Montserrat - worship like the Catalonians
Coordinates / 41.59333,1.83806
Country / Spain
Region / Catalonia
Population / 7 512 381
Montserrat is a major European Catholic Centre, one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries and a National park (since 1987). Despite being 50 km away from the sandy beaches of Barcelona which are favoured by tourists, the monastery complex attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors from all over the world daily.
Those who love nature, hiking and rock climbing will find an unique mountain range and scenic hiking trails. Those that wish to, will have an opportunity to touch the black wooden statue of the "Virgin Montserrat" praying to her and asking for her blessing. Lovers of art and architecture will appreciate both the construction of the monastery as well as the wide range of paintings by prominent artists. In short, every visitor will find in this diamond the facet of their own preference.
Meanwhile, we will give a brief description of Montserrat and provide clear instructions on how to conquer the tricky Barcelona underground transport system to get easily to the top of Montserrat mountain, where the eponymous monastery complex is located.
Historical encyclopaedias show that the first hermits on the mountain of Montserrat appeared in the 7th century, giving rise to a pilgrimage to its summit.
In 888, the Count of Barcelona gave the monastery de Ripoll the local land, where the churches of "Saint Iscle and Maria" and "Saint Pere and Marti" already existed.
In 942, Abbot Cesari and a group of monks joined the current parish, where they built the church of Santa Cecilia for their own services.
By 1025, Abbot Oliba de Ripoll built the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat on the mountain.
In 1409, the monastery received the status of "abbey", and a hundred years later, there came the so-called "Baroque period" - a time of reforms, development of culture, active construction and the printing of the incunabula (the first printed books).
However, a chain of tragic events followed after the war of independence, when in 1811, Napoleon's troops ravaged and set fire to the monastery, finally in 1835 the confiscation slowed the pace of development of the spiritual catholic center of the Montserrat.
In 1881, the fortune of the monastery began to turn, with the coronation of "The Virgin of Montserrat", who was declared the patron Saint of Catalonia, her crown can be seen in the museum of the monastery. The 20th century was marked by the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II, which took place in November 7, 1982. Nowadays, the monastery is preparing to celebrate the millennium of its foundation in 2025.
The geographical features of the area:
The jagged mountain of Montserrat, "10 km long and 5 km wide", has obtained its characteristic smooth appearance thanks to erosion, which caused by the wind and rain, in additionally the clefts which already exist in its rocks contribute to the formation of fantastic natural sculptures, including numerous caves and potholes.
It’s highest point is the top of St. Jerome (1236m. or 4044ft.)
Choosing to a walk along the mountain paths of Montserrat, tourists can examine more closely the unusual forms of the rock monoliths with colourful names such as "Elephant’s trunk", "Wall of needles", "Phrygian cup", "Bishop belly", etc.
Among the vegetation such as rosemary and thyme in this part of Catalonia, there are also the stone oaks which dominate, creating life saving shade. Animals such as the Bonelli’s eagle and Spanish goats are found in the National Park of Montserrat.
The monastery infrastructure:
The infrastructure of the monastery is comfortable and considered in detail. The temple complex is a series of buildings, which are located around the square on the top of the mountain of Montserrat. Newcomers alight from the cog railway cab (cremallera) at the last station and are faced with the building of the "Godmother", where one can find an information desk. Rent audio guides with headphones, buy souvenirs, as well as visit the audiovisual exhibition "Inside Montserrat". The cells of Abbot Oliba and Abbot Morset are kind of hotels where any one can stop for a night. These cells were visited by such prominent people as: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, King Juan of Aragon , Charles I, Antoni Gaudi and many others.
Heading toward the central square, visitors will pass through the gate of the old fortress wall, where a coat of arms hangs under the entrance, it has the image of the Montserrat mountains and a saw on it, eloquently symbolising the name of this area - "the jagged mountains". A short distance through the arch takes visitors to the central square, which is also the roof of the Museum of Montserrat. This museum contains unique Archeological artefacts from Egypt and Mesopotamia and rare paintings by artists such as the Rusiniol, Picasso and Dali. The Abbot Cisneros Hotel is located right on the square, it was built here in the 16th century for the reception of pilgrims, previously its dining hall served as stables. Numerous photos of the Montserrat monastery are taken in this square because of the chain of bizarre rocks which picturesquely overhang the facade of the monastery. There is also a viewing platform with arches on which are carved statues of saints (the founders of religious orders associated with this place), with a spectacular vista.
The building of the temple is attractive not only for its facade, but also the interior decoration, which is adorned with all kinds of paintings, statues, wall graphics, murals and mosaics. It includes such components as the baptistery, bell tower and Basilica, the architecture being a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
The Basilica facade is decorated with statues of the Twelve Apostles, inside it has a niche and a chapel dedicated to "Santa Maria de Montserrat". The main altar is carved out if a monolithic stone weighing 8 tonnes. The ring, a canopy depicting the Creation of the World and an elegant ivory altar crucifix, made by Italian artisans. A pipe organ famous for being the largest in Catalonia and one of the largest in Europe. Stained glass windows with the image of "The Virgin Mary" and her life. Paintings and chapels.
