Catalonia’s Magnificent Mountain Top Monastery

The Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat sits high in the cliffs of the mountains above Manresa, 37 miles west of Barcelona. It has become one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Spain, following an apparition by the Virgin Mary over 1,000 years ago.

Legend has it that in 880 a small group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky in the Montserrat mountains accompanied by angels singing. After exploring the cave where the apparition took place, the religious elders discovered an image of the Virgin Mary. This sacred place became a holy sanctuary for religious pilgrims and numerous miracles were reported here. 

By the 9th century, there were four chapels on Montserrat, only one of which remains. A monastery was founded in the 11th century and the celebrated statue of the black Madonna, the Virgin of Montserrat, dates from this time. Believed by some to have been carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the Church, it is more likely a Romanesque sculpture in wood from the late 12th century.

Legend has it that the Benedictine monks could not move the statue to construct their monastery, an indication of the Virgin’s will to stay in Montserrat. This celebrated icon now sits in the Basilica surrounded by an altar of gold and is venerated by pilgrims from all over the world.

On September 11, 1844, Pope Leo XIII declared the virgin of Montserrat patroness of Catalonia and this is now the national day of Catalonia. The main pilgrimages take place on 27 April and 8 September which are dates to avoid for visitors.

Set high on a mountain against a dramatic backdrop of sandstone pinnacles, Montserrat is a spectacular place to visit. The 80 monks who reside here invite visitors to participate in their daily celebrations of Mass and recitals of the Liturgy of the Hours. Not to be missed is the famous 50-member Escolania, one of the oldest and most renowned boys’ choirs in Europe, who perform a daily recital of ‘Salve Regina’ and the ‘Virolai’ hymn of Montserrat in the Basilica.

The adjacent museum contains works by Caravaggio, Tiepolo and El Greco, as well as modern masters including Dalí, Picasso and Monet. Also worth a visit is the Santa Cova (Holy Grotto), the venerated site of the discovery of the Black Virgin, which can be accessed from the monastery via a beautiful footpath that descends the mountainside.

Montserrat is easily accessible from Camiral either by car or train. There is a direct train from Barcelona’s Placa de Espanya which will take you to the base of the mountain from where you can either take a cable car or funicular railway up to the monastery. You can buy a ticket that either includes the funicular or the cable car and you can also get a ticket called the Tot Montserrat, which includes all transport, lunch and the museum.

Watch a video of Montserrat here

The Basilica is open daily from 8 to 10.30am and 12pm to 6.30pm.

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