The Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat (Sacred Mountain) was founded in the 11th Century and currently has 80 monks in residence dedicated to a life of prayer, work and welcoming pilgrims and visitors. Montserrat is also home to the Escolans – the oldest boys’ choir in Europe. (Those on our tour that attended the Mass were thrilled that the choir was performing that day.)
It took about an hour to reach the monastery; which is located on a 6-mile long, 3-mile wide, 4,050-foot high ridge. On a natural platform 2,380 feet above sea level, after many tight switchback turns on a narrow mountain road, you reach the complex. Montserrat is a very holy place in the Roman Catholic faith and 3,000,000 million people come annually to see the Black Madonna – the Patron Virgin of Catalonia – which is housed behind glass in a small room looking down on the altar in the basilica. Our guide led us immediately to the basilica entrance and told us that anyone who wished to see the Black Madonna would need to get into the line right away. We were to spend two hours at the monastery and it would likely take much of that time to get through the line and see the icon. The view was pretty impressive!
The white line up the mountainside behind the building on the right is a 700′ funicular cable car that goes to the top of the mountain. There is also a line that goes down to the nearest village. We are not Catholic so we did not plan on visiting the Madonna. We took the tour to see the monastery and the countryside. We did not even enter the church proper as there was a service being held for the Anniversary of the Legend of the Black Madonna. The whole of Montserrat is built around facilitating the worship of the Black Madonna in the Basilica. The Black Madonna was believed to have been carved in Jerusalem at the beginning of the religion. It is a wooden sculpture. It is one of the most famous Black Madonna statues in the world and in 1844 Pope Leo XIII declared the Virgin of Montserrat the patroness of Catalonia. Black Madonnas can be found all over the world, (The Madonna is black not because it depicts a black African Madonna, nor because of the type of wood the statue is carved from. It is known from historical descriptions that she has simply darkened over time.)
The image of the Madonna in her ‘throne room’ is taken from a website. The other, close-up image and the inside of the Bascilica are photos I took of postcards I bought. After we took a brief look at around the church square and surrounding buildings we went to the cable car ticket office and bought tickets. The tram runs every 20 minutes so we wanted to get to the top as quickly as we could to have plenty of time to wander around. There are paths and trails all over at the top and many people come here just for the hiking. All of the rocks were wind-weathered into very smooth rounded shapes.
When we finished wandering we headed back to the tram station, but we just missed the next one going down. We knew we would be okay for time because our tour guide was there and rode the next tram down with us. We relaxed on the hour-long drive back to Barcelona. Back on the ship we had a bite to eat then caught the shuttle to town and walked three-quarters of the way up Las Ramblas.