Today, we toured Montserrat, a sanctuary of religious and historical importance.
Last night we sailed into Barcelona, still in Catalonia. Catalonia is one-seventh the geographical size of Spain.
We took a bus ride to Montserrat, and as we left Barcelona we noticed that there is a ring of industry around it. The ring is large and our guide says it accounts for 20% of Spain’s overall economy. Barcelona is nestled between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean.
Montserrat is a mountain outside of Barcelona. Mont is mountain and Serrat means serrated. It is a mountain range of jagged peaks. We can already see it at a distance from the city. It is about thirty miles away, but this morning it is covered in clouds so we could not see it from below very well.
We learned at least six reasons why this site is so special.
It was believed that a divine hand chiseled the peaks of the mountain—by angels themselves. It acquired religious importance by the 9th century. The mountains also had such religious significance to the Catalans that some called them the Mount Sinai of Catalonia.
The monastery, a Benedictine Abbey, is almost a thousand years old and is 2300 feet above sea level. The mountain was a destination for pilgrims who journeyed to its peak barefooted.
2. The Views
On a clear day on Montserrat, one can see the isle of Majorca, which we will visit later this week.
3. The Architecture
Some people come here for the Black Madonna, but we came for Montserrat’s impressive architecture.
The locals built the monastery in 1453 but Napoleon burned and sacked it twice during the Napoleonic War in 1811. The gothic walls in the photo below were all that was left. The current monastery was rebuilt around the gothic portion beginning in 1811.
The basilica was awesome, enclosed and accessed in a piazza, but because of a service in the Basilica we were unable to tour it.
Fortunately, though, I did sneak inside for a quick look. Wow!
4. The Art
Inside are works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and of course the Black Madonna itself, which is a pilgrimage in and of itself.
There is also an extensive art museum that we visited. With many donations by Catalonians, it is extensive. From a 13th Century Egyptian sarcophagus to works by Caravaggio, Dali, and Picasso, there are many great works of art here. Few are aware of the treasures here.
5. The Sounds
In addition, there is a famous music school here and a choir who sings in the basilica almost every day. Unluckily, they were not singing today, but I found this on You Tube on their channel. There are scenes of the abbey and the basilica throughout the video.
Called the Escolania, the Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica.
We were fortunately though to experience the bells of Montserrat.
6. The Hiking
Looking down into the distance you can see the pilgrimage trail weaving its way around the mountain, and there are other trails here for walks around Montserrat Mountain. We were lucky because the fog lifted from the mountain just as we got there.
In addition, it is a rite of passage for young people from Barcelona and all other Catalonia to make an overnight hike up here just to see the sunrise. One can see the Pyrenees from Montserrat. The Pyrenees are the northern buffer between Spain and France.
On Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World, he took 30 monks from Montserrat. There is an island in the Caribbean called Montserrat, and it is named after this monastery.
After we returned from Montserrat, we quickly boarded a hop on hop off tour bus for a quick two-hour tour of the city. This was our only way to see Barcelona because all the tours for touring Gaudi’s Barcelona were booked by the time we learned that our Gaudi’s Barcelona tour was canceled yesterday.
So we did the best we could. It really is a beautiful city.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to tour the part of the city with the La Sagrada Familia. This is what we missed.
Gaudi was an amazing architect.
Gaudi’s unique almost whimsical architecture is one of the things we came to see.
I guess we’ll have to come back!