For almost a thousand years believers have made pilgrimages to see the Black Madonna of Montserrat. For most of those years the pilgrimage involved days, weeks or even months of walking up into the serrated mountains about 35 miles northwest of Barcelona. Once there the pilgrims would stand in long lines for a glimpse of the blessed la Moreneta (little dark one); perhaps hoping for and receiving a miracle cure before turning back for that long walk home.
For us the journey was much simpler. We logged on to the Viator site, booked our trip and then walked a few blocks to Julia’s Travel near La Rambla. There we boarded an air-conditioned bus for our hour-long ride to Montserrat. Along the way our guide, Jovanna, told us about points of interest along our route and also began explaining what we were going to see in Montserrat.
Upon arriving at the foot of Montserrat we boarded the rack railway, officially known as the Cremallera de Montserrat, to the Montserrat Monastery. The twenty minute ride travels up the mountain along the edges of the cliffs providing stunning views of the valley below.
It almost seems as though we stepped in back in time as we stepped off the train. Perhaps that’s because this place dates back to 888 when the hermitage of Santa Maria, was given to the Monastery of Ripoll by Count Guifré el Pelós. Then in 1025, the Bishop of Vic founded a new monastery at the hermitage of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Soon thereafter, believers starting making pilgrimages here to see the Black Madonna and began telling stories of the miracles performed by her.
The abbey continued to prosper until 1811 when Napoleon’s forces defeated Spanish irregulars defending the area. The buildings were partially destroyed and were abandoned until 1844 when the monastery resumed functions. In 1881 the Black Madonna was coronated here and proclaimed Patron Saint of Catalonia by Pope Leo XIII.
Monastic life was again interrupted here in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War began. The Government of Catalonia managed to save Montserrat from being destroyed; however, 22 monks from the abbey were killed by Republican forces. After the war, life at the monastery returned to somewhat normal; however, under Franco’s regime it served as a sanctuary for students, artists and politicians hiding from the authorities.
These days there are about 150 monks living and working here and the abbey is popular with both pilgrims and tourists. You can get here by train, as we did, by car or by cable car. There are two restaurants on top of the mountain and there is a large gift shop for the perfect souvenir. You can also catch a funicular to go higher on the mountain for a great view of the abbey, but it was shrouded in fog so we spent all of our time at the abbey itself.
Of course, one of the key activities here is to see the Madonna. We joined a short line to climb up the steps to see la Moreneta. In about twenty minutes we entered the golden room where the Madonna sits on her throne. A baby Jesus is sitting on her lap and she is holding a globe of the earth in her right hand. The madonna is encased in glass, but much to my surprise there is a cutoff allowing you to touch the globe. We didn’t have much time with the Madonna as there were people in line behind us, but it’s definitely quite an experience to finally “meet” one of the infamous Black Madonna’s of Europe.
We didn’t experience any miracles here, but we could definitely get the sense of mysticism and reverence that has been imbued here by millions of pilgrims over hundreds of years. Montserrat is definitely worth a visit, if not a pilgrimage, if you’re visiting Barcelona.
This excursion was provided by Viator: Viator Montserrat Monastery Tour.
Our tour was operated by: Julia Travel
Here’s more information on Montserrat.
Note: Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.