The remote monastery of Montserrat itself is imposing — sharply-drawn brown brick looms somberly over the grounds, resembling nothing so much as a venerable university or hospital. But the cliffs of the mountains behind the monastery are incredible. Rounded by time, they jut sharply and challengingly up out of the earth, the corners and cracks filled with greenery and rubble. It’s easy to seeh why the Benedictines chose to put their monastery here; one can do nothing but believe in God when looking on the mountains.
Montserrat is a hugely popular day trip for those living in or visiting Barcelona, and once you arrive at this ancient monastery, you’ll see why. You should bring your camera and plenty of film or digital memory space; you will certainly want to take photos of this beautiful place home with you.
History of Montserrat
Montserrat is a monastery named for the mountains behind it, and is located about 40 kilometers to the northwest of Barcelona. The serrated outline of the steep cliffs resemble the teeth of a saw, and Montserrat means “saw-toothed mountain.” Today, Montserrat is the religious center of Catalonia, and the home of the Morenita, or the Black Virgin, patron saint of Catalonia. The sanctuary is 720 meters high, near a half-mile.
The Monastery of Montserrat was built as far back as 700 AD, before the Moors conquered Spain. Visitors and pilgrims have come here to stay since 1025 AD.
The Morenita was said to appear in a cave in the mountain sometime earlier than 1025, when the most recent monastery building was built by Abbott Oliba and became a point of pilgrimage. Prior to this monastery, there was a chapel here dedicated to the Mother of God. In the 12th century, the current Romanesque church was built, and in the next century the first European school for child singers for the Church was established.
When the monk Bernat Boil voyaged to the New World with Christopher Columbus, he brought the veneration of the Morenita, the Black Virgin, to South America, where she is still adored. Later, Columbus brought some of the Native Americans who had converted to Christianity back with him to venerate her at her own shrine.
Today, you can see the shrine of the Black Virgin, where the image of the Virgin extends her hand outside the glass so that you can touch her. The basilica is decorated in rich gold leaf, and shrines of other saints are everywhere.
You can get to Montserrat via train, bus, or car. In the warm months, it is recommended that you stop at the Montserrat Aeri train station to take a cable car up to the monastery; the cable car is closed during the winter for maintenance (a bus is also available for the trip up).
Though you’ll pay for the cable car and for any train tickets, admission to the church is free. Donations are welcomed. A Trans Montserrat ticket, available at tourist offices, will save you money if you want to make your trip to Montserrat an all-day event. The Tot Montserrat ticket will also give you admission to the museums and lunch at the restaurant on top of the mountain.
Funiculars will take you up to the summit of the mountain and to the Holy Cave of the Black Virgin. If you want to hike some of the trails up here, get here early; the Holy Cave closes fairly early and the cable cars quit running at the same time.
It’s not recommended that you spend the night near Montserrat unless you have special arrangements of some sort; the village below isn’t particularly exciting and has no really acceptable accommodations. Instead, make Montserrat a full-day trip.