Flashback Friday: Monserrat Abbey

The mountain Montserrat is a mountain in Catalonia, Spain about 50 km northwest of Barcelona. Montserrat meaning "sawed mountain", attracts many visitors including Catholic pilgrims, walkers and rock-climbers. It is home to the famous Monserrat Abbey and Monastery. Visitors can choose to travel from Barcelona by train (FGC line R5), drive, or take one of the many day excursions available. Visitors can choose a cable car from Aeri de Monstserrat station or a cogwheel train from Monistrol de Monserrat station to reach the top. There is a parking lot at the top for drivers who would rather forgo the train/cable car. The day tour I was on took the cogwheel train up but boarded a bus in the parking lot for our return.

Once at the top, visitors will be immediately struck by the "giants" guarding the town and monastery. Hikers and nature lovers will be eager to explore well-developed and signposted mid-level trails through the Nature Park, several of which wind around abandoned hermitages. All the trails will treat hikers to stunning views of Catalonia. Don't forget to take appropriate footwear.

Trails lead right from this area or visitors can take a funicular station up to the trails over the town (Sant Joan line) or down the mountain to the Black Madonna cave and a small chapel (Santa Cove line).

The unique topography of Montserrat Mountain has been religiously significant from the Roman times when a temple was built here to worship Venus. The first Christians were cave-dwelling hermit monks who later created the first monastery.

Visitors to the monastery are funnelled along a route which passes the cloister and this statue of Saint George, a second patron saint of Monserrat. The eyes appear to follow visitors moving past.

The current monastery was built in the 16th century. It was severely damaged in 1811 by Napoleon's troops but rebuilt. Later, it became the emblem of Catalonian resistance to notorious authoritarian Francisco Franco. Services were conducted in Catalan and persecuted resisters were protected, costing the lives of more than 20 monks. Today there are about eighty monks residing at the Benedictine monastery.

Many of the tourists come just for the statue of the Black Madonna, patron saint of Catalonia, seen above the high altar in the monastery's basilica. Legend states that the original hermit monks were drawn to a light in a cave where they found the icon. Miracles are attributed to the Black Madonna and many devout Catholics make a pilgrimage to seek her blessing.

As an honour to the Madonna, every day 50 boys of the Escolania de Montserrat of the monastery's boarding school perform. This is a well-regarded boys choir (10 -14 years old) with an extensive list of recordings.

The Monastery Museum includes works by Dali, Monet and El Greco as well as archaeological and religious exhibits. Budget traveller tip: there is an inexpensive restaurant in the lower part of the monastery area.

I enjoyed the beauty of the monastery and the lavish ornamentation. I enjoyed learning about the centuries of quiet determination by the monks to protect the mountain, monastery, and the Catalan people. However, as a self-confessed rock nerd, my favourite part of visiting the mountain was the stunning scenery and unique geography.



 

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