that they should sing the canonical hours with the infirmary canons and celebrate eucharist. Thus the chapel was converted into the oratory of the infirmary canonical. It deals with an edifice of the transition from the romanic to the gothic which contains similarities with the chapel of Saint Tecla the Old and with some sectors of the cathedral. Of rectangular form with a door, with lintel and oculo. The interior has gothic arches and lateral windows.

The urban plot

It appears that the church of Saint Paul was constructed next to the house of the infirmary canon of the cathedral of Tarragona. A photograph from the end of the 19th century illustrates this. Before the construction of the new Seminary could only be contemplated the façade, as two attached houses hid the remaining parts. On the other hand, the blocked doorway on the right hand side, near the head, recalls the existence of an ancient sacristy although we do not know if this dependency was sited inside the house of the infirmary canon.

The chapel of Saint Paul: construction of the ‘new seminary

In the medieval period and in modern times around the chapel grew a district with its streets and buildings which was demolished to allow the building of the Seminary at the end of the 19th century. To safeguard the chapel, in 1880 when the project for the construction of the Seminary was agreed between the archbishopric and the church of the Enseñanza, the Commision for Monuments in Tarragona asked that the churches of Saint Paul and Saint Tecla the Old be respected. In 1882 began the demolition of the houses to construct the seminary and in 1883 when the Town Hall approved the construction of the new building the conservation of the chapel of Saint Paul had not yet been contemplated. The project was finally reformed and the chapel was integrated into one of the cloisters of the new building. Work finished in 1887 and on 23rd June 1888 the new seminary was inaugurated the chapel being marked by a new form of architecture.

Neo-gothic chapel – Mayor chapel

We are now before an attractive neo-gothic chapel restored in 2007. To which access is from an atrium by a noble stairway. This singular chapel is in the form of a Greek cross with polygonal expansions. The superior arm conforms to the apse, the inferior to the heart and laterals of the chapel. It is covered by cruciform dome and it is decorated with capitals and mensula giving a neo-gothic style effect. It is the heart of the building, the two cloisters articulate through it centrally. From the atrium of the principal doorway we accede to it via a noble stairway. It is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Many liturgical acts of the diocese are realized within its walls. The presbytery in front of which is found the sepulchre of archbishop Vilamitjana, has a staired solution, in which the altar and the retablo are disposed at double heights. The retablo of triptic design, has images of the Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint Thomas of Aquinius. Over the lateral chapels are tribunes which have their continuation in the heart of the buildng. Noted, should be the sculptural work of foliage present on the verandas, which result from the richness of the materials employed, marble and jasper, also the intense colouring of the windows.

Location of the diocesan institutions

The Seminary houses apart from the Tarraconensian Centre, the Priestly Residence, the Minor Seminary, the new installations of the Superior Institute of Religious Sciences, it will open to the public the Pontificial Library of the Seminary and will house the delegations of Youth, seglar Apostolate, Catechism, Teaching and Bible of the Archbishopric.

The Library of the Pontificial Seminary of Tarragona

The library of the Pontificial Seminary at Tarragona was born together with the Tridentine Seminary in 1577 under the auspices of cardinal Gaspar Cervamtes de Gaeta. During the three centuries during which the seminary maintained its original location , between the actual church of Saint Francis and the Hospital of Saint Tecla, the library received important bibliographical collections such as those of archbishop Antoni Agustin or Francisco Armanya and also the library of the extinct Company of Jesus. In 1886 library was transferred to the new Seminary constructed by archbishop Vilamitjana. The collections continued to grow with donations such as the personal library of Mn Ramon Muntanyola or the fourteen thousand volumes of the Circulating Library of Antonio Agustin. In the middle of the sixties of the 20th century the library was slowly abandoned, until in 2007 by the initiative of Archbishop Jaume Pujol, the library of the Seminary initiated a project of modernisation and was opened to the city.

Minor Seminary

From the 2011 – 2012 course the minor seminary of Tarragona was re-opened as a centre for formation and for vocational discernment by the archbishopric of Tarragona for those youngsters of minor age who felt the call of a presbyterial vocation. With various proposals for adolescents who heard the call, and who were offered a place were they could work from Monday to Friday  by age on the studies ESO and BAT, vinculated with the diocesan college of Saint Paul and with a teaching  accompaniment, spiritual and human in co-ordination with the family. The minor Seminary together with the parish converts into a community for reference.

Superior Institute for Religious Sciences

The Superior Institute for Religious Sciences “Saint Fructuosus” is the academic institution of the archdiocese of Tarragona which offers superior theological studies in Religious Sciences (Bachillerato and Licenciatura), which are recognised both by civil and ecclesiastical institutions. The Institute was opened in May 1996 and refounded in June 2010 by the Holy See. The SIRS Saint Fructuosus if linked to the Faculty of Theology of Cataluña (Barcelona). Sited in the Pontificial Seminary of Tarragona, the SIRS recovers the tradition of theological studies at university level and was initiated in the 16th century with  the Universitas Tarraconensis by cardinal Gaspar Cervantes de Gaeta, and continued in the 19th century with the PontificialUniversity at Tarragona. The Superior Institute “Saint Fructuosus” was born from the transformation of the Theological Institute of the Archbishopric of Tarragona, in 1977.

Headquarters of the pastoral delegations of the archdiocese

Some of the pastoral activities of the Archbishopric of Tarragona carried on by delegations, among which are Pastoral of Youth , Catechism , Biblical Pastoral, teaching and seglar Apostolate, will house their headquarters in the Seminary. A centre for resources of catechism and pastorals will also be housed in the building to provide services for catechists and professors in the work of educative and formations proper to their work.

Priestly Residence Saint Fructuosus

The cardinal archbishop Benjamin de Arriba y Castro blessed and inaugurated the priestly residence on 16th November 1967, situated in the Joan Maragall street in the city of Tarragona. The organisation of the new residence was attended to by the Religiosas Seglares operarias de la Cruz. On 21st January 1997, Dr Ramon Torrella I Cascante inaugurated the new priestly residence which occupies two floors in the right wing of the Pontificial Seminary at Tarragona. The running of the house is by the Misioneras Carmelitas Teresianas who traditionally had been responsible for the organisation of the Seminary.

The Roman wall

The history

In the high area of the centre of Tarragona in the zone occupied by the Seminary, in antiquity was part of the fortified enclosure of Tarraco. The roman city was founded in 218.B.C., it had a wall which was erected about 200.B.C., and it forms the largest and most ancient roman monument in the Iberian Peninsula. The wall was constructed in various phases during the 2nd century A.D. The towers such as the Cabiscol, also called of the Seminary, belongs to the first phase and the length of the wall according to typology are attributed to a later period. The wall is a construction which is 12 metres high and between 4 and 7 metres wide. Originally the filling was of irregular stones in the lower part and turfs in the superior part.


Actually six small gates are conserved, known as cyclopean gateways. One of these gateways, known popularly as the Seminary gateway, below this runs a tunnel which communicates the building with its extramural patios.

Integration with the seminary

In the space occupied by the seminary are conserved some 150 metres of roman wall. The monument is conserved in an uneven form and has suffered repairs and reforms in various periods of history. The length of the wall which corresponds to the cloister of Saint Paul is mainly roman with little restoration on the exterior face. The Cabiscol tower is mainly roman and was only reconstructed on its principal face were their existed a balcony opening. The length of the wall  which corresponds to the area of the library conserves its megalithic foundations to a considerable height but their exists an area which was restored in 1913 project of the architect Ramon Salas i Ricoma.