The folklore is reason enough to visit the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat near Barcelona. Like the fantastic claims of this being the ‘Castle of Munsalvaesche’ where the Holy Grail is believed to be hidden! Or those of miraclulous occurences in 890 AD, that led shepherd boys to the ‘La Moreneta’ (the little dark skinned one), a statue of the Black Virgin with baby Jesus!
But the awe inspiring, jagged surface (hence the name) of this mountain range and the breathtaking vistas all around, weave their magic even before you reach that hallowed space! It takes an hour long train journey (on the R5 line from estacion Espanya in Barcelona) and a short aerial cable car ride up from the Aeri de Montserrat station (or – for the faint of heart – a slightly longer cremallera train from the next stop), to get to the monastery, perched a little over half way up the mountain. The rush of pilgrims and tourists apparently ruin the experience a bit, but we lucked out (again!!) and had it nearly to ourselves, early on this August morning.
A funicular goes down to the the sacred cave where the La Moreneta was discovered. Another climbs up about 800 feet, from where one can hike to the crest, and succumb to the glory of the Catalonian landscape!
The present statue of the Black Virgin of Catalonia, housed in a glass enclosure inside the Abbey, is a 12th century Romanesque reproduction and the jury is out, about why it is black. The most commonly accepted reason is that the wood sculpture has darkened over centuries from the soot of innumerable candles. Paying homage to the unbroken chain of tradition through the ages, we caressed the Madonna’s golden orb and listened to the wonderous boy’s choir – L’Escolania – sing hymns in praise of their patron saint…….
“Rosa d’abril, morena de la serra,
de Montserrat estel,
il’luminau la catalana terra;
guiau-nos cap al cel”
(“April Rose, dark lady of the mountain chain,
Star of Montserrat,
illuminate the Catalan land;
guide us to heaven”)