Montserrat Monastery (Monasterio de Montserrat) near Barcelona
By Michael Smallet
Montserrat is a mountain range in northern Spain, in the heart of Catalonia, near Barcelona. The mountains are extremely beautiful, whimsical stone shapes at times resembling castles made of wet sand or huge statues that inspire you both with fascination and horror. A Benedictine monastery is situated in the mountains, which can be accessed by foot from the valley of the Llobregat river through a mountain trail. This place has been attracting pilgrims and tourists since long ago, and in 1892 a rope way was built from the town Monistrol de Montserrat to the Monastery. It was later replaced by a cable car, but the old funicular still carries travelers from the monastery to the top of the Santa Magdalena Mount, from where a trail leads you to the hermitage of St. Jeroni.
The Monastery of Montserrat was founded in 1025 by abbot Oliba of Ripoll and Cuxa. The first small Catholic churches and chapels appeared here even earlier, in the 9th century. Then the land was conquered by Muslim Saracens as they were called. Abbot Oliba apparently led the construction of the monastery, he was a famous architect and had a great influence on the development of Catalan architecture, introducing elements of the Lombard style. In particular, under his leadership the monastery of St. Michelle de Cuxa was expanded and rebuilt. The Montserrat has seen many renovations, it was once destroyed by the Napoleon's army and then re-built again. The last renovation dates to early 20th century. Currently the convent accommodates about 100 Benedictine monks. There is also a hotel for pilgrims.
The monastery houses a statue of Black Madonna (La Moreneta), the sacred object of pilgrimage. According to legend, the statue was carved by St. Luke and then moved to Spain by St. Peter. In 718, the statue was hidden in the mountains of Montserrat from the infidels, Saracens, and then was lost. In 890 La Moreneta was miraculously discovered by shepherds in a cave where they saw mysterious glow and heard angelic singing. At this place a chapel was built and the cave was named Santa Cova.
The statue, currently housed in a monastery dates from the 12th century. There are various theories explaining the strange black color of the Madonna and the child, but none of them is sufficiently substantiated. It is likely that the statue was darkened by the soot from so many candles which were lit around it for days and nights over centuries.
Black Madonna was the pilgrimage destination for so many historical personalities, including St. Ignatius Loyola, who hung weapons at her altar and embarked on the path of religious asceticism. In 1881 the statue was canonized by Pope Leo 13th and declared as the patron saint of Catalonia. It is believed that the Black Madonna can help women find the happiness of motherhood, that is why there are so many women and young couples visiting this monastery.
The gallery of the monastery contains a small yet rich collection of classical (El Greco, Caravaggio, Morales) and modern (Degas, Picasso, Dali) paintings.
The extensive library of the monastery was almost completely destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. Currently, the library contains over 400 original manuscripts, including Egyptian papyri, rare medieval manuscripts, as well as the famous collection of hymns Libre Vermille (Red Book), compiled by monks of the monastery in the 14th century to be sung by pilgrims during the night vigils.
In the church of Santa Maria de Montserrat degli Spagnolo two of the Pope Borgia family were buried: Callistus III (1455-1458) and Alexander The 6th (1492-1503).
Hours: From June 21 to December 20, daily: 7:00 - 20:30. From December 21 to June 20, daily: 7:00 - 19:30. Admission is free.
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