A rugged mountain not far from Barcelona is home to one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Spain: the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat.
Since the 12th century, pilgrims have been drawn to the mountain to venerate the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna (La Moreneta). In 1996, 2.6 million visitors came to Montserrat.
History of Montserrat Shrine
According to Catholic tradition, the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke around 50 AD and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the Moors in a cave (Santa Cova, the Holy Grotto), where it was rediscovered in 880 AD.
According to the legend of the discovery, which was first recorded in the 13th century, the statue was discovered by shepherds. They saw a bright light and heard heavenly music that eventually led them to the grotto and the statue.
The Bishop of Manresa, present at the discovery, suggested that it be moved to Manresa, but the small statue was discovered to be so heavy it could not be lifted. Thus the Virgin had indicated her will to stay on Montserrat to be venerated there.
By the 9th century, there were four chapels on Montserrat, of which only one remains - St. Aciscolo's, which is in the monastery's garden. In the 11th century, the abbot-bishop Oliba founded a monastery on the mountain of Montserrat, next to one of the chapels. Many miracles were reported through the intercession of the Virgin Mary at Montserrat.
According to historians, it was then, in the 12th century, that the statue of the Madonna and Child was made. The Madonna statue soon earned widespread fame as numerous miracles were associated with the intercession of the Black Virgin of Montserrat.
Many of the first missionary churches in Mexico, Chile and Peru were dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat and many saints and popes have visited the shrine over the centuries. St. Ignatius Loyola made a pilgrimage to Montserrat after being injured in war, and it was soon after that he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises.
Due to the great numbers of pilgrims that flocked to Montserrat throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery was enlarged from its original humble size. In 1592, the grand basilica of Montserrat was consecrated.
In the late 18th century, almost the entire sanctuary was destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion. But due to the widespread devotion to the shrine, it was soon restored.
In 1881, Montserrat's Black Madonna was crowned in accordance with Canon Law and proclaimed patron saint of Catalonia by Pope Leo XIII.
What to See at Montserrat Shrine
The Monastery of Montserrat, located near the top of the 4,000-foot mountain, is home to about 80 monks. The monks welcome visitors and invite them to participate in their daily celebrations of Mass and recitations of the Liturgy of the Hours.
The Basilica, next to the monastery, is home to the revered La Moreneta, or Black Virgin. To visit the statue, enter the church through a side door to the right.
The statue of the Virgin, known in Spanish as La Moreneta, is a small Romanesque statue made of wood. It depicts a seated Black Virgin with the child Jesus on her lap. Her dark color is due to changes in the varnish with the passage of time.
The basilica also holds one of the monastery's most noted attractions, the 50-member Escolanía, one of the oldest and most renowned boys' choirs in Europe, dating from the 13th century. At 1pm daily you can hear them singing "Salve Regina" and the "Virolai" (hymn of Montserrat) in the basilica.
Walking paths and a funicular take visitors to Santa Cova (Holy Grotto), the traditional site of the discovery of the Black Virgin. The grotto dates from the 17th century and was built in the shape of a cross. The funicular goes halfway, but the rest of the trip must be made on foot.
The best and most exciting way to go is via the Catalán railway, Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Manresa line), with 12 trains a day leaving from the Plaça d'Espanya in Barcelona. The central office is at Plaça de Catalunya 1 (tel. 93-205-15-15). The train connects with an aerial cable way (Aeri de Montserrat), which is included in the fare of 12€ round-trip.
If you have a car, take the N-2 southwest of Barcelona toward Tarragona, turning west at the junction with the N-11. The signposts and exit to Montserrat will be on your right. From the main road, it's 14.5km (9 miles) up to the monastery through eerie rock formations and dramatic scenery.
Quick Facts on Montserrat Shrine
|Names:||Montserrat Shrine · Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.595419° N, 1.834373° E|
|Hours:||Basilica: Daily 8-10:30am, noon-6:30pm|
Santa Cova: Apr-Oct, daily 11:20-5:30pm; off-season daily 11:20-5:20pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Montserrat Shrine|
Map of Montserrat Shrine
Below is a location map and aerial view of Montserrat Shrine. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.