This is one of those bucket list checks. Numerous people have heard of Montserrat. Here is a brief outline just touching the surface of this historical place. Spending time here can be productive. To start, Montserrat is a mountain top monastery carved into the side of the mountain called Montserrat. It is located just 30 miles north and east of Barcelona, still in the Catalonian province. If you are staying in Barcelona, a visit here is a good day trip, and as mentioned earlier a bucket list check.
To get there is relatively easy, unless of course you do not pay attention, yes, like me. It is simply a train or two and a ride up the mountain. It is that easy, if you pay attention to your directions. So, if you start in Barcelona, first make your way to the main train station at Placa d’Espanya, do not fret, the trains leave on the half hour, err, every 30 minutes. You will be looking for the R5 line to Montserrat. It is recommended that you purchase the full pass, a round trip ticket consisting of the train to and from Montserrat, and the Funicular train up the mountain. There is an alternate substitution instead of the funicular. But in order to make that choice, know this first. The main rail, the R5 line drops you at the station in Montserrat at the bottom of the mountain. A short walk across the street and you can board the Funicular. It is a fairly simple trip just note the directions you are traveling. I know this sounds funny but the return train will be to Barcelona. I’m just saying. It happens. It is about twenty euros, assuming prices have not changed.
The alternate substitution, mentioned earlier, is to substitute the funicular for the Cable Car. I know it sounds like a fun switch, but I threw caution into the wind, literally. On the mountain, it can get windy and shut the cable car down. If that happens you will be fighting for the funicular. I mean that, the crowds can be, well, crowded.
The train ride out of Barcelona can be well, let’s just say, uneventful. However, once you reach the mountains, err, foothills, the ride becomes scenic. Then the funicular ride is just that, fun too.
Okay, now you are at the monastery and here is the brief history. The place has been cared for and maintained quite well. Gaudi, that artist guy who designed that church in Barcelona that is still under construction and has been for the past too many, way too many years, and I do not want to digress so the details on that place come in a later post, but anyway, he had a hand in the design of the Altar. You will see the resemblance between the Altar at Montserrat and his other creation in Barcelona. I am not a fan of Gaudy, but when I say Dr. Seuss , well you will understand that the architect does not work with straight lines.
Moving on, the most publicized pinnacle of a visit to Montserrat is the original replica of the Black Virgin or Black Madonna. It is a twelfth century carved statue of the Virgin. Legend has it that it became dirty over the years, but there are tons of other stories swirling around. It sits wrapped in Gold behind the Altar. You can reach it, touch and stand right next to it by traversing a small stairway. Others will be there, so patience is helpful. The real statue is still in the cave and under secure watch. There is a way to get to it that requires some effort, and I wish you luck. The one behind the Altar is just fine.
Every day the Montserrat boys choir sings in the chapel, right in front of the Altar which is in front of the Virgin. That is a beautiful sight and sound. Close your eyes and listen to the chants and songs of the choir. It is extremely relaxing and very soothing. The sound is amplified perfectly with the construction of the church interior by itself. No electronics are needed.
Venture outside the grounds of Montserrat. There are numerous walk ways and paths to share some great alone time. One walk takes you up the side of the mountain through the stations of the cross, depicting Jesus’ last journey to the Crucifixion. It can be a very spiritual meditation. Bring some snacks to enjoy along the way. You will find some great vistas and benches and large boulders to sit on to take in the beauty of this serene place.
Stay safe by staying on the trails that look like they are used a lot. This particular trail of the stations should be fine. But remember, just like you would anywhere in the US, be aware. The same advice could be given hiking the grand canyon.
Here is a trivia note: The Caribbean Island of the same name was named after this place, Montserrat. Read on, it was Columbus.
Some History: At about the year 1000, an Abbot and Bishop founded the monastery, a cloistered place of prayer. The Benedictine order had some influence over the years. And in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a church was built with the carving of the Virgin Mary, now known as the Black Madonna. The first recorded evidence of the Boy’s Choir shows up at about twelve hundred. The monastery grabbed more notoriety when, in 1493, Columbus named a Caribbean island after the Mountain. At the turn of 1800, Napoleon was out conquering the world and blew the monastery right off the side of the mountain. Apparently he didn’t like the ability it would have had to house his enemies. Fifty years later, the monks returned and rebuilt the monastery. The Spanish Civil War took its toll on the monastery killing numerous monks and halting the reconstruction until the end of the war. The place is all rebuilt and redesigned to comfortably handle the many pilgrims and tourist a-like that visit the monastery each year. The monastery was visited by the Pope in 1982. Today, there is a somewhere around 100 or so monks there at the monastery. The Benedictine order runs the place well. They live on site and in the building, closed to the public, adjacent to the Basilica.
Upon returning back to Barcelona from your day long trip to Montserrat, grab yourself a bottle of vino, sit out on the porch of your hotel room, slowly sip the wine, and contemplate what life is all about. Think of the serene place you just visited. Think of what it was like to hike up to such a place. You just rode up in a great comfortable train which didn’t exist. Imagine what it might have been like getting there in 1200. Think how dedicated was that activity of contemplation. The search for a higher spiritual person or self, the search for salvation and redemption was a strong pull. Whatever else comes into your mind, just let it go. You may be spiritually renewed. Life can take on new meanings when new experiences are contemplated.
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