Montserrat Monastery

Montserrat is an easy day trip from Barcelona.  I purchased an all-inclusive travel ticket from the Information station in Cataluyna Plaza.  This was for the hour train ride to the cable car that took me up the 2,400 ft to where the monastery is located.  If you are not into heights, there is also a train that takes you up the mountain.  Once at the monastery, there are two funiculars that are also included with the ticket I purchased.  The cost was $30.00.

I went the day after I got to Barcelona because, according to the weather, it was suppose to be sunny and the rest of the week cloudy.  Well, it was cloudy on the day I went and sunny on the other days.  Honestly, with Doppler Radar used to predict the weather and they still don’t get it right!

The train ride took us through various towns with ancient old churches and buildings that gives each one a special characteristic.  The cable car ride gave a nice view of the valley and the rounded peaks of the Monserrat Mountains (Serrated Mountain).  The little yellow dot in the picture is the cable car!  Once the cable car arrives, it is a short walk up to the monastery.  My first stop was at the information booth to get a map, audio guide and tickets to the museum and the audiovisual center that provided some history.

Montserrat’s has a rich history.  900 AD is the first record of hermit monks building huts on the mountain. The monastery followed in 1025!  Shortly after, the Escolania, a choir school for boys, one of the oldest in Europe today, was established.  The most revered statue at the monastery is that of “La Moreneta” (the little dark-skinned one).  It is a black Madonna and baby Jesus and is believed to have been carved by St. Luke in 50 AD and brought to Spain.  To protect it from invading Moors, it was hidden in a cave (Santa Cova, Holy Cave).  In 880 AD, it was found by shepherds who saw a light coming from the cave and heavenly music.  Frighten, they ran and told the Bishop what they had seen and heard.  The Bishop encouraged them to follow the light and music, which they did and  discovered the cave and the Madonna statue.  The Bishop than suggested that the statue should be moved to nearby Manresa.  However, when they went to lift the small statue, it proved to be too heavy to lift.  They felt that this was the Virgin Mary making her will be known that she wanted to stay on the mountain.  This is the chapel that was built in from 1696 – 1705 and has been damaged on various occasions during the Napoleonic War and by natural causes of fire and floods.  As recently in 1994, the chapel was damaged by a forest fire and then flooded.  It was repaired and reopened to pilgrims in 1997.

The inside is charming and simple with a replica of the statue in the place that the original was found. I am assuming that this is a replica giving the history of damage to the chapel.  In the main Basilica of the monastery, there is another statue that many pilgrims and tourist visit each year to pay their respect and to touch the orb that she is holding.  I read that this statue was made in the 12th century.  I have tried in vain to discover what happened to the original statue carved by St Luke.  So, this is the interior of the chapel and the statue is located just above the altar on the right hand side.

Off to the side of the chapel is a separate room where people have left gifts of thanks or for request of the Virgin.  I am discovering that this is common throughout the world.  People ask God or the Virgin for help with whatever their issue is.  Then, in thanks, they leave photos of a healed child, small gifts which they have made in thanks or a note saying thank you.

The Holy Cave is not on the immediate grounds of the monastery.  You have to take one of the funiculars part-way down the mountain and then walk about 20 minutes along a path that has a Monumental Rosary with 15 episodes of the lives of Mary and Jesus marked by a statue.  The walk, also, affords amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valley below.

There are 30 monks who live at Montserrat.  They have a very structured and disciplined schedule from daily prayers, to work and study time, meals and recreational time. There are 50 young choir boys between the ages of 10 and 14 who live at the monastery and get both music and academic schooling.  Each day, they sing the Salve and Virolai at the end of vespers, along with the monks.  This is shortly after 1:00.  I was in the church at 1:00 but had just viewed the Virgin statue and was in the prayer chapel behind the choir stall.  I was able to hear the angelic music but couldn’t actually see them.  It was fine as the prayer chapel was an intimate setting surrounded by large stain glass windows.  The room was blanketed with rainbows of colors like you would see when a crystal prism is reflecting sunlight.  With the music and the colors in this small room, it was a divine place to listen to the choir boys.

As I mentioned earlier, the Black Madonna and child statue is now housed in the main Cathedral of the monastery.  It was dedicated in 1592.  During the Napoleon Wars (1808-1814) the church suffered severe damage.  It was restored at the end of the 1800s.  As you can see from the picture, it is an impressive sight!  I took this picture standing above the altar where the Black Madona (La Moreneta) is located.

To get to view La Moreneta, I passed through various chapels, each decorated with statues or paintings of different saints.  The walls and ceiling along the stairway to and in the “throne room” were decorated with beautiful mosaics of bible stories with a gilded background.  It was almost overpowering for the special statue it held.  

This is the revered statue of La Moreneta.  I read that originally the statue was lighter but over the centuries it darken due to being exposed to candle smoke, humidity and just the natural aging process.  Once you are in front of her, you can touch the orb, which is the only part of the statue that isn’t protected by a glass case.  Some people touch the orb with their left hand and point towards heaven with their right hand to show that they have faith in God.

Once outside of the church, you walk along the Ave Maria Way where there are hundreds of votive candles lit by the devoted.  It is really a peaceful setting that allows a time of reflection as you walk to the plaza in front of the church.

Along with the Basilica, Library, monk’s apartments and the school, there is a museum.  It houses ecclesiastical artifacts, a small Egyptian section and a variety of paintings.  They had artwork by El Greco, Caravaggio, Monet, Renoir and Degas to name a few familiar artist.  They had two early paintings by Picasso.  The Old Fisherman he painted when he was only 13 years old and The Altar Boy he painted a year later.  I don’t remember seeing any of Picasso’s art from when he was very young.  I didn’t realize that he started painting at such a young age and did such traditional paintings.  I have always associated Picasso with his cubist period, rose or blue period.  I was amazed by this painting.  To think it was done by a 13 year old.  This gave me a whole new appreciation for Picasso’s gift as an artist….more than I have actually had in the past!

While visiting this museum, I was introduced to Catalan artist.  There were several who I really liked.  Ramon Marti Alsina is believed to be the best realist painter from the Catalan art world.  I enjoyed his landscape themed work, especially one of a snowy street scene that appeared to be Paris.
Other Catalan artist who caught my eye were:  Joaquim Vayreda, he had a landscape of a full moon that I really enjoyed; Joan Soler’s seascapes of Barcelona; Ramon Casas’ Barcelona Nun was one that stood out for me; Joaquim Mir’s impressionist paintings and finally, the order and simplicity of the painters Joaquim Garcia, Joaquim Sunyer and Xavier Nogues.

There are several hiking trails throughout the monastery area.  There is the Way of the Cross that is a usually a set of statues depicting Christ’s route to his crucifixion.  Often, people will walk from one station to the next saying prayers or the rosary.  The Way of the Cross was erected between 1904 and 1919 only to be destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.  It was restored in the 1950s.
There is another funicular that takes you to the very top of the mountain range and there are paths all around that area as well.  Unfortunately, I just didn’t have enough time to ride up there.  It was a long day of walking and standing…even with the train rides, cable car and funicular, I still managed to walk close to 10 miles!

Throughout the grounds there are many statues and monuments.  One of my favorite is a relatively new installation.  It was done in 1976 by Josep Subirach.  It is called Stairway to Understanding.  He was inspired by Ramon Llull, a Majorcan philosopher, mystic and missionary.  Each step represents stone, flame, plant, beast, men, angel and God.

I left on the last cable car down the mountain at 5:45.  It was getting dark and it certainly felt good to sit on the train for awhile to give my legs and feet a rest.  It was a beautiful and spiritual place!

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