This four part blog post series documents my second trip to Catalunya in August and September of 2016. This is the trip I started to really discover what the region is all about, or rather how it ebbs and flows. Read Part I on rediscovering the city of Barcelona and Part II on some Gaudí masterpieces.
About an hour outside downtown Barcelona is a beautiful mountain range in the countryside of Catalunya. The scenery is absolutely stunning and you could ponder these peaks forever, but of course these mountains are not alone and have not always been alone either. The mountain of Montserrat has been of religious significance since pre-Christian times, when the Romans built a temple to honour Venus.
Nestled in the mountains is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey. After visiting a monastery in Barcelona, I was excited to visit an even more grand one, and even more excited at the prospect of it being in an unusual location. On top of a mountain no less.
The monastery was founded in the 10th century and still functions to this day with over 150 monks. It is still Catalunya’s most important religious retreat and it has a long history as you can probably imagine.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Abbey burned down twice, as well as sacked by Napoleon’s troops. As is the consequence of wartime pillaging, many of the treasures of Montserrat are lost to history.
In 1880, Montserrat celebrated 1000 years of existence and on 11 September 1881, to coincide with the Catalan national day, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed the Virgin of Montserrat patron of Catalunya.
The monastery is extremely well known for housing Mare de Déu de Montserrat (the Virgin of Montserrat), one of Catalunya’s patron saint (the other being Sant Jordi). The famed image once bore the inscription “Negra Sum Sed Formosa” (Latin: I am Black, but Beautiful). Catalans call her La Moreneta (“the little dark-skinned one” or “the little dark one”).
Like many religious artefacts, La Moreneta has many myths and legends around her. Some believe she was carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the church. Another legend has to do with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian myth. So many stories! Many travellers make the pilgrimage up the mountain to visit the Virgin of Montserrat. They pray in front of the statue asking for certain wishes or miracles. And I don’t mean in the past, I mean very much today and tomorrow.
It was pretty amazing to see so much history, art, and architecture on top of this beautiful mountain range. So, you should experience it yourself! Take a train from Barcelona. After the train you can decide whether to take the Aeri cable car, a 5-minute ride (disembark at the “Aeri” stop) or the Cremallera (rack railway), a 15-minute ride (take the “Monistrol” stop, which is after the Aeri stop). Enjoy!
Up next is a road trip around Catalunya, visiting some pretty cute medieval towns. Click here to read more!