Perhaps the most attractive is the Chapel of "The Black Madonna". To get inside the Chapel one needs to wait in a long queue (depending on the season), while in the queue one can admire the delightful decorations of the stairs, the front of the hall, silver doors with the image of the Archangel Gabriel and St. Joseph. At the end of the queue, visitors will see the silver throne and the wooden sculpture of the Godmother with a baby on her knees and a ball in one hand, symbolising the universe. Believers have the opportunity to touch her right hand. There are lots of legends among Christians that the figure of "The Black Madonna" is endowed with a special divine power, so it is common that visitors take their personal requests and young couples ask for blessings for a long and happy life together by praying and touching the hand of "The Black Madonna".
The wooden statue of the "The Black Madonna" is very carefully preserved by the monks and considered to be one of the most important relics of the monastery. According to legend, the statue was found by shepherds nearby in a cave. The chapel was built on this site. Nowadays it is reached by a cable car "Santa Cova".
The exit from the Basilica is via the "Ave Maria Path", where church candles continuously burn in the carved rock niches with its special atmosphere being permeated by prays.
Apart from the monastery, there are cafes and restaurants, as well as a small market place, where merchants offer cheese, ham, sweets and other local delicacies. Additionally, there are several hiking trails that lead to the mountains from the monastery. Each route should take an average of 2 hours.
The Barcelona metro is connected with the intercity rail service, which is very convenient. However, sometimes confusion can occur because some mixed stations are connected by underpasses, whereas others have separate entrances where it is necessary to leave the underground network and look for the entrances to the stations on the surface. There are signs that indicate the type of transport with lists of connecting services at the subway entrance. Confusingly signs being «Metro» and «FGS», both are the underground network. The underground carriages are market with the letter "L" and numbers and colours depending on the line.
The inter city railway connection is market with a «renfe» icon. Railway trains are market with the letters "R" and "S", as well as numbers and colours of the relevant routes.
A visitor who is trying to get to the mountain of Montserrat and is travelling by subway, will need to get to the Plaza de Espana station and then exit the underground to the surface.
In the center of the Plaza de Espana (Spain square), on the roadway there is a safety island with a motorcycle and bicycle parking area, nearby there is almost invisible glass lift with the «renfe» and «Montserrat» signs, as well access via a staircase with appropriate indication.
In the underground, there are signs on the platform «to Montserrat», ticket vending machines and English speaking staff, who are always ready to help with the purchasing of tickets, but be on the alert and be aware that pickpockets operate in this area.
Every day, starting at 8:36 a.m., and then hourly the inter city «R5» train leaves from the Plaza de Espana and travels to the foot of Montserrat. There are two types of transport to the mount of Montserrat. The first is a cable car, to get to it one needs to hop-off at the Aeri de Montserrat station and go to the cabin funicular. The second is a cog railway, to get to its cabin, one needs to go one more stop and get off at Monistrol de Montserrat.
The Cog railway has two stops, one is Montserrat Vila and the second is Montserrat monastery.
At the Plaza de Espana rail station one can buy tickets for the entire journey, including the journey to the mountain, and even some forms of entertainment in the monastery.
Do not get confused by the names of the railway stations, since it has several variations of Montserrat on the line, disembark at the above mentioned stations.
There are several types of ticket:
Trans Montserrat (round trip) - includes railway fares, travel by cog railway «Cremallera», cable cars, free access to the audio-visual room.
Price (2016): 29.50 EUR
Tot Montserrat (round trip) - includes the metro, the railway, the cog railway «Cremallera», cable cars, free access to the audio-visual room, a ticket to the museum and lunch at the self-service restaurant.
Price (2016): 46,95 EUR
Montserrat express (round trip) - a special train that goes to the monastery once a day at 8:55 a.m., includes travel by train and cog railway, as well as a backpack equipped with MP3 audio guide, a guide book, a box of local cakes, an invitation to liqueur tasting and discount coupons.
Price (2016): 35,95 EUR
The combination (one way): Train + cog railway «Crimallera»
Price (2016): 10,80 EUR
The combination (one way): Train+ funicular
Price (2016): 11,40 EUR
What to see in Montserrat:
When going to the monastery of Montserrat, plan your visit before Mass, which takes place at 1:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday and at 12:00 a.m. on Sundays. The world-famous children’s choir is involved in the Mass. The "boys’ choir" consists of 40 young singers, aged from eight to fourteen. Every evening, from Sunday to Thursday, the chorus takes place during the evening prayers which begin at 6:45p.m.
We decided to finish our virtual tour with a few easily recognisable paintings from the collection of the Museum of Montserrat. Have a pleasant viewing.