How this church sheltered 800 terrified people during Barcelona attack

Wikimedia CommonsThe Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, in Barcelona

More than 800 people found shelter in a church during the terrorist attack in Barcelona, it has emerged.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported that terrified bystanders fled to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, situated in the historic centre of Barcelona, next to one of the streets exiting Las Ramblas, the popular tourist area where a van ploughed into a crowd on 17 August, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

The basilica's archivist, Jordi Sacasas, told CNA that he was with the gothic church sacristan and several other people in the basilica archives when the attack took place, and that from the balcony of the archives, they could see people stampeding.

He said: 'When we saw this, we went down to the church doors and brought in those fleeing. Police orders were for people to take shelter, and as the basilica has a large entrance, we could offer shelter to a lot of people.'

Once the doors were closed, staff at the basilica worked to calm the masses, explained Sacasas. 'We were providing information in French, English and Italian over the church's sound system, since the majority of the people were tourists and we had a person who could speak several languages...We were providing information that the regional government and the police were sending us, so there would be clear information.'

During the three-hour 'lock-down' at the church, local businesses also showed their solidarity with those taking refuge, offering food and drink before the police allowed people to leave the area.

'One bakery almost emptied its shelves bringing us bread, sandwiches. A cafe brought us water. What was impressive and so moving was the solidarity of people in such dramatic moments,' said Sacasas.

He also described how employees of the church worked to help those who were caught up in the stampede.

'We cared for the injured who were hurt as they fled, especially the older people, because the emergency services were overwhelmed with more serious injuries,' Sacasas said.

According to CNA, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, which was built in the 14th century, has a long history of welcoming those in need, and has previously opened its doors to immigrants, offering them the use of its facilities.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on 17 August. Police this week shot and killed the suspected driver of the van, while also arresting several other individuals believed to be involved in a possible local terror ring.

One of those arrested reportedly said that a larger plot had involved the bombing of several major monuments, including the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica.