On his last day in Spain, Kongo visited the mountain of Montserrat and the Abbey of Santa Maria, the monastery that is home to the Catalan “Black Madonna.” This is a spectacular site located about 30 miles from downtown Barcelona. Private guide, Carmen, and driver Fernando provided the monkey and his bride a wonderful afternoon.
The mountain of Montserrat (serrat literally means “serrated” in Catalan) is over 4,000 feet high and the highest point in the Catalan area. It helps to create a wonderful climate for the hundreds of vineyards in the area. The monastery was likely first started early in the 9th century by hermit monks and was officially charted as a Benedictine Abbey in 1025. It is the home of the famous statue, the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the most famous of several so-called “Black Madonnas” in the world today. Legend has it that it was found in a cave by children playing in the mountains and has been known to perform various miracles. A small chapel marks the site where the statue was found.
The style of the Black Madonna is Romanesque and was likely made in the third or fourth century after the death of Christ. It is carved of wood and depicts Mary and the infant Jesus. The dark color of the hands and face of the statue are the result of it sitting near candles and oil burning lamps for hundreds of years. The Madonna now sits on an ornate throne made of Venetian mosaics and looks out over the sanctuary of the church where she is housed.
The monastery is the home for about 100 Benedictine monks who devote their life to study and prayer. There is a printing operation there that has been in operation since the early 1400s, making it one of the oldest printing presses in the world. The monastery is also the site of the famous Montserrat Boys Choir known as L’Escolania. These boys, ages 9-14, are chosen for their musical talent and are required to learn instruments as well as sing. They travel around the world performing and have made dozens of recordings available for purchase.
The main church at the abbey, a basilica, is a gothic structure beautifully adorned with stained glass, art, and statuary. It was nearly destroyed by Napoleon’s army in the early 1800s and had to be fully restored.
The monastery is built in and about the rocky serrations atop Montserrat. There are a number of grottos and separate chapels nestled in the landscape. An aerial tram provides access from the foot of the mountain or you can get to the top via a winding road. It takes about an hour to get to the abbey from Barcelona.
Travel safe. Have fun.