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Monastery of Montserrat
Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey and basilica located in the Montserrat mountain, which is called Monistrol de Monstserrat. The site is located 38 km from Barcelona. From afar, the mountain looks very strange because of its rock formations. The monastery started as the Hermitage of Santa Maria, the Mother of Christ, in 1025. Very soon there were stories of miracles worked by St. Mary the Virgin of Montserrat, and pilgrimages started to the site. A bigger Romanesque chapel was built to be able to receive more pilgrims. It became one of the best known shrines in the Christian world and the most prestigious shrine in Catalonia. In the Napoleonic wars of 1811 and 1812, the French destroyed most of the abbey, but the statue of Our Lady was saved because it was hidden somewhere in the mountain.
The rebuilding of the abbey started slowly after the Napoleonic wars and has continued to the present. Today the mountain of Montserrat is a place of worship to God and a place where many pilgrims go, and is the most famous religious site in Catalonia. For people of other religions, it is said that the mountain is a source of great energy, one of the best in Europe, and people flock to it for the experience.
The statue of the Virgin is called “La Moreneta” because of the black color of her face. The statue is a wooden Romanesque statue from the end of the 12th century. The varnish on the statue has oxidized and because of the effect of candle smoke and the smoke of lamps, the appearance is now black. The Virgin has a crown of diadems and has a ball in her hand. On her lap is a statue of Jesus Christ. He also has a crown and His hand is making a sign of blessing, while the other hand is holding a pine cone. Many women in Spain are named Monstserrat and she is revered all over the world. One of the men who accompanied Columbus in the New World was a former monk from Montserrat and he started her veneration in the Americas.
In 2003 they opened the new funicular railroad, which goes to the monastery from a station way below. We took this railroad in a modern railcar and the ride takes about 20 minutes, with spectacular scenes along the way. They call this the “tren de cremallera”.
When one goes to the basilica, one sees a beautifully designed atrium floor, which was designed by Father Benet Martinez. There is a medallion in the center and there is an inscription around it with a message that only those baptized and born in the water like fish can understand the meaning of the fish of the Eucharist. People of many faiths and children like to balance themselves on one foot on this atrium floor, as it is a custom from way back.
The basilica has a neo-Plateresque design and was built in 1900. When one enters the basilica, one can see that way on top of the main altar is the statue of the Virgin and child, La Moreneta. The basilica’s style is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance. To see it close up, one has to go through the portico on the right side of the basilica. This portico has beautiful designs in sgraffiti. There is usually a long line of pilgrims who want to see La Moreneta. One has to go through the Angel Door, which has designs of many angel musicians adorning it. Then one goes up many steps until one reaches the Shrine of the Virgin and Child and sees La Moreneta. The ceiling above the statue has beautiful mosaics designed by Josep Obiols and were produced by Santiago Padros in 1947. Everywhere one sees beautiful designs contributed by Catalan and other artists.
After seeing the basilica, one can go and see the museum, which surprises you with its quality and quantity. The museum is in a building across from the basilica and it is built underground, comprising of two stories. This was built by the architect Josep Puig I Cadafalch in 1929. There are many works of art donated by rich Catalans. There are archeology pieces from the Bible lands, gold and silver work from the 15th -20th centuries, and beautiful paintings from masters such as Caravaggio, El Greco, Sisley, Dali, and many Catalan artists from the early 20th century. There are also many paintings done by many artists with the subject of Saint Mary of Montserrat. This museum is among one of the best private museums in Spain.
The Hotel Abat Cisneros is a hotel is where many pilgrims stay and where one can have lunch. There is the Montserrat Boy’s Choir, which usually performs at noon. The boys who perform in the choir live in a separate part of the monastery and go to school there. There are about 80 monks who live in the monastery today.
The visit to Montserrat is very unforgettable and the views of the monastery and surrounding mountain are incredible. Really a very beautiful place.