The decrees concerning hygiene put forth by
Carlos III in the eighteenth century forcing the elimination of the
old parochial cemeteries made it necessary to remove all of them
from the urban centers in which they had been established. It took
a long time to implement these decrees because of the obvious
practical difficulties inherent both in relocating a cemetery from
an urban area and establishing it in a more rural one. This dilemma
gave rise to the Cemetery of Olius.
Bernardí Martorell i Puig, the architect of the diocese of Solsona
(which covered the municipality of Olius), was charged in 1915 with
the task of complying with the governmental decrees. He had then
the confidence of the current bishop of Solsona, who was later named
Cardenal Francesc d’Assis Vidal i Barraquer.
Martorell i Puig - a disciple of
and thus heavily influenced by his style - was an architect of the
late Modernista (Catalan Art Nouveau) period, when this style was
being superseded by Noucentisme. In fact, in Barcelona, the capital
of the nation, during this time hardly a single Modernista building
had been designed, not even by its most enthusiastic architects.
But the force with which the Modernista movement had taken root all
over Catalunya, a force based in the powerful national convictions
of the Catalan people, ensured that this style had entered
profoundly into the collective imagination, as if it were a synonym
for national emancipation from Spain.
Martorell i Puig was also the nephew of another great Modernista
architect, Joan Martorell i Montells (1833-1906), who proposed Gaudí
as architect of the Sagrada Família.
With this background, it is no wonder Bernardí preferred the
Modernista style in which he had built several religious and lay
buildings. While the Modernista style may have been falling out of
fashion in Barcelona, the rest of the nation felt like the style was
their own and continued employing it as an architectonic and
artistic element in the realization of every possible kind of art.
This was certainly the case with the Cemetery of Olius. Some
documents about its construction have survived, such as Pere Melitó
Perarnau’s petition of February 2, 1916 asking the bishop for
permission to bless the new cemetery. Another document, from
October 1, 1916, details the cost of the project: 2,431 pesetas (now
about €14.61). It also documents the contributions various
townspeople made toward the cost of the cemetery, all donated in
proportion to their own ability to give.
The fact that residents of Olius have maintained the cemetery with
love and respect since its construction more than ninety years ago,
avoiding the introduction of foreign elements, has allowed its
primitive style and beauty to be preserved.
Bernardí Martorell i Puig
(1877-1937) was born in Barcelona, oddly enough on a street -
Passatge Bernat Martorell - bearing the name of one of his
ancestors, an illustrious politician and writer.
He completed his architectural training in 1902 and quickly finished
his first works in 1904: the Col·legi de les Teresianes in Vinebre
and Can Ferran in Arenys de Mar. Soon after, he took up his post as
diocesan architect not only in Solsona, but in Barcelona and
Tarragona as well. For Solsona, he took on projects for the
churches of Puigreig in 1917, of Figols de les Mines in 1919, and of
Mollerussa in 1928.
He had previously completed various projects for the churches of the
bishopric, in addition to work for the seminary council of Solsona
in 1918 and the church of Lladurs in 1921. Perhaps his most
important work in the bishopric is the Cemetery of Olius.
He is the author of
other religious buildings, such as the Convent of Valldonzella in
Barcelona (1916), the church and convent of Les Oblatas in
Bellesguard (1929), the church of St. Augustine of Sabadell (1932),
church of Els Escolapis of Sabadell (1924), the Col·legi de les
Teresianes in Tarragona (1926), the church of the Most Holy Redeemer
in Barcelona (1926), and the parochial church of Navàs (1931).
His outstanding lay buildings include: the Schools of Capellades and
the Cellar for the Cooperative of Cambrils (1921), Can Montal in
Arenys de Mar (1921), and the
house of Joaquim
Duran i Barraquer in Sitges
(1929). One very important work in Solsona is the Hotel Sant Roc,
which, although begun by the architect Ignasi Oms i Ponsà, was
continued and completed after his death by Bernardí Martorell.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) proved fatal for Martorell, as he
was imprisoned early on, probably owing to his religious convictions
and his work for the Catholic church. He died in 1937.
The cemetery occupies a space amongst
fallen, weathered rocks which has hardly been altered at all from
its natural state. Thus are combined a symbol of death - the fallen
rocks - and a symbol of life, the evergreen holm oak (alzina).
The alzina is a perennial tree typical of the Catalan
countryside. These elements - life and death - are always
symbolically present in a Christian cemetery.
The entrance is formed by a typical, Gaudí-esque parabolic arc of
great simplicity and elegance, found at the top of a wide staircase
of coarse stone. This gate is not an opening in the stone fence
common to all other Catalan cemeteries, but is an element
constructed between two enormous stones, which, along with other
natural elements, serves to enclose the grounds.
The interior space is relatively wide and of an irregular plan,
adapted to the terrain, where the tombs and mausoleums (for the most
part carved straight from the rocks) continue the ascent up the
mountain. A slender pile of small stones in a conical formation
catches the eye; it terminates in a typical, four-armed Gaudí-esque
cross at the highest point in the cemetery. At its base is the
tomb of the rectors of Olius, very simply constructed with a
circular star about one meter in diameter around which is declined
in Latin the word “death.”
The grounds, as mentioned above, are marked throughout not only with
mausoleums carved into the rock, but also with simple wrought-iron
crosses, all of which carry the name of the buried loved ones and
the date of their death as the only inscriptions. The most
imposing mausoleum consists of a simple chapel built of coarse stone
to the right of the cemetery entrance.
The Cemetery of Olius, integrated with nature and its surrounding
countryside, is a model of imagination, expression, liberty, and
fantasy - and a funerary expression of the Modernista style unique not
only to Catalunya, but also to anywhere else in the world.
with other funerary Art Nouveau-style works
interesting examples of Modernista tombs and mausoleums worth visiting can be
found through Catalunya: in Arenys, Barcelona, Canet de Mar,
Figueres, Lloret de Mar, and many other towns. However, as a group, the
Cemetery of Olius is unique.
The same can be said of other funerary monuments
in other countries - the Crematorium of la Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland, some
of the mausoleums in the cemeteries of Milan and Genoa in Italy, the
Cemetery of Comillas in Cantabria, Spain (a work by our,
Lluís Domènech i
Montaner), and many others in various European countries. There are also
examples in the Americas, such as the mausoleums in the cemetery of Havana in
Cuba, or in Brazil and Argentina. Generally, all of those spectacular examples
of Modernista design display a more aristocratic character when contrasted with
the simplicity and popular, rural spirit of Olius